Daniel Goleman's theory of emotional intelligence

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Daniel Goleman's theory of emotional intelligence

This dimension responds to another way of understanding intelligence beyond cognitive aspects, such as memory and the ability to solve problems.

Written and verified by the psychologist GetPersonalGrowth.

Last update: January 31, 2022

Daniel Goleman's theory indicates that a bright brain and a high IQ are of little use to us if we are not empathic, we do not know how to read our own and others' emotions.



Being strangers to one's heart and to that social conscience that allows connection, the management of fear and assertiveness means setting aside precious skills. Because emotional intelligence, whether you like it or not, is an essential pillar of being happy.

Nobody will be surprised to know that even today specialists do not totally agree on defining the concept of intelligence. The empirical evidence confirms, for example, the existence of Spearman's “G” factor, understood as the essential foundation that defines all intelligent behavior.

This is also accompanied by the triarchic theory of Robert J. Sternberg and, of course, Howard Gardner's popular approach to multiple intelligences.

"The key to achieving a high collective IQ is social harmony."

-Daniel Goleman-

What about Daniel Goleman's so-called emotional intelligence? It is interesting to know that this concept has always been present in the history of psychology.

Professor Goleman did not formulate it first, he only made it popular in 1995 thanks to his book Emotional Intelligence, of which he has sold over 5 million copies.

Edward L. Thorndike, for example, defined as early as 1920 what he called "social intelligence", or the ability to understand and motivate others. David Wechsler, for his part, in the 40s argued that no intelligence test could be valid if emotional aspects are not taken into account.



Later, Howard Gardner himself would have laid the first foundations with the seventh intelligence, the so-called interpersonal intelligence, very similar no doubt to the emotional one.

However, only in 1985 the term "emotional intelligence" appeared for the first time thanks to Wayne Payne's doctoral thesis, which was called A Study in Emotions: The Development of Emotional Intelligence.

Just 10 years later, an American psychologist and journalist named Daniel Goleman made us all discover the great power that emotions have over who we are, what we do and how we relate to each other.

Daniel Goleman's theory of emotional intelligence

Daniel Goleman began his career as a reporter for the New York Times and is now the guru of emotional intelligence. He is over 70 years old and his serene smile and his penetrating and steady gaze call attention to him.

It is as if he is always able to see beyond what the rest of us perceive, a man who has no shortage of details and who finds connections where others see only coincidences.

He always says that he inherited his passion for psychology from his mother, a social worker who specializes in psychiatry who has accumulated books on neuroscience, the human mind and behavioral sciences. All those volumes adorned his childhood and her daily life.

For a while they were little more than indecipherable texts which he reached with inexplicable fascination. Later, they were the source of his motivation to become who he is now: the greatest promoter of social intelligence in all its aspects, educational, organizational, leadership.


What is emotional intelligence?

This dimension responds in another way of understanding intelligence beyond the cognitive aspects, such as memory and the ability to solve problems.


Above all, we speak of our ability to address ourselves effectively to others and to ourselves, to connect with our emotions, to manage them, to motivate us, to curb impulses, to overcome frustrations.

  • Emotional intelligence begins with self and social awareness. This means knowing how to recognize emotions (and their impact) in everything around us.
  • It also means understanding that much of our behaviors and decisions are based on emotions. The human being is an emotional creature who one day learned to think and reason. It may seem somewhat controversial, but it is not without truth. Understanding and accepting it will allow us to have more control over our behavior.

The dimensions that make up emotional intelligence according to Daniel Goleman

Daniel Goleman's theory of emotional intelligence presents four fundamental dimensions that define this ability. We present them in the following lines.

1. Emotional self-awareness

It refers to the ability to understand the inner universe and to always be connected to our values, to our essence. This means having a sort of well-calibrated personal compass that will allow us to orient ourselves on the right path at all times.

As long as we take into account the internal realities, the emotional world that distinguishes us, we will know and act accordingly.

2. Self-motivation

Self-motivation highlights the ability to orient oneself towards one's goals. Recover from setbacks and focus all your personal resources on one goal, one purpose.


If we combine optimism, perseverance, creativity and trust, we will overcome every difficulty to continue to conquer triumphs and successes.

3. Empathy

There is an aspect in our way of relating and interacting that goes beyond words. Let's talk about the emotional reality of each one. What is expressed with gestures, with a particular tone of voice, with certain postures, looks, expressions.


Deciphering this language, putting yourself in the shoes of the other e finding out what he is going through is synonymous with empathy. This ability not only allows us to obtain information about who we are in front of, it also helps to establish stronger social and emotional bonds. 

Recognizing the emotions and feelings of others is the first step in understanding and identifying with the people who express them. Empathic people are those who generally enjoy the greatest interpersonal skills and competences.

4. Social skills

How do we relate to others? Do we communicate effectively and assertively? Do we know how to manage conflicts or differences?

These behavioral dynamics improve or limit our ability to enjoy our relationships. To build healthy, comfortable and productive work environments. To shape more satisfying relationships with your partner, family or friends.

Daniel Goleman recalls in his books the need to be competent in these four areas. It is not worth mastering one or three. The emotionally intelligent person is effective in all.

Otherwise, you could have the classic manager trained in emotional intelligence, only arrived at assuming self-awareness, but not the ability to be empathetic with others, to understand worlds extraneous to their own needs and values. It is therefore necessary to embrace these four areas as a whole.

Daniel Goleman's theory: emotional intelligence can be learned and strengthened

In his books Emotional Intelligence (1995) and Social Intelligence (2006), the author explains that part of this ability is found in our own epigenetics.

In other words, it can be turned on and off depending on the emotional and social environment in which we grow up, in which we are educated.

"At best, IQ seems to contribute only 20% to success."

-Daniel Goleman-

Emotional intelligence responds to that brain plasticity in which any stimulus, continuous practice and systematic learning causes changes; builds connections and new areas where we can be much more competent in each of the 4 areas mentioned above.

Daniel Goleman also stresses the need to educate children through this approach. Both at home and at school, we should all be able to create meaningful and valid context in terms of emotional intelligence.

As for the world of adults, we know that in our daily life there is no shortage of courses of all kinds, seminars, conferences, books and magazines available to train this skill.

Reaching it is a matter of will, perseverance and application of real awareness for which to make present and constant the strategies that Professor Goleman indicates in his works:

  • Recognize the emotion behind our every action.
  • Expand the emotional language (sometimes it is not enough to say “I'm sad”, we have to be more precise. “I'm sad because I feel disappointed, a little angry and confused at the same time”).
  • Control thoughts to control actions.
  • Seeking a reason for the behavior of others, being able to understand the perspectives and emotional worlds of others.
  • Express emotions assertively.
  • Improve social skills.
  • Learn to motivate yourself and to strive for goals that can bring you closer to true happiness.

Boost emotional intelligence

Researchers from various fields have studied emotional intelligence and found that it is associated with a variety of intrapersonal and interpersonal factors, such as mental health, relationship satisfaction and job performance.

A systematic review of emotional intelligence research was conducted which showed that it is possible to increase this capacity in order to obtain various benefits.

Greater productivity

The study states that the people with well-developed emotional abilities are more prone to effectiveness. Since they can control those habits that improve their productivity.

On the other hand, those who cannot control their emotional life maintain internal conflicts that sabotage their ability to work with attention and precision.

Better quality of life

Unpleasant emotions and toxic relationships represent risk factors for the appearance of certain diseases. Therefore, it is important to know how to manage those disturbing feelings (anger, anxiety, depression, pessimism, etc.).

Well, when the harmful effects of these emotional states become chronic, the medical consequences can be severe.

Optimize learning and academic success

Daniel Goleman argues that prolonged emotional stress interferes with the intellectual faculties of childrenthus hindering their learning ability.

Likewise, he defends that success does not depend very much on talent but on the ability to move forward despite failures.

It enriches the social life

Emotional intelligence also includes the ability to properly relate to the emotions of others, as well as being able to express one's feelings appropriately. These two factors help us to establish healthier and more lasting bonds.

Conclusions on Daniel Goleman's theory

In addition to the classic intelligence tests, there is another sphere, another dimension and another intelligence with which we can achieve success.

We are talking about that personal success in which we are able to regulate behaviors and emotions, which allows us to connect better with others, to live in balance and harmony feeling competent, free, happy and personally fulfilled. Reaching it is an adventure worth living every day.

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