An Interview With Daniel Goleman

By ATD Staff

A globally renowned psychologist, Goleman is a frequent speaker at businesses, universities, and professional groups. Previously a science reporter for the New York Times, he has authored several books, including Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships and Working with Emotional Intelligence. Emotional Intelligence, published in 1995, has sold more than 5 million copies internationally and has been translated into 30 languages.

Q| What was your first job, and what lesson did you take away from it?

My first real job was as an editor at Psychology Today in the 1970s. I started to get insights on the importance of emotional intelligence from leadership by seeing how productive and creative people were when they had a boss like I had. His name was T. George Harris, and he was extremely emotionally intelligent. He was tremendously supportive of innovation, for example, and he made us all feel that we were realistically quite able. That is to say, he didn't create false self-esteem by praising us when we didn't do as well, but he would be very constructive and suggest how we could do better. Generally in organizations, when someone raises an idea, too many bosses and too many people become critical rather than encouraging.

Q| How can emotional intelligence be applied to training and engaging employees?

There's still a preponderance of data from many different studies and converging directions suggesting that star performance emerges when people are able to express a high level of emotional intelligence in combination with whatever technical skills or cognitive understanding that the job demands. Then you see that you will enhance an organization's ability to perform by training people to get better in that skill domain. Another side effect is that when people are working at their best, they feel a kind of pleasure. They get into what's called the "flow state" where the work itself becomes intrinsically rewarding, which means that people are continually engaged.

Q| To what extent is social intelligence learned? Can these skills be developed later in life?

The neural framework for social intelligence is hardwired, and it becomes anatomically mature over the first two decades of life. But what we understand now is that basic wiring for a skill doesn't predict whether you will actually become good at that skill. It's your learning and your life experience that creates the strength of the connectivity between neurons within that circuitry that is what determines how good you'll be. So the short answer is, social intelligence is partially learned, and it's never too late to get better at any social or emotional skill. However, later in life, we have to make more effort because we have to overcome bad habits we've learned earlier and strengthen the circuitry to get better new habits - to the point where they become the default route in the brain. This process takes several months of steady learning and practice.

Q| What do you hope will be a future development in the field of emotional intelligence?

I was just in San Sebastian, Spain, at the invitation of the minister of technology and innovation. He is spearheading a province-wide initiative to create an emotionally intelligent society by making emotional literacy a standard part of every child's education, teaching it to parents, teaching it at the community level, and bringing it into businesses and organizations there. I think that's a very inspiring vision for the future.

Q| What are your thoughts on corporate social responsibility?

My next book is about a new mechanism for making corporate social responsibility align with corporate profit-making. The big difficulty with social responsibility in corporations is too often the mission of making, for example, organizations more green, seems to be at odds with the more powerful mission of increasing profits and growth. My book will propose a way to make those two agendas one and the same. It will be out in April [2009], and it's called Ecological Intelligence: How Knowing the Hidden Impacts of What We Make and Buy Can Change Everything.

    Content Track: Management Development

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