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Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace: An Interview with Dr. Michael Rock

By CO Staff @canadaone |

Hiring the right people can make your business a success. But how can you identify the best candidates? Softer skills are often just as important as talent and intelligence.

Dr. Michael Rock is a professor who has specialized in the study of emotional intelligence - or 'EQi' - and its impact in the workplace. To better understand EQ and how it can be used in the hiring process we interviewed Dr. Michael Rock.

CO -- Employers often say that they are looking for "bright" employees, but you've focused on a type of intelligence other than school smarts. Could you tell us what EQi or emotional quotient intelligence is?

MR -- In 1983 when Dr. Howard Gardner of Harvard University published his research on multiple intelligences, what was spoken about academically began to be discussed more dynamically among the general population.

In 1943 when Dr. David Wechsler (1896-1981) wrote in a psychological journal on what was then becoming quite well known -- the notion and testing of IQ or intelligence quotient -- he also tucked into his article a caveat. This caveat stated that before the world gets too excited about IQ as the 'only' way to look at intelligence, people must also keep in mind what he called 'non-intellective factors,' that is, those aspects of intelligence that were not simply factors that would measure a person's reasoning (IQ) self only.

Such aspects or factors would be the social skills not included in an IQ measurement process.

Of course, as we know, for the next 60 years the universities, the researchers, and the educational system ignored these non-intellective factors and concentrated on IQ as the sine qua non of 'making it.' Spin-offs of this focus were also developed, such as GREs (Graduate Record Exams), and SATs, for example.

While there is nothing 'wrong' with such measurements, the world also knows that mental intelligence (or IQ) is not creating our problems. Rather, the lack of relationship skills accounts for what I wrote in The Globe and Mail in 1979 as the "90% Factor." In other words, 90% of the problems you and I have on any given day are 'relationship issues.' In my counselling and coaching practice over the last 35 years, I stopped asking people, "What is the problem?" and began asking them at the very start of our time together, "Who is the problem?" In every case a grin would come over their faces! We got to the issues much more quickly this way.

It was with this kind of background knowledge that a psychologist named Dr. Reuven BarOn started his research in 1980. He wanted to know how was it that 'bright' individuals did silly, stupid, or unethical things in life.

In 1985 he coined the letters 'EQ' to refer to what we now know as emotional intelligence. In 1997, after 17 years of cross-cultural research he published the Emotional Quotient-Inventory (or EQ-i) which is a scientifically validated and reliable measure of emotional intelligence.

I define EQ as follows: "Our ability to engage our emotionality in effective ways in order to facilitate positive outcomes in our relationships."

A very pointed way to visualize how challenging this can be is to reflect on the Greek philosopher Aristotle and his comment of anger: "Anyone can become angry -- that is easy, but to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way -- this is not easy." I think each of us would agree with his insight.

Perhaps the most beautiful description of emotional intelligence comes from a retired high school teacher, Howard Hopkins, of Montreal, Québec, when he wrote the following:

"Every response you give to another person involves your intellect and your emotions. The intellect composes the message, and the emotions provide animation and grace. Emotion is to the message what music is to the lyric. Without the tune, would anyone ever remember the lyric? The skill to combine intellect and emotion in this dramatic and powerful fashion is emotional intelligence, and it possesses the power to elevate even the common exchanges of everyday encounters from the base level of me-and-you to the sublimity of I-and-Thou!"

Finally, in my work today, both as a professor and as a organizational consultant, I constantly get the following question from business people, "We keep hiring all these 'bright' people, MBAs, graduates of this-or-that discipline, but in too many cases we have to let them go. Why? They simply can't relate to staff. They don't say 'Good Morning,'; they treat support staff as slaves; they constantly give off this sense of entitlement; or they get mean if the stress is too much for them."

What they are talking about is this: these people have generally robust IQ scores and profiles, but they fail in their social and relationship skills (or EQ scores and profiles). And since 90% of our success is based on how well we relate to people, how we work in teams, and how we handle ourselves on a day-to-day basis, then it's obvious that these 'bright' people are simply not suitable to their business at hand.

CO -- In terms of the workplace, what are some of the most important components of EQi and how do these factors impact an employees performance?

MR -- If we follow up on what Dr. Baron researched and was able to measure, we know now that there are five (5) main components of emotional intelligence. These five component areas comprise fifteen (15) EQ abilities.

I have provided the following table to illustrate these components and abilities with accompanying descriptions. What is interesting about this Table is its three-fold EQ architecture: CORE factors, SUPPORTING factors, and RESULTANT factors.

The EQ-i :
Practical Emotional Architecture







Recognize and understand one's feelings and emotions, differentiate between them, know what caused them and why.

Promotes successful resolution and leads to improved interaction among staff.


Be attentive to, understand and appreciate the feelings of others, able to emotionally read other people.

Understands duties and demands being placed on colleagues creates cohesive functioning; understanding others viewpoints helps make one a team player.


Express feelings, beliefs, and thoughts and defend one's rights in a nondestructive way.

Helps individuals to work more cohesively and share ideas effectively; integral to leadership.


Assess the correspondence between what is experienced (the subjective) and what in reality exists (the objective).

Focuses on practicality and not on unrealistic expectations.


Resist or deny an impulse, drive, or temptation to act.

Knows rash actions can be costly; often avoids mistakes by simply taking time to stop and think.


Adjust one's emotions, thoughts, and behaviour to changing situations and conditions.


: perform better in positions where tasks are dynamic and changing. Low: perform better at more defined tasks requiring reliability and consistency.



Look at and understand oneself, respect and accept oneself, accepting one's perceived positive and negative aspects as well as one's limitations and possibilities.

Builds better work attitudes and behaviours; better self-confidence leading to better performance.


Self-reliant and self-directed in one's thinking and actions; free of emotional dependency; may ask for and consider advice of others, but rarely depend on others for important decisions or to do things for them.

People thinking for themselves, yet still listening to and utilizing ideas from others when appropriate.

Social Responsibility

Demonstrate oneself as a co-operative, contributing, and constructive member of one's social group.

Contributing to recognized departmental and company goals; being aware of the greater good you and your group can contribute to society as a whole.


Look at the brighter side of life and to maintain a positive attitude, even in the face of adversity.

Self-fulfilling prophecy: staff believing something is possible; often make it happen; optimistic attitude that wards off stress.

Stress Tolerance

Withstand adverse events and stressful situations without falling apart by actively and confidently coping with stress.

Managing reasonable workloads, establishing clear priorities, and meeting realistic deadlines.


Problem Solving

Identify and define problems, generate and implement potentially effective solutions.

Create viable alternative solutions, including a cost/benefit analysis / long-term implications.

Interpersonal Relationship

Establish and maintain mutually satisfying relationships that are characterized by intimacy and giving and receiving affection.

Effective communication within and between departments.


Realize one's potential capacities and to strive to do that which one wants to do and enjoys doing.

Motivate, optimize individual / team performance; bringing more life experience to the job.


Feel satisfied with one's life, to enjoy oneself and being with others, and to have fun.

Lifts spirits / overall performance.

When I give presentations on emotional intelligence, I always frame this Table by asking the audience the following questions:

Would you like a life whereby you could solve most of the problems that come on your plate each day?
[All hands go up in the air]

Would you like a life whereby you could have very enjoyable relationships with family, friends and colleagues?
[All hands go up in the air]

Would you like a life whereby you wake up each day excited about what lies ahead of you?
[All hands go up in the air]

Would you like a life whereby you are more or less content with what's happening in your daily comings-and-goings?
[All hands go up in the air]

What I have described for them are the RESULTANT EQ factors: Problem Solving, Interpersonal Relationships, Self-Actualization, and Happiness. Since all the hands have gone up in a typical audience, I then tell them, "If that's what you so desire, then you have to make sure the Core and Supporting factors are in place for you."

To help the audience get a more precise sense of realities in their life, I suggest the following metaphor:

"Think of EQ as your car. Let's say you want to drive to a very special place with your friend or family. You are so looking forward to doing that. Consider that the resultant or end-result of what you want. Now consider your car and its condition. Has the engine had a recent tune-up? Are all the necessary pipes and fittings and electrics working well? Consider all this the core factors necessary for your car to run well."

"Finally, besides what you want to experience (the resultant factors) and the power capable of transporting you (the core factors), you also need a sustainable frame to carry you safely (the supporting factors). This sustainable frame would include not only a rust-free car body, but also comfortable seating, air conditioning, radio/CD, heating and colling systems."

Thus, it is easy for the audience to visualize all this, using the car metaphor. Everyone wants the end-result: a wonderful experience. But are all the other factors in good shape (which, in our example, include the core and supporting factors)?

We can also extend this metaphor to the workplace as well. In today's world, given the workplace emphasis on teams and managing stress, and the customer demand of oustanding customer service, managers are simply foolish to imagine that these results will happen automatically because they have 'bright' employees, for example.

IQ is simply the threshold today; it gets one in the door. After that, almost everything else depends on an employee's ability to navigate relationships -- with customers, with support staff, with colleagues, with subordinates, and with senior managers. These are all relationship demands.

Of all the 15 EQ factors, emotional self-awareness (ESA) has to be seen as the 'engine.' Without this EQ ability -- given that it's needed 90% of the time because of the "90% Factor" -- it's simply 'the blind leading the blind.'

The EQ-i measures a person's emotional fluency along a continuum from 50 to 150, with 100 being a typical or 'average' score, similar to an IQ scale.

When the EQ-i was first normed, 10,000 people were tested. What was discovered was that 68% of these people -- or 6,800 people -- had scores between 85 and 115.

I have had managers with scores of 32 and 37 on the EQ factor of emotional self-awareness! What we find is that these managers may be very 'bright' financially or from a marketing point of view, but in the way they treat staff, they are a total disaster. Some companies have turnover rates of 35%; others I have dealt with have turnover rates of 85%. Most of the reasons for the turnover can be attributed to the absence of EQ or emotional intelligence or relationship skills.

Problem Solving (PS), Impulse Control (IC), Flexibility (FL) and Stress Tolerance (ST) are also 'must-have' competencies for the new workplace.

  • Problem Solving creates viable alternative solutions, including a cost/benefit analysis / long-term implications;
  • Impulse Control allows managers to emotionally know that rash actions can be costly and helps them often avoid mistakes by simply taking time to stop and think.
  • Flexibility allows employees to respond more effectively when tasks are dynamic and changing and when they require reliability and consistency.
  • And finally, Stress Tolerance allows employees to manage reasonable workloads, establish clear priorities, and meet realistic deadlines.

CO -- A number of 'soft' interview questions are crudely designed to evaluate how a person reacts to stress, but there are more scientific methods; how would you recommend that an employer assess a prospective hire's EQ-i and then evaluate this information when making a hiring decision?

MR -- There are some key human resource and ethical guidelines that I follow. For example, I have had companies suggest they use the EQ-i as a way to downsize 10-20% of the 'low performers.' I will not co-operate with that; it's unethical since the EQ-i should be used as a learning and developmental process.

It could be the case that low scores are the result of nasty managers. This doesn't excuse employees or any staff from not coping more effectively with their emotional intelligence. It simply underscores the fact that the EQ-i results are contextually-dependent and at the same time valid and reliable.

The trick is to change one's emotional response to obtain more effective results. However, being human, when vicious or very upsetting events occur, it can be very challenging -- not impossible -- for someone to recalibrate his/her emotional response to act, as Aristotle pointed out above, in an emotionally intelligent manner. I call this emotional fluency.

Emotional fluency is similar to reading fluency or language fluency: when we are fluent, we move gracefully through our demands. We could also call EQ as "gracefulness under fire." Demonstrating gracefulness under fire is often demanded in today's workplaces because of the constant changes occurring and because of the enormous demands often made on employees.

My practice as an EQ consultant, in a potential hiring situation for a company, is the following:

The EQ-i is administered to all potential candidates. They are told ahead of time that the EQ-i is valid and reliable measure of relationship skills and that the results will be used as part of the hiring process. When a candidate is hired, his/her EQ-i Report is given to the candidate, plus I also sit with the candidate in a coaching feedback session (usually 1-2 hours). Cost per hire: $400.00

The HR department (or any other department) does not get a copy of the candidate's EQ-i Report for their files. The reason for this is that since EQ is 'growable,' in a year from now, depending on the context, this same candidate may have different scores on the EQ Report. The EQ-i is a learning and development experience; it is confidential to the individual; and the company must be willing to invest in such a process. Provide candidates with the tools for them to do their work; stand back; and watch the incredible results that occur.

For those candidates who are not hired, their EQ-i Reports are destroyed. Some companies may want to thank candidates by providing an EQ coaching session as well; in that case the candidate will meet with me and have a 1-2 hr. session. Cost per coaching session: $400.

What I have found is that organizations with emotionally intelligent leadership capability will provide such coaching sessions for all candidates. Not only is it good for the candidate, it also is great PR for the organization. Word gets around; a good corporate reputation is priceless.

Research has been completed on EQ and work success. Ideal profiles have been generated; ideal combinations of EQ factors for many occupational groups are now available. For example, if a company is interested in hiring general sales people, the "EQ Stars," as they are called, this occupational group has the following five EQ factors:

  1. Self-Actualization: the ability to realize one's potential capacities and to strive to do that which one wants to do and enjoys doing. Potential candidates demonstrate this by being excited about the possibilities in the work and how they will convey this positive emotionality to customers, staff, etc.
  2. Assertiveness: the ability to emotionally express feelings, beliefs, and thoughts and defend viewpoints in a nondestructive way.
  3. Happiness: the ability to show that one is emotionally satisfied with one's life, that enjoys oneself and other people as well, and that one can have fun.
  4. Optimism: the ability to emotionally see the 'silver lining' in situations or to look at the brighter side of life and to maintain a positive attitude, even in the face of adversity.
  5. Self-Regard: the ability to emotionally look at and understand oneself, respect and accept oneself, accept one's perceived positive and negative aspects as well as one's limitations and possibilities.

Research has covered other occupational groups such as: Insurance Salespeople, Marketing Professionals, Retail/Sales Clerks, Cashiers/Bank Tellers, Customer Service Representatives, Senior Managers, Lawyers, Engineers ... to name a few.

CO -- In job interviews employees will often give the answers they think an employer wants to hear. Can this be a problem for EQ-i assessments as well?

MR -- A skilled interviewer goes beyond this limitation that a potential candidate might offer. As a professor now for over 35 years, whenever I do oral tests or exams in class, with the rest of the class present, it is very easy to pick up when a student is giving a 'canned answer.' These answers are usually flat, 'textbookish,' and most important, without an emotional connection.

This same sense is also present in the hiring situation. In addition, the EQ-i also has two additional validity factors built into it: the Positive Impression (or PI) scale and the Negative Impression (or NI) scale. Call these socially desirable inclinations or impressions that people project.

My experience in recruiting situations is that candidates naturally want to put their best foot forward. This tendency is good, as long as it does not become embellished or enhanced beyond what is realistic. For example, I mentioned that "100" is the mean or "typical" or the "norm" here in North America. Thus, anyone with EQ-i scores in or around 100 would be considered "normal" or "typical" of what many others score at.

This is true also for the PI and NI scales. However, if a PI scale starts climbing to 130 (or more), we realize that the candidate, for whatever reason, is embellishing his/her sense of self.

I remember having one candidate who was a female enginner ... a very mentally bright person. When I looked at her 'high' EQ-i scores (in the 120-134 range for all 15 EQ competencies), I also realized she had a 147 on her PI (or Positive Impression) scale. Such a high score could mean that she didn't know herself emotionally or she was a prima donna, for example.

In the job interview, she presented herself in a very arrogant way and left the impression with the interviewers that they were asking her very 'silly' questions and she was 'above all that sort of thing'. Thus, she demonstrated behaviourally why her PI score was so high (at 147): she, in fact, did believe she was better than other people.

After the interview, and after meeting with two other candidates, the interviewers (an HR person, the corporate lawyer, and another engineer) had to decide if they wanted such an 'arrogant' person, as they called her, on board, or not. They recognized her intellectual talents, but since the position was a managerial one which interfaced with customers as well, they decided not to hire her. Instead, they chose another candidate whose scores who not as high, but whose PI score was typical or closer to the norm of 100.

I received a phone call a year later from the company wanting to thank me for my participation in their process. The person they did hire fit in, was enjoyable to have working with them, and overall, they felt very successful. So did the candidate who was hired, I might add.

CO --In the ideal hiring process would you expect the employer to look at a combination of factors in addition to EQ-i?

Yes. The EQ-i (as with any instrument) should be used as part of the hiring process. As well, to concentrate only on the EQ-i scores, without understanding the human person behind the scores, to me, is unethical, because such action allows no choice for either the company or the potential hire.

We are just not numbers; we are human beings. The numbers on any test or inventory are guidelines. I always start my EQ workshops this way: "EQ is the start of a conversation." There is always a story behind the numbers.

One time in a hiring situation, a candidate had an "85" on Happiness. Now, an 85 is somewhat low, but what is the reason for this? In the interview, the candidate explained that he had been without work for the past two years. That explained a lot. The company did actually hire this person and given the rest of his rather robust EQ-i Profile, he was a joy to have on board.

CO -- What would those factors be?

MR -- Some of the 'other' factors that are also important are the person's work history, perhaps the candidate's profile from a personality test (such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator), perhaps a videotaping of his/her involvement in a team-building exercise, role play, in-basket exercise, outside interests, etc.

I am particularly fascinated with the outside interests dimension because I strongly believe that 'outside' the workplace, people put their energies where they truly want them to be. I have had candidates tell me that they love singing, for example, in their weekly barbershop quartet group, or in an orchestral choir; others have mentioned playing music instruments; volunteer work; their activity in politics, etc.

For example, having experience singing in a choir is a terrific attribute to have if you want a candidate to be an integral part of a team. One cannot be a 'prima donna' in a choir; one has to be 'part of.' Teams fall apart when the issue of dominance is not managed.

With the EQ-i results, if teamwork was absolutely critical to work performance, I would be looking for a candidate's score, for example, on Social Responsibility. Social Responsibility not only reflects a candidate's emotional ability to respect the environment, but also his/her emotional preparedness to be a part of a team.

It's interesting with my students (whether undergraduates or MBA): I can obtain an EQ-i Group Report. I look to the Social Responsibility score and its distribution of scores to find out how team-oriented a new class will be. I also wait until I receive my new class' EQ Group Report. Its results on the 15 EQ-i competencies tell me what my semester curriculum will be like.

I know, for example, from past experience, that Impulse Control is something we will have to work on. Why? Because (a) my graduating students, for example, are still young and generally emotionally 'impulsive' about life; (b) our society has what I call 'the Nintendo generation': everything is quick for young people, from e-mail, to cell phones, to cars, etc. Emotionally, we have a generation and a large segment of society that is quite impatient. Emotionally that can be a powder keg, especially when such an emotionally impatient person sits behind the wheel of a 3,000 lb. car travelling at 120 km./hr!

About Dr. Michael Rock
Dr. Michael E. Rock is one of a few specialists in the world currently licensed to certify professionals in the understanding of, the statistical research background in, and the interpretation and use of the BarOn EQ-i Dr. Rock has designed and teaches "EQ and the New Workplace" at Seneca College, Toronto.

(Emotional Quotient-Inventory ). The EQ-i is the world's first scientific assessment tool that measures emotional intelligence. He has authored two online EQ Leadership programs based on the scientific EQ-i and is the author of EQ Goes to Work.

Dr. Rock is also a professional adult educator, public speaker, researcher, author and professor; educated in Canada and the United States; holder of 6 degrees (Doctorate in Adult Education, Indiana University); several years post-doctoral training in depth psychology, Toronto and the C.G. Jung Institute, Zurich, Switzerland; author of nearly 150 articles, books, cassettes, CD-ROMs on human capital profiling topics; designer of Internet corporate as well as teaching web sites; co-award winner of the "Certificate of Merit" (judged on the basis of innovation, effectiveness and business attitude) from Business Facilities magazine in its fourth annual economic development award for "The 7 Pillars of Visionary Leadership City of Vaughan CD-ROM"; nominee for the prestigious 3M Teaching Excellence Award; editorial member of the International Journal of Human Resource Management (IJHRM); Seneca College Teaching Excellence Award presented at NISOD (National Institute for Staff and Organization Development), University of Texas at Austin; Canada Council Doctoral Fellow (Indiana University); Eli Lily Doctorate Fellowship Award (Indiana University); licensed with the Interpersonal Communications Program, University of Minnesota; worked with such clients as World Bank, American Chiropractic Association, Bendix Corp., IBM Canada, NCR Canada, Globe Realty (Royal Bank of Canada), TTC; and is currently on the steering committee, Centre for Spirituality at Work, sponsored by Royal Bank of Canada and Price Waterhouse. Currently, he is also an adjunct professor with the new MBA Hospitality and Tourism Program in the School of Hotel and Food Administration, College of Social and Applied Human Sciences and the new M.A. in Leadership Program, Faculty of Management, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario.

Other Articles by Michael Rock
Michael Rock, Learner Coach, 1997-1999


The 7 Pillars of Visionary Leadership: Introduction:


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