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The Importance of Being Emotional

A new book advises against assuming that speed with a spreadsheet or impressive knowledge of an industry will guarantee success

Daniel P. Goleman,

Working With Emotional Intelligence

. Bantam Books, 1998, 352 pages.

We live in a competitive time, and everyone is looking for an edge. Any book that offers a competitive advantage gets a second look. After the success of his book

Emotional Intelligence

, Daniel Goleman explains how to apply emotional intelligence at work in -- what else? --

Working With Emotional Intelligence

.

So what is "emotional intelligence"? It's the "capacity for recognizing our own feelings and those of others, for motivating ourselves, and for managing emotions well in ourselves and in our relationships." It encompasses traits like self-assessment, persuasiveness and self-control. To identify such traits, Goleman draws upon studies of more than 500 organizations, as well as personal interviews.

Well, you might think, it's probably true that emotional intelligence matters in some jobs -- but

your

field is so intellectually demanding that pure brainpower matters most. So there's no point in wasting your time worrying about how you scream at subordinates, neglect how-was-your-weekend pleasantries or blame the messenger for bad news. "Emotional intelligence" is just so much psychological mumbo-jumbo.

Think again.

Goleman makes a compelling argument that the higher the intelligence bar for a job and the more weeding-out that happens according to sheer IQ, the more "soft" skills matter. Why? If all your colleagues are smart, you gain or lose the critical competitive advantage by distinguishing yourself with your emotional intelligence.

In other words, don't assume that your speed with a spreadsheet or your impressive knowledge of your industry will guarantee your success; you can be matched on those fronts. But if you also exercise self-control, you'll have a leg up on the guy who submarines his colleagues at client meetings.

But don't confuse emotional intelligence with being nice. After all, emotional intelligence might mean confronting someone with an unpleasant truth she doesn't want to face. Nor does it mean letting it all hang out and giving free rein to feelings. Instead, emotional intelligence means controlling feelings so they're expressed appropriately in a way that helps people work together.

Working With Emotional Intelligence

has its strong points. Its basic thesis is provocative, and Goleman offers some insights into how people work well together -- or don't. For instance, he notes that high-functioning groups usually have at least one "glue person" who understands how to keep a group speeding along by promoting collaboration and ensuring the group has administrative and strategic support.

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As an example, Goleman points to the presence of two "glue people" on

Data General's

legendary engineering team, described in the bestseller

The Soul of a New Machine

. Goleman packs each page with similar examples of real-life experiences, which help show the reader the practical significance of emotional intelligence. His book is most helpful when it gives specific guidance. For example, "When team leaders express their own opinion too early in a decision-making discussion, the group generates fewer ideas and so makes poorer decisions." Better a leader to hang back and guide discussion, Goleman maintains, and offer a view only when the discussion is nearly over.

Unfortunately, Goleman often raves about the importance of a certain quality without showing concretely how to bring it to bear on the job. We read why it's beneficial to exercise initiative or political awareness, but the book is thin on exercises for self-improvement. He provides "best practices," but they're couched in fuzzy terms, not real-life situations. And by the second half, the book feels bloated: Goleman keeps rehashing the same ideas in only slightly different form.

Most of all, this book needs a quiz for self-analysis. If you were able to tally your strengths and weaknesses, you'd be far more engaged. The "Collaboration and Cooperation" section, for example, would seem more relevant if you'd been diagnosed as falling into the "kiss up, kick down" category that co-workers detest.

If you didn't read

Emotional Intelligence,

Goleman's

Working With Emotional Intelligence

is worth a look. But don't worry if you miss it: It seems likely that Goleman will follow in the multiple-book footsteps of

Chicken Soup's

Jack Canfield,

Don't Sweat the Small Stuff's

Richard Carlson and

Mars and Venus'

John Gray.

Gretchen Rubin is a lawyer and freelance writer living in New York.

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