Emotional Intelligence


I recently went online to evaluate my own emotional intelligence. I found this test that only takes 5 minutes to complete.


I came out as “average”. I was not surprised. I have good intuition regarding the feelings of others. But I do not always act on that intuition believing there is a better way. I have a lot of experience with persons in my life who used the expressions of feelings as an excuse to “go off” on others, using such behaviour as a kind of catharsis. Thus despite the intuition being quite strong, the self-awareness quite strong, the trust in these feelings is not strong, not strong at all.

I use this analogy. Imagine you are a baseball pitcher. You have learned how to throw a knuckleball. When batters arrive at the plate you know which ones cannot hit the “knuckler”. You know you can throw the pitch that will strike the hitter out. You know what can work and you can make it work. BUT you choose not to throw that pitch because the knuckleball is an inherently chaotic pitch, you have no idea what a knuckleball will do, the catcher is as confused as the batter, thus many passed balls. That is exactly how I feel about emotional intelligence, I often know the emotive response that could be effective and I know I can do it but I look for other “safer” expressions, less potentially chaotic. Thus the “average” score.

Here is an interesting article on emotional intelligence and church leadership.

Emotional Intelligence and Congregational Leadership

By Roy M. Oswald

Within congregational ministries, emotional intelligence is essential for pastoral effectiveness. Without it, great sermons may be preached, effective pastoral care offered, and scripture interpreted soundly, but when a pastor1 does not have a relationship of trust with congregants, little transformation occurs. Clergy who are unable to forge meaningful relationships with congregants will rarely have effective ministries—it is that basic. In congregational work, it is all about relationships. 

Effective clergy find a way to relate to all members of their congregation, not just a portion of them. Whatever differences these clergy might have with particular congregants, whether political, social, theological, or personal, effective clergy must somehow work at connecting with every congregant in a significant way. As I sometimes say to clergy, “You may not even like each other, but that should not prevent the two of you from developing a significant relationship. Following that kind of connectedness, whenever you encounter that person, the two of you smile at each other, knowing that you have bonded in a special way. Without this bonding, the two of you will look at ways to discredit each other, consciously or unconsciously.”

These are some examples of ways in which low emotional intelligence tends to sabotage effective ministries:                                                       

A pastor is so averse to conflict that whenever anyone offers a criticism of his ministry he tries to avoid that person as much as possible, rather than meeting with them to work out their differences.

A pastor has a good theology of grace but is unable to embody that grace with congregants, remaining mainly aloof, critical, and dismissive of them.

A pastor loses her temper frequently with congregants so that people try to avoid her, not wanting to be on the receiving end of her anger.

A pastor is so depressed that he is barely able to do what is minimally expected of him, putting in at most thirty hours per week.

A pastor is a micro-manager of staff and volunteers but is unaware of the emotional effect that has on people, who always end up feeling they are being treated like immature children.

A pastor is so introverted that he appears unable to make connections in significant ways with congregants; members rarely come to know the real person hiding behind the clerical collar.

A pastor takes credit for everything positive within the congregation but rarely acknowledges the efforts of others, unaware how this impacts others emotionally.

Soon after the 1995 publication of Daniel Goleman’s bestseller Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, Time Magazine’s front cover asked the question “What’s Your EQ?” From my perspective, a pastor’s EQ [emotional quotient] is definitely more important than his or her IQ. How pastors deal with congregants and staff on a daily basis certainly trumps their mastery of Scripture and theology on the cerebral level.

Goleman defines emotional intelligence as “the capacity for recognizing our own feelings and those of others, for motivating ourselves, and for managing emotions well in ourselves and in our relationships.” Many people are out of touch with their feelings and are being manipulated by those feelings without conscious awareness of this. State prisons are full of individuals who have committed crimes of passion (“He made me mad so I shot him”). Only when one is aware of a strong feeling within and is able to step back and observe it does the choice of whether to act on the feeling or not become possible.

It is here that self-awareness becomes crucial. It is the foundation of emotional intelligence. To be sure, greater self-awareness can be learned, but where is it taught? In the home? In grade or high school? In college or seminary? There is no single institution that claims responsibility for teaching people self-awareness. It is best learned within communities that practice healthy emotional intelligence, whether a company, church, or family of origin. Within these separate communities, it is best when one has a mentor or simply someone to observe to see how he or she manages emotionally laden situations. What kind of self-awareness does the mentor bring to a range of social/emotional situations?

In one sense, humans are wonderfully made. We can use one part of our brain to observe another part of the brain in action. This is called mindfulness. Mindfulness can be practiced in some forms of meditation. Yet, even though our brains have this capacity for reflective self-awareness, it is a process that needs to be developed; it does not come naturally.

The capacity to manage our own emotions and those of others is an acquired skill. Hopefully, all of us will continue to improve in this skill, as it is a lifelong learning process. Persons who lack this ability may not able to pick it up easily. It usually requires changing people’s basic personality so that they come to view themselves and others differently, which is not something that occurs in a short period of time.

The process that moves from experience to action follows the evolutionary process of human development. This is the pattern: Experience-Feelings-Thoughts-Action

Every thought is preceded by a feeling. Some people think they can go directly from experience to thought without going through feeling. However, when we lack self-awareness, we lack the capacity to recognize the feelings that underlie our thought process. Awareness of the feeling tone behind a thought might lead us to reconsider the argument we are putting forth.

When trying to bypass feeling to get immediately to thought, people miss out on important data. Human feelings are important data that help us move toward a decision. There are times when our rational mind tells us that a specific decision is the correct one, but we just don’t feel right about it. Emotional intelligence theory posits that we ought to pay attention to these feelings and hold off on the decision, thus recognizing the intelligence that resides in feelings. When we change the way we feel about something we will also change the thoughts we have about it.

Some people, however, go from experience to feelings and get stuck there. They do not allow objective thoughts to influence their feeling process. For example, the logical conclusion that they might spend the rest of their life in prison if they kill someone is lacking.

In the book that I co-authored with New Testament scholar Arland Jacobson, The Emotional Intelligence of Jesus: Relational Smarts for Religious Leaders, we used Goleman’s definition of emotional intelligence to look at Jesus’ human relationship skills. We concluded that Jesus not only possessed great emotional intelligence but actually taught it to others. He valued relationships higher than religious ritual: “When you are presenting your gift to the altar and there remember you are in conflict with another, leave your gift there at the altar. First go and be reconciled with your brother and then present your gift at the altar” (Matt. 5:24).

Jacobson and I explored the passage in the gospel of John (8:1–11) in which Jesus is teaching people on a mountain top when an angry crowd approaches him, dragging with them a woman who was caught in the act of adultery. Someone says, “Master, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law of Moses states that this woman should be stoned to death. What do you say?” Jesus doesn’t answer right away—instead, he stoops down to write in the sand with his finger. This was an exceedingly complex, emotionally charged event. Jesus first had to become clear about his own feelings. He also had to figure out how to manage the emotions of the crowd. He then stood up and came out with that famous phrase, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” (v.7, NRSV). Once having said this, he went back to writing in the sand with his finger. He did not remain standing and try to bully the crowd by staring them down. He was taking a huge emotional risk, and he wasn’t sure it would work. Eventually, the angry crowd dispersed, leaving him alone with the woman, and he sent her back, forgiven, to her village. This is an amazing example of the emotional intelligence of Jesus and how people with high emotional intelligence can manage their own emotions and the emotions of others.

Within his communal life, Jesus emphasizes forgiveness and love of one’s enemies. How is communal life ever going to flourish without that kind of emotional intelligence? Most impressive is Jesus’ capacity to elicit trust among those who come to him for healing. Sick people tend to avoid being open about their illness, but Jesus had such credibility that they came forward anyway. After such healing incidents, Jesus would tell people to go in peace and/or would tell them that their faith had made them well. I used to think he was referring to their faith in God, but now I think he meant their faith/trust in the man Jesus who performed these miracles. What kind of healing might be possible today if there were a similar trust between the pastor and the people? We might learn much about emotional intelligence if we become curious about the ways Jesus was able to foster this kind of trust in people.

Most clergy fail to recognize that the transformation of a person’s life is a relational rather than a cerebral process. The opposite is the reality—people need to arrive at a different feeling about a subject before they can change the way they think about it. Emotional preaching, such as Christian Pentecostal preaching, might actually be more effective in transforming people’s lives than well-thought-out theological sermons. Established believers might benefit from more rational sermons that fortify and nurture them in their faith, but, in light of emotional intelligence theory, I wonder if highly emotional sermons are actually more effective at transforming people. Or, to phrase the issue differently, how do religious leaders blend rationality and emotionality in ways that are truly transformative?

Courses in clinical pastoral education do have the potential to teach students emotional intelligence. These courses usually take place within hospital settings, and students meet regularly with a CPE supervisor to review their experiences in dealing with hospital patients and each other. For some students these are powerful learning opportunities in which they are confronted with the impact their words and behavior have on patients and other students.

The drawback to CPE is that a basic unit can be too short in length to have a major impact on students. The five to six weeks of a typical CPE basic unit is not nearly enough. When CPE courses are extended to six months or a year, they definitely can have life-altering effects on students. Another drawback to CPE is that the insights learned are rarely supported and reinforced when these students return to the academic setting of their seminary. Maybe seminary faculty hope CPE will transform all the social misfits they have in their classrooms into emotionally health and spiritually mature pastors because the seminaries do not have a contract with students that allows them to offer feedback regarding inappropriate behavior.

Rowan Williams, former archbishop of the Anglican Church, claimed that the only hope for spiritual transformation within Christian denominations is though contemplative prayer. Personally, I would not use the word “only,” but Williams did. He believes that Christians, like all believers, can become stuck in repeated ways of thinking. In the research on emotional intelligence, neuroscientists talk about neural pathways that only get deeper with time. These grooves within human brains become deeper and larger with age. We notice this dynamic in some elderly people who never change their way of perceiving the world and others. How free are we really when we are locked into certain patterns of thinking? Awareness of these neural pathways opens up the possibility of seeking alternative ways of perceiving our life in God and how we choose to view the world.

Recent decades have revealed a decline in congregational vitality, at least among mainline denominations in most Western nations. There is no one sure-fire bullet that will spark congregational growth. It is my conviction, however, that a congregation with an emotionally intelligent pastor will have the greatest possibility of reducing congregation conflicts and reaching out to the millennial generation and non-churched individuals of any age.

Roy M. Oswald is founder and executive director of the Center for Emotional Intelligence and Human Relations Skills. Formerly, he was a senior consultant for the Alban Institute for thirty-one years.