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Thursday, September 10, 2009

A review of Assessing Emotional Intelligence: A Competency Framework for the Development of Soft Skills

Carblis, R. Assessing Emotional Intelligence: A Competency Framework for the Development of Soft Skills. Amherst, NY: Cambria Press, 2008, 439, $124.95, Hardcover.

A version of this review will appear in Personnel Psychology in about the next year


This text represents an output of the author’s PhD research conducted at Macquarie University. The intent was to start with interpersonal skills derived from the emotional intelligence (EI) competencies presented in Goleman (1996, 1998), and then to develop teachable and learnable competency standards for (1) general emotional awareness, (2) the awareness of happiness in the workplace, and (3) the awareness of anger in the workplace. Given that the author received the PhD and a book contract, a few people must have agreed that he succeeded. I am not among them, but that’s more a statement on the current theoretical development of EI than it is about this book.

The cover art for this text presents the reader with a phrenological map of the human skull from which brain organ (a phrenology term) number 35 on the right is removed, probably for the artistic purpose of letting the book title float from the rendered head. I doubt that the choice had anything to do with that removed brain organ being associated with causality, as indicated by one of the charts provided at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phrenology. Nonetheless, the choice of cover art left me eager to turn the cover.

Although the 13 chapters and 7 appendices of this text are presented linearly, the development of the subject is non-linear. The stated reason for the non-linear presentation on page 9 “involved the synthesis or confluence of [a] number of interconnected issues or areas of investigation that centered on the three core tasks as follows: (1) defining and selecting competencies, (2) designing the competencies, and(3) developing a method to validate them.” The following page, 10, presents the schematic structure of the book with four broad sections.

The first section in the schematic structure is called “Theoretical Considerations,” and chapters 2, 3, 4, 7, 10, and 11 are included, each chapter apparently representing unique theoretical considerations (e.g., chapter 10: Theory & Methodology of Pilot Study Validation).

The second section of the schematic structure involves “core tasks,” which are (1) definition and selection of competencies, (2) design of competency standards, and (3) validation methodology. No chapters are indicated as pertaining to this section.

The third section is the “construction of competencies,” where the competencies are (1) general emotional awareness, (2) awareness of anger, and (3) awareness of happiness. This section involves chapters 5, 8 and 9. Although the ordering here of the second and third competences, awareness of anger and happiness, is reversed from the initial presentation on page 6, there appears to be no discernible reason for the change other than the alphabetical ordering of the two in the chart. Granted, such is a minor point. However, a consistent ordering of important topics, which in this case are topics that become chapters, assists the reader and the learner, to grasp the material better.

The last section of the schematic structure includes “theory related to selected competencies,” and has two parts, (1) theory of emotional awareness, and (2) theory of emotion. This section is associated with chapters 5 and 6. Underpinning the schematic structure of this book are chapters 12 and 13, which are presented as discussion and conclusion, respectively, though chapter titles are different.

I did not find the schematic structure of the book particularly useful for understanding the text, and this review is structured along the table of contents. However, I suspect that someone planning to wade deeper into EI might have a greater appreciation of the chart than I did.

In chapter 1, we meet the Australian National Training Authority (ANTA, 2001). ANTA (2001) provided a methodology by which the process for the development of vocational competency standards could be adapted for the development of emotional intelligence competencies.

Chapter 2 takes us through the adaptation of ANTA (2001) for use with the development of emotional intelligence competencies. Numerous definitions of concepts of competencies (e.g., performance, attribute, integrated) are presented with ample discussion of each along with commentary regarding why one might or might not adopt each. However, the discussion does little to provide concrete examples that would anchor the reader’s understanding and development, leaving it quite apparent that this text is not where a beginner would start. At this point, it is clear that the intended audience of this text is graduate students deep in the study of emotional intelligence and perhaps EI theoreticians seeking a text that provides an overarching framework.

Chapter 3 brings us to the definitions of, first, key competencies, and, second, the competencies of emotional intelligence. (I doubt the ambiguous use of “competency” here was intentional, but, rather, the unfortunate result of two fields being melded.) Most of these definitions are provided within the framework of ANTA (2001), though other supporting sources are cited. Although key competencies are constructs such as “planning and organizing activities” (page 56), emotional intelligence competencies are represented by those additional soft skills that serve to enhance the performance of the key competency. In addition, it is here that the use of ANTA (2001) to direct the development of emotional intelligence competencies using a methodology constructed for the development of vocational competency standards becomes clear.

Chapters 4 through 9 present the seeming exhaustive exploration and definitions of emotional intelligence competencies along with the development of the three competency standards. Chapter 8 is the chapter regarding the awareness of anger, and it is the longest chapter in the book, though chapter 5 regarding general emotional awareness placed a close second. That the formal construction of a definition of anger received more attention that any other section in this book, especially demonstrably more than happiness, was of interest to me. Of course, the author did indicate that the framework developed for anger was used to frame the chapter on happiness. Nonetheless, I was left wondering further.

We do not need a litany of references to know that anger in the workplace receives far more attention than does happiness. On the corner of my desk sits an employee handbook that expressly forbids harassment, which certainly leads to anger if it is not an expression of repressed anger itself. Such a workplace rule is perfectly reasonable, and I, for one, am glad that the rule exists. However, few, if any, statements directly and specifically refer to employee happiness.

The expense and penalty of anger in the workplace is as well documented as it is well known. The empirical rewards of happiness in the workplace are generally far less discussed, though they are not unknown, and many organizations with perceptive management actively seek to promote employee happiness because doing so generally improves employee productivity and longevity.

To this end, if emotional intelligence can be taught, as is the premise of this text with it’s focus on competencies, then it would seem reasonable that training programs would arise to provide these developmental opportunities to employees. Indeed, one does not have to look far to find workshops in, say, anger management, but where does one find that workshop in happiness management? Although I hesitate to offer my experience as any indicator, I’m not sure that I’ve ever encountered the latter, though I hope that’s just because of my limited experiences.

Chapter 10 initiates the assessment of the emotional competencies, beginning with a validation of the ANTA (2001) methodology. Most of the discussion in this chapter involves the application of various forms of qualitative methodology. Although I have no particular objection to the use of qualitative methods, and I generally encourage their use in work such as this, I would like to have seen quantitative evidence of some form that suggested the reliability and validity of the measures developed.

Chapter 11 continues this assessment with a review of the validation findings. It is here that I begin to shake all over. Now, why is that? With all that has been said about the assessment of emotional intelligence, along with anger and happiness awareness, it seems almost a natural consequence of this work to expect to find adverse impact in the subsequent measures because “the standards may be differently relevant within various industry-, role-, and gender-related situations and contexts. (page 277)” No empirical evidence is presented that would further assess the potential for such adverse impact to exist or to be ameliorated, and it seems reasonable to anticipate that measures in this area would be at risk to contain items exhibiting differential items functioning.

The text closes with two brief chapters that describe the achievements and issues found with the use of ANTA (2001), followed by suggestions for further research. Think a dissertation’s conclusions and suggestions for future research, and you’ll be right on target.

Although I’m glad that the author found a publication venue for his dissertation research, I am not convinced that the presentation found herein will serve to bring new students into the field, not without substantial guidance by someone already knowledgeable in the area. For example, the schematic structure presented on page 10 served no purpose as I sought to organize what the author was attempting to say, and I found an iterative unraveling of the table of contents far more useful as an organizer of this work.

I also anticipated as I started the text that I would finish with a framework for building an assessment, one that would provide numbers for the identified competencies. No such assessment appeared, and I believe this book would be substantially improved by the inclusion of more concrete examples. Of course, such an addition would push the length of the text forward perhaps by more pages than the publisher could permit. However, a serious winnowing of the ancillary descriptions and definitions could easily address that problem, as could the inclusion of some form of workbook.

However, my greater problem here is emotional intelligence itself. First, as I read descriptions of various EI frameworks, I am left with the nagging suspicion that I’m generally seeing some sort of effect, and perhaps an interaction, due to intelligence (g) and personality preferences. Experimental confirmation of that suspicion is available. For example, Schulte, Ree, and Carretta (2004) used scores from the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT; Mayer, Salovey, & Caruso, 2002) regressed onto scores from the Wonderlic Personnel Test (WPT; Wonderlic, 1983), the NEO-Five Factor Inventory (NEO-FFI; Costa & McCrae, 1992), and sex to uncover a multiple R=.81 after correction for attenuation. The authors concluded, “If EI can be largely predicted from other well-known constructs, it’s uniqueness and expected incremental utility for predicting human performance may be limited” (p. 1067).

Second, there are just too many theoretical frameworks for emotional intelligence, and any pair is generally laden with maddening degrees of similarity and uniqueness. This quagmire of disparate theoretical underpinnings appeared to present Carblis with his greatest challenge as he charted the waters in the application of ANTA (2001) to EI assessment.

This criticism of EI is not mine alone. Murphy (2009) in a review of Druskat, Sala, and Mount (2006) states clearly on page 134 “The diversity of models and measures in the current EI volume suggests that the field is far from developing consensus about the nature and the implications of EI, but without an acceptable definition of the construct, we may never know the workplace consequences of high or low levels of EI.” More pointedly, Locke (2005, p. 425) argues that EI is an invalid concept because, in part, it is defined in too many ways.


Australian National Training Authority. (2001). Training package development handbook. Brisbane, Queensland, Australia: Author.

Costa, P. T., & McCrae, R. R. (1992). Revised NEO Personality Inventory (NEO-PI-R) and NEO Five-Factor Inventory (NEO-FFI) Professional Manual. Odessa, FL: Psychological Assessment Resources.

Goleman, D. (1996). Emotional intelligence. New York: Bantam Books.

Goleman, D. (1998). Working with emotional intelligence. Ney York: Bantam Books.

Locke, E. A. (2005). Why emotional intelligence is an invalid concept. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 26, 425-431.

Mayer, J. D., Salovey, P, & Caruso, D. R. (2002). Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT): User’s manual. Toronto: Multi-Health Systems, Inc.

Murphy, K. R. (2009). Emotional intelligence: A disappointing decade. American Journal of Psychology, 122, 131-139.

Schulte, M. J., Ree, M. J., & Carretta, T.R. (2004). Emotional intelligence: Not much more that g and personality. Personality and Individual Differences, 37, 1059-1068.

Wonderlic, E. F. (1983). Wonderlic Personnel Test Manual. Northfield, IL: E. F. Wonderlic & Associates.

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