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Communication and working relationships in sport and fitness
Communication and working relationships in sport and fitness

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1 Is emotional intelligence a useful idea?

The first topical aspect you consider is the term ‘emotional intelligence’, which is often used interchangeably with so called ‘soft’ or people skills. It was popularised by journalist Daniel Goleman (1995) in his book Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. But to what extent is it useful when analysing communication?

A photograph of three children, with light bulbs above their heads.
Figure 1 Emotional intelligence: bright idea or fancy dress?

Activity 1 A one-minute explanation of emotional intelligence

Timing: Allow about 10 minutes

Watch the following video, which briefly explains Goleman’s book. There are five aspects that he claims make up emotional intelligence, two of which you have come across already in this course (self-awareness and empathy).

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  1. Note down the list of five aspects.
  2. Consider to what extent emotional intelligence (EQ) is used in your sport environment and any thoughts on it being a useful idea for understanding communication and working relationships.
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  1. You have already covered self-awareness and empathy (Session 3) and have explored building relationships (Session 3 and 4). The other two aspects were managing emotions and self-motivation.
  2. You can see that EQ pools together a number of components into one. One way of seeing its use in sport is to search for online references to it. There are many and varied results from internet search engines: a frequent mention of EQ in popular coaching material is its interchangeable use with interpersonal skills. Also, the original author, Goleman, provocatively uses the term ‘intelligence’: it certainly grabs people’s attention but the question is how much evidence is there for his bold claims of it mattering more than IQ?

Emotional intelligence is a term you need to know about in sport and fitness because it is often referred to in training and online material. However, caution is needed. The main scientific critique of EQ can be summarised as follows:

  1. Groups of widely studied personality, motivational, emotional regulation, self-control and assertiveness attributes should be called what they are, rather than being mixed together in a haphazard assortment (Mayer, 2009).
  2. Exaggerated claims have been made. For example, claims often focus around EQ leading to job or leadership success (e.g. Sternberg, 1999)
  3. There is disagreement how EQ should be measured (e.g. Antonakis, 2009) or indeed if it can be measured (e.g. Fiori & Antonakis, 2012).

To conclude, if you do come across the term ‘emotional intelligence’ you need to be wary of exactly how people are using the term.

In the next section you will hear how one influential coach talks about his coaching practice including reference to his emotions.