Books: Old vintage in a new bottle

The final book in Daniel Goleman's trilogy has the same readability and the same flaw of coralling an old concept and giving it a new name. Adrian Furnham reports.

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Social Intelligence: The new science of human relationships
Daniel Goleman
Hutchinson £20
MT price £18
To order, visit
www.mtmagazine.co.uk

Just over a decade ago, Daniel Goleman hit a nerve and struck gold.

His book Emotional Intelligence seemed to chime with the zeitgeist. He followed it up three years later with Working with Emotional Intelligence.

This new book is the third part of the trilogy. It's well-written, an easy and informative read and apparently well-researched. Like his other books, it's a case of old wine in new bottles.

There is now an Emotional Intelligence (EI) industry, with tests, programmes and books galore. Try a web search - many make incredible claims. Academics, however, are not so sure about the meaning, measurement or application of EI.

As it happens, a book edited by Kevin Murphy called A Critique of Emotional Intelligence was published this summer. Two of the 15 chapter titles say it all: 'The long, frustrating and fruitless search for Social Intelligence: a cautionary tale' and 'The fadification of Emotional Intelligence'. Academics may be late in catching up, but then good research takes time.

Good scientific papers have now tested some of the claims of Goleman and his followers and found them wanting. The most fundamental claim - that EI is more predictive of success at work than IQ - has never been established. In fact, all the results point the other way: yes, IQ is not enough but EI won't compensate for it. And EI can be taught; alas, IQ can't.

One objection is that Social Intelligence is not an intelligence in the way it is conceived or measured - at least, by most tests in this area.

Goleman never establishes how the concept might be measured, and if you can't measure it, you can't test its claims.

This book jumps on the neuro-psychology bandwagon, the sexy new science of brain-scanning.

Biology is back in a big way. The first part of the book covers a lot of this ground. But on p82 we're told what SI is (and this is very Goleman): it's a list of eight components: primal empathy, attunement, empathic accuracy, social cognition, synchrony, self-preservation, influence and concern.

So let's unpack some of this stuff. Attunement is attention that goes beyond momentary empathy to a full, sustained presence that facilitates rapport. Self-preservation is really charisma and social cognition is knowledge about how the social world works. How are these things related?

When are they learnt, or are they essentially biological dispositions?

This never seems clear.

To a psychologist, Goleman seems like a child in a toyshop grabbing at various concepts and ideas, sometimes related, sometimes not, and ring-fencing them with a neologism. Consider EI: how different is that from social or interpersonal skills? Or indeed the old-fashioned concept of charm?

Social or interpersonal skills are essentially about perceptiveness and behavioural flexibility. The socially skilled individual is self-aware and a good interpreter of the emotions and motivations of others. Socially skilled people are sensitive to body language and tend to be good listeners, counsellors and presenters.

They have a repertoire of behaviours that they can apply in a variety of contexts. They understand social etiquette and are empathic, and understand how to be persuasive and assertive. And you can train social skills by a variety of methods, including role-play and the like.

We knew all about social skills in the 1970s, but ideas need repackaging and marketing for each generation. The central question is about differentiating between the linked concepts of social skills, Emotional Intelligence and Social Intelligence. Goleman has to move on from EI to SI. It seems that EI is more about the self (self-awareness and self-management of emotions), while SI is about social awareness and management. So the person with high SI is socially perceptive and socially skilful. And that's pretty important in life. Fine: so what else is new?

The 20 chapters in this book are divided into six parts. The idea, it seems, is to try to show how SI applies to everything: relationships, health, work etc. Many of the chapters seem standalone. They start with some folksy story that illustrates what the author is on about. He is a science journalist after all, with an increasingly greater emphasis on the journalism and less on the science, though he is pretty up-to-date. All sorts of things are covered, like personality disorders, attachment theory and a bit on the psychology of happiness.

The book is an easy and enjoyable read - just right for a transatlantic flight. And you get an easy introduction to all sorts of new areas in psychology. It should improve your dinner-party conversational skills and provide useful snippets for any presentation.

But what should a manager take from it? Social skills in the form of social awareness and relationship management matter in the office. Select and train people for them.

Adrian Furnham is professor of psychology at University College London. His 50th book, Dim Sum for Managers (Cyan), is published this month

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All the books reviewed are available from the MT bookshop. To order, call 08700 702 999 or visit www.mtmagazine.co.uk

P&P at £1.95 will be added to each order.

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