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The Philosophy of Emotional Intelligence in Organizations

In 1993, Putnam and Mumby observed that:

“People regard emotion as a value-laden concept which is often treated as ‘inappropriate’ for organizational life. In particular, emotional reactions are often seen as ‘disruptive’, ‘illogical’, ‘biased’ and ‘weak’. Emotion, then, becomes a deviation from what is seen to be sensible or intelligent… linked to the expressive arenas of life, not to the instrumental goal orientation that drives organizations.” (Putnam and Mumby 1993)

The business culture of the West until the early 1990s was based on the understanding of an axiomatic, antithetical division between emotionality and rationality. According to Hughes, the current concept of emotional intelligence (EI) dissolves the traditional opposition between emotionality and rationality, cognition and affect, thinking and feeling. (Hughes 2010) In business, demands for emotionally intelligent employees are on the rise. A large-scale recruitment survey conducted by Reed Group’s GRADdirect found that 42% of British employers consider EI characteristics as the most important when recruiting new employees, compared to a prioritization of only 27% for academic skills. (Reed Consulting 2008) The main criterion for recruiting, promoting, retaining employees is no longer just “how smart we are” but “how well we handle ourselves and each other.” (D. Goleman 1998) Thus, EI changes “The rules of work.”

Hughes considers EI as a sociogenetic field of discursive affects, conditions and possibilities – a discourse that consecrates the ways of seeing, saying and doing so in itself, and constitutes a legitimate empirical object for investigation and analysis. (Hughes 2010) The EI discourse would thus mark an intensification of processes that involve increasing corporate “colonization” of employees’ affects and subjectivities. (Fleming and Spicer 2003) But these strategies have inherent limitations: management cannot simply rewrite employees’ emotions. It turns out that EI is not simply “bad” but remains “dangerous”; EI implies a discursive shift towards implicit, undeclared and mobile standards of what is emotionally “suitable”, “relevant”, “appropriate” or “intelligent”. And these changing and flexible behavioral standards are, in many ways, more demanding, more difficult to negotiate than the clearly defined formal scriptures or rules about what is allowed and “right” and what is not … EI serves empirically to demonstrate a key point of intersection between the respective theses developed by Elias and Foucault regarding the long-term changes in the character of social/self-control: where freedom and coercion are conceived not as opposites but as two sides of the same coin. (Hughes 2010)

Goleman proposes a model of EI consisting of three intrapersonal “competences” – knowledge of emotions, management of emotions, self-motivation; and two interpersonal skills – recognizing of emotions in others and managing relationships, (Daniel Goleman 1996) based on the psychologist Jack Block’s descriptions of “pure IQ type” and “pure EI type.” These ideal types are further divided by gender: pure male IQ; purely male EI; Pure female IQ; and pure female EI.

According to Hughes, Hochschild’s analytical division between private and public, real and false, authenticity and action, can be understood as an expression of socially instigated reification based on an image of human beings that Norbert Elias called Homo clausus: “a human self-image according to which the true self of a person is hidden deep inside — one cannot be quite sure inside of what”, (Elias 2016) a dividing line between “the real me in here” and “the society out there” (Elias 1984)

According to Elias, as the civilization processes developed, the social demands for the management of the affects became more and more “internalized”, the social rules and the explicit sanctions regarding the behavior lost their importance, and an apparent approach appeared, more relaxed, playful and informal, of the codes of etiquette and emotional conduct. (Elias 2000) In the processes of informalization, the “dominant modes of conduct symbolizing institutionalized power relationships, came to be more and more ignored and attacked, leading to growing negotiability and leniency in the ways people oppose and cooperate with each other.” (Wouters 2016) In the case of organizations, informalization can be seen in the decentralization of decision making; the increasing complexity and the “flexibility” of the work roles; dissipating organizational boundaries; and less formal relationships between superiors and subordinates. (Iterson, Mastenbroek, and Soeters 2016)

Foucault observes that, in relation to power relations, a person is always “faced with complex phenomena which don’t obey the Hegelian form of the dialectic… Suddenly, what had made power strong becomes used to attack it.” (Foucault 1980) Power is invariably withdrawn, reorganized, and reinvested in new forms and modalities. In a heterotopic approach, emancipation from emotional uniformity and resistance to emotional scripts quickly turns into a new form of governance where resistance becomes a discipline that, in turn, provides opportunities for resistance. EI seems to exemplify Foucault’s arguments that power is exercised both by what is allowed and by what is forbidden, both through collusion and opposition. (Hughes 2010) Thus, Foucault asserted that “A stupid despot may constrain his slaves with iron chains; but a true politician binds them even more with the chain of their own ideas [which is] all the stronger if we do not know of what it is made and we believe it to be our own work.” (Foucault 1991) In this sense, if emotional labor could be understood as a technology of domination, EI seems to be a technology of the self, with techniques that “‚<permit individuals to effect, by their own means, or with the help of others, a certain number of operations on their own bodies and souls, thoughts, conduct, and way of being, so as to transform themselves in order to attain a certain state of happiness, purity, wisdom, perfection or immortality.” (Foucault 1988) Foucault asserts that technologies of the self are perpetuated by claims of expertise that are usually extracted from scientific or scientist discourses, in the case of EI resorting to neuroscience, including by Goleman. (Daniel Goleman 1996)

Michael Polanyi (Polanyi 1974) (Polanyi 1969) (Polanyi 1966) identified two different types of knowledge: explicit (transmitted using formal language that can be encoded by artifacts) and tacit (implying direct experience that cannot be communicated in no coded mode). (Howells 2002) Rosenberg defines tacit knowledge as “the knowledge of techniques, methods and designs that work in certain ways and with certain consequences, even when one cannot explain exactly why.” (Morgan 1983, 143) Wagner and Sternberg define tacit knowledge as unspoken knowledge gained from experience, having three main forms: (Wagner and Sternberg 1985, 6–7) self-management, managing others, and managing tasks. Tacit knowledge is the main element in creating new knowledge and innovation. (Nonaka and Takeuchi 1995) The difficulty of disclosing tacit knowledge is an advantage for the company as it can more easily protect it. According to Lubit, tacit knowledge is only effective when it is rooted in a company’s culture, norms and set of processes and routines. (Lubit 2001)


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Nicolae Sfetcu
Email: nicolae@sfetcu.com

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Sfetcu, Nicolae, “The Philosophy of Emotional Intelligence in Organizations”, SetThings (Fabruary 8, 2020), URL = https://www.setthings.com/en/the-philosophy-of-emotional-intelligence-in-organizations/

2 Responses

  1. […] In 1993, Putnam and Mumby observed that: “People regard emotion as a value-laden concept which is often treated as ‘inappropriate’ for organizational life. In particular, emotional reactions are often seen as ‘disruptive’, ‘illogical’, ‘biased’ and ‘weak’. Emotion, then, becomes a … Read More […]

  2. […] In 1993, Putnam and Mumby observed that: “People regard emotion as a value-laden concept which is often treated as ‘inappropriate’ for organizational life. In particular, emotional reactions are often seen as ‘disruptive’, ‘illogical’, ‘biased’ and ‘weak’. Emotion, then, becomes a … Read More […]

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