For Those Confused: The Emotional Intelligence Farce!

Logo 3A colleague and I were recently discussing how emotional intelligence has taken over as a phrase with power but lacking definition, clarity, organization, and foundational logic.  Included below is my answer to my colleague and some thoughts on avoiding the constant maelstrom of business jargon passed around as useful tools for management.

In the world of business today, many people remain confused by current ‘buzz words,’ ‘jargon,’ and flat out misnomers fulfilling Rand’s description of “mental disintegration” (Locke, 2005, p. 430).  One of the most popular ‘buzz words’ in today’s business environment is ‘Emotional Intelligence (EI).’  Which in itself is both a misnomer and a confusion generator, where even professional researchers cannot pin down a definitive definition of ‘EI.’  Many of the descriptions about EI dwell upon variables that cannot be controlled by an individual, namely, the emotions of those people surrounding the problem.  The definitions purport the claim that a prediction of other people’s emotional reactions can occur through knowing one’s own emotional responses.

Not Passion's Slave - Emotions and ChoiceMany of the explanations for EI support the claim that improved leadership occurs as a result of conquering one’s emotional decisions.  Several of the definitions go so far as to promote that improved emotional control mitigates problems.  Concluding that if everyone were trained in emotional understanding, the world would be more productive.  What all of these definitions have in common is the assertion that emotions can be chosen (Solomon, 2003).  All the while castigating, Solomon (2003) who insisted that emotions are a choice, a judgment, and connected to social variables based upon historical interactions.  What is missing is the value of choosing emotions as a logical process in evaluating the problem socially and the consequences of acting emotionally when logic would be preferred.

Locke (2005) reported the continuing shift of researchers developing a new definitive definition for the same biological process of emotionally reviewing a problem, analyzing the variables, making decisions based upon the data discovered, and calling this emotional intelligence.  Thus, the question arises, what does emotional intelligence mean?  More specifically, can EI be measured and quantified without a definitive definition?  Finally, is emotional intelligence even worth studying, or learning, when, as a misnomer, the biological process of intelligence works best without emotion to clutter the mental landscape required to consider variables and make decisions rationally in a social context like employment situations?

ToolsHence the conclusion that emotional intelligence is a misnomer and the process currently labeled as ‘emotional intelligence’ is nothing more than intelligence being confused with emotions (Antonakis, Ashkanasy, & Dasborough 2005; Locke, 2005).  Antonakis, et al. (2009) and Locke (2005), both of whom supported the claim that emotional intelligence is a confusion of intelligence with emotions that creates chaos when applied together, supports the conclusion that emotional intelligence does not work as a concept. Thus, in employees’ identity transformation, using any emotional intelligence model remains wasted time and energy for the business leader already stretched thin on resources.

Breaking down the term emotional intelligence is key to understanding why Locke (2005) aptly calls emotional intelligence a misnomer. Emotion is a choice an individual makes as a response to social situations, their relationship to the environment, and a conscious decision for a response, as Solomon (2003) detailed.  The author described the mental and emotional choice relationship extensively, and Solomon (2003) is highly recommended for the business leader to read and understand. Smollan and Parry (2011) enhanced the emotion as a choice discussion in elaborating upon followers’ emotional responses to leaders in change management.  Inherent to the research of Smollan and Parry (2011) is that emotions do not affect intelligence.

Empathy v ApathyLewis (2000) and Van Kleef, Homan, Beersma, and van Knippenberg (2010) completed research where emotions of a negative type were selected and employed, then measuring the motivation and influence upon the team members were measured.  The study reflects similar conclusions and supports Solomon’s (2003) position that emotions are a choice and that emotional inclusion in a situation does not influence the intelligence of those involved, even though the followers’ emotional decisions are recognized as pieces to the social environment and relationship in small teams.  Neither Lewis (2000) or Van Kleef, et al. (2010) investigated the social connections between follower’s emotional response choices and the emotions in the situation, even though social interactions do influence emotional choices (Solomon, 2003).

Before discussing intelligence, Yalom (1980) adds a key variable to the discussion of the transformation of identity and small group development, individual agency, or the power of an agent to choose cognizantly, their response to external and internal stimuli, and environments. Boler (1968), regarded as the seminal authority on the understanding and application of agency, concluded that agency is a concept, and the need for people to have choices free of external influences and agency’s motivational power without control to spur production to greater heights. When people feel their choices are honored, that person, acting as an agent, will work harder to reflect their desires to be of worth to another entity.  Essentially, when I, as a leader, provide members of teams the ability to choose, they work harder and smarter as an extension of their agentic choices.  Naturally, they will decide that which empowers them and the team, and the team builds cohesion faster, all because of individual agency, not emotional intelligence mine or theirs.  Thus, the second part of this discussion becomes apparent; there is no need for an emotional intelligence model or emotional intelligence competency in the identity transformation process when agents are provided the ability to choose, without undue influence, the direction they individually want to travel.

Emotional OutburstAccording to (2018), intelligence is nothing other than the functioning of the intellect an individual possesses. (2018) discusses how to compete more effectively through proper sleep, diet, education, etc., in intelligent functions; apparently, feeding the brain improves how the brain functions, thus increasing intelligence opportunities and competitive skills against others on an Intelligence Quotient (IQ) standardized test.  Locke (2005) explored the intelligence side of the misnomer emotional intelligence, further supporting that an individual’s intelligence, even if focused just on emotional responses, cannot and should not measure the intelligence of the individuals involved in a situation.  Finally, Joseph (2016) imported that understanding the leader-member exchange (LMX) and working to improve the LMX remains more important than being, whatever definition is currently accepted for, emotionally intelligent.

Thus, I conclude that agency in employment situations is more critical to building team member identities than a false claim of emotional intelligence.  That emotional intelligence remains not just a misnomer, but a complete fallacy is supported by research.  Even if all a person currently knows is their emotional choices as they respond to environmental stimuli, their potential to learn and become more intelligent remains independent of their individual emotional choices.  Locke (2005) mentioned the final reason for emotional intelligence being a misnomer, echoed by Mayer, Salovey, and Caruso (2004) among many others, emotional intelligence remains defined by each individual researcher, and the power to influence emotional intelligence remains in the popularity of the researchers, not sound science.  Hence, it would behoove every leader to flush emotional intelligence as a current business “buzz word” from their vocabulary and return to describing emotions as a choice separate from an individuals’ intelligence potential.

Plastic Words (The Tyranny of a Modular Language)Poerksen (1995) argued that plastic words provide no strengths within any field of endeavor, only weakness in word application, weakness in logic, and produce weaknesses in the audience to think and reason.  Poerksen (1995) analogized the plasticity of words as “Legos,” a building block system designed to thwart the audience’s intellect, instead of building the audience to understanding.  Poerksen (1995) remains adamant that stopping the practice of plasticizing words is not pessimistic or optimistic, merely a need to transmit messages of context and content, not flavor-of-the-month plastic words and phrases.  Words have meanings, and these meanings need to be grounded in a foundation of accepted definitions.  Thus, the researcher who would succeed should focus on employing words properly.  Finally, it should be realized that intelligence has morphed into one of those plastic words that everyone knows, no one can define, and every researcher, and practitioner, will plasticize for their own benefit.  A working definition of intelligence that I prefer is “The ability to acquire and use knowledge and skills, to continue learning and growing; through the manipulation of the environments surrounding the seeker of intelligence;” while not scientifically supported, this is my definition as based upon fundamental research.  The problem is that many researchers will have a different definition, and more practitioners even more definitions; hence the example of plastic words is demonstrated (QED), and the futility of emotional intelligence debunked.

How should a business leader avoid the maelstrom of buzz words, jargon, and popular beliefs?  The business leader wanting to avoid the vortex would first never stop learning.  Read a book.  Read peer-reviewed articles and decide upon their veracity by watching the effect on people, as individuals in your organization.  Engage in a debate with loyal oppositionists.  One of the best leaders I know has the most violent debates in the boardroom.  But, his team of C-Level leaders are friends, they are tight socially, and they all possess confidence and independence to act.  One would think the opposite was true, but in debating ideas, the team has grown to trust the others’ logic in which they work. This trust is communicated down through the business organization and is reflected in motivated employees of all levels and responsibilities.

Leadership CartoonEmotional Intelligence will die as a concept when the researcher’s and practitioner’s social popularity begins to subside.  What will not disappear is the continued use of plastic words to describe, detail, stretch, contort, and deceive people.  Hence, the third suggestion to avoid calamity brought about by jargon unleashed is to recognize plastic words, and if in doubt, refer to the first suggestion, read a book!


Antonakis, J., Ashkanasy, N. M., & Dasborough, M. T. (2009). Does leadership need emotional intelligence? The Leadership Quarterly, 20, 247-261. doi: 10.1016/j.leaqua.2009.01.006 (2018). Psychology topics: Intelligence. Retrieved April 16, 2018, from

Boler, J. (1968). Agency. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 29(2), 165-181. doi: 10.2307/2105850.

Daus, C. S., & Ashkanasy, N. M. (2005). The case for the ability-based model of emotional intelligence in organizational behavior. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 26(4), 453-466. doi:10.1002/job.321

Joseph, T. (2016). Developing the leader-follower relationship: Perceptions of leaders and followers. Journal of Leadership, Accountability and Ethics, 13(1), 132.

Lewis, K. M. (2000). When leaders display emotion: How followers respond to negative emotional expression of male and female leaders. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 21(2), 221-234. doi:10.1002/(SICI)1099-1379(200003)21:2<221::AID-JOB36>3.0.CO;2-0

Lievens, F., & Chan, D. (2017). Practical intelligence, emotional intelligence, and social intelligence. In Handbook of employee selection (pp. 342-364). Routledge.

Locke, E. A. (2005). Why emotional intelligence is an invalid concept. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 26, 425-431. doi: 10.1002/job.318

Mayer, J., Salovey, P., Caruso, D., & Sitarenios, G. (2003). Measuring emotional

intelligence with the MSCEIT™ v2.0. Emotion, 3(1), 95-105.

Poerksen, U. (1995). Plastic words: The tyranny of modular language (J. Mason, & D. Cayley, Trans.). University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press

Smollan, R., & Parry, K. (2011). Follower perceptions of the emotional intelligence of change leaders: A qualitative study. Leadership, 7(4), 435-462. doi: 10.1177/1742715011416890

Solomon, R. C. (2003). Not passion’s slave: Emotions and choice [Kindle 6.10 version].

Van Kleef, G. A., Homan, A. C., Beersma, B., &van Knippenberg, D. (2010). On angry leaders and agreeable followers: How leaders’ emotions and followers’ personalities shape motivation and team performance. Psychological Science, 21(12), 1827-1834

Yalom, I. D. (1980). Existential psychotherapy. Retrieved from

© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.

Published by


Dual service military veteran. Possess an MBA in Global Management and a Masters degree in Adult Education and Training. Pursuing a PhD in Industrial and Organizational Psychology. Business professional with depth of experience in logistics, supply chain management, and call centers.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s