Emotional Intelligence – Too ‘wishy-washy’ for Third Level Education

Lowry-O’Neill, Catherine (2008) Emotional Intelligence – Too ‘wishy-washy’ for Third Level Education. [Conference Proceedings]


‘Emotional intelligence’: there is something about the phrase that at once jars and feels right. It jars because, given the centuries of celebration of the virtues of reason, emotion does not convincingly sit next to the word intelligence. Yet it feels right at an intuitive level, because Sternberg (1982) and Gardner (1983) paved the way to the liberation of the definition of intelligence. In 2005, Goleman published a book with the title ‘Emotional Intelligence’ and, since then, a plethora of titles that suggest a popular acceptance of a broadening of the conception of intelligence have inundated the bookshops, including: Spiritual Intelligence (Levin, 2001), Success Intelligence (Holden, 2006) and Social Intelligence (Goleman, 2007).This paper addresses the concept of emotional intelligence with regard to its relevance for higher education, which has traditionally been doubtful of the affective and of the popular and associated rather with critical thinking and the academic. It presents the results of a research project analysing the experiences and opinions of individuals in one third level institution. Based on the findings, it puts forward the argument that emotional intelligence (EI) is a highly relevant concept, not only for learners, but also for lecturers and leaders. Thus it challenges the assumption that arguably exists at a national level within third level education that EI is ‘wishy-washy’, ‘touchy-feely’, and therefore irrelevant.

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