Beyond a Feeling: Emotional Intelligence Is Not the Holy Grail of Assessment

By: Jonathan Dapra
Jun 21, 2024

Emotional intelligence (EI) is a term thrown around often, especially in professional development. We’re told that those with high EI are better leaders, better communicators, and, overall, more successful. But is there actual science behind the hype?

Assessment and development professionals such as myself are trained to be skeptical. We look for data, for rigorous research, and for evidence-based practices. When it comes to emotional intelligence, the evidence is surprisingly murky. Here is why many of us are hesitant to embrace EI as the be-all and end-all:

  1. Lack of a Clear Definition: No single, universally accepted definition of EI exists. Some view it as a personality trait (emotional maturity), others as a skill set, and still others as a combination. Most see it as a clinical construct: empathy.
  2. No Valid framework or reliable data: Popular EI assessments lack scientific rigor. They are based on speculation and conjecture, never once validated scientifically. Now, don’t get me wrong; people love themMuch like Dale Carnegie’s works, they’re pithy, feel relatable, and are very accessible (especially to newer managers and within the sales field). However, this is how EI has earned the nefarious pop psychology label. Just because you believe it doesn’t make it valuable or viable.
  3. It is not measurable: Assessment is about capturing data relating to one’s proficiency and prescribing development to strengthen capabilities. How do you reliably rate empathy? You cannot. EI advocates often rely on self-reporting, which is inherently subjective and prone to bias. People frequently overestimate their abilities or answer in a way they believe is socially desirable. The measures are not accurate.
  4. Intelligence is immutable–you cannot change it. You can call it semantics at the heart of it, but you are born with intelligence. You cannot readily change your IQ. This is why we no longer test IQ to assess talent performance; we know people have the motivation and capacity to strengthen their professional capabilities.


Although some studies show a correlation between EI and job performance, the effect often needs to be bigger and more consistent.  Other factors, such as cognitive ability and specific job knowledge, are stronger predictors of success. This doesn’t mean EI is irrelevant, but it suggests it’s not the magic bullet some claim it to be.

So, where does this leave us?

Entirely dismissing emotional intelligence would be a mistake. Understanding and managing emotions is undoubtedly important for personal and professional success. However, EI must be addressed with a critical eye. Assessment professionals can incorporate emotional intelligence into their practices more rigorously and unbiasedly by:

  • Focusing on Specific Behavioral Competencies: Instead of broadly measuring EI, identify specific behavioral competencies related to emotional intelligence that are relevant to the target job or role. For example, instead of “self-awareness,” assess for “accurately identifies personal strengths and weaknesses” or “seeks feedback to improve performance.”
  • Utilizing a Multi-Method Assessment Approach: Instead of relying solely on self-reporting, incorporate a variety of methods, such as behavioral interviews, self-assessments and 360-degree feedback, simulations, work samples or role-playing exercises that simulate practical scenarios requiring emotional intelligence.
  • Focusing on Continuous Development: Use assessment results to identify areas for development and provide targeted coaching and training opportunities. Help individuals develop specific capabilities and strategies for strengthening what you would once call their emotional intelligence in a practical and applicable way.


By taking these steps, assessment professionals can move beyond the hype and leverage the underlying value of emotional intelligence in a scientifically sound and practically valuable way. At Alaric, we build leaders using the gold standard of scientific talent development: assessment based on multi-view data that leads to highly individualized personal training and development plans.

Jonathan Dapra is a co-founder of Alaric, and its Chief Innovation Officer. He is a leadership assessment and development practitioner with over 20 years’ experience as an executive, entrepreneur, trainer, and educator. He is the co-author of From 50 to 500.
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