From TJ Magazine: Old wine in a new bottle?

In the first of a three-part series, Dr Ken Nowack and Andrew Munro explore emotional and social competence in organisations.

Reading time: 3 minutes.

Now is the perfect time for an update about emotional and social competence (ESC) in organisations. We’ll start by exploring whether ESC is unique or no more than a new label for ‘old wine in a new bottle.’

Next month, we’ll explore ESC differences in men and women, and discuss whether women have a leadership advantage over their male counterparts. Finally, in the last part of our series, we will explore the upside, downside and even dark side of ESC. 

So, to begin. During the last decade, the topic of ESC has become extremely popular as observed in a wave of publications and the proliferation of assessments. Despite the lack of consensus around the concept, ESC has gained significant organisational traction.

Historically, two definitions have been applied to the definition and measurement of ESC. The first conceptualises it as a facet of intelligence and/or a set of abilities to recognise and regulate emotions in ourselves and in others. 

The second encompasses ESC as an amalgamation of personality traits such as the ‘big five’ (extroversion, agreeableness, openness, conscientiousness and neuroticism), other self-perceived abilities and interpersonal behaviours.

Recent claims about the relationship between various measures of ESC and job performance have stimulated interest from consultants and practitioners in a range of diagnostic tools. These assessments are now shaping key resourcing and development decisions: who gets hired, who is marked as high potential, who gets promoted and who gets fired. 

Given the differences in the definition, measurement and validity of ESC, is the marketing claim ahead of the evidence base? What does the recent research linking the assessment of ESC to key organisational outcomes indicate about the opportunities as well as some of the limitations?

In light of such differences in the definition, measurement and validity of ESC, it is not surprising that practitioners are often confused. Which ESC application should be used for different assessment and development interventions? How are these new vendor products different to the current applications we use? What gains can be expected from the implementation of ESC? 

What is ESC?

Is ESC just another grab-bag of older concepts in psychology?

Recent evidence suggests that ESC is likely to be a blending of general cognitive ability, social intelligence, interpersonal competence, self-awareness, emotional control, relationship intelligence, aspects of the big five personality factors, resilience, core self-evaluations and transformational leadership factors. 

Most researchers and practitioners agree there are at least three different models to conceptualise and measure ESC, given the diversity of contributing psychological factors. Each model has been shown to be significantly associated with diverse individual and organisational outcomes in research, but it remains unclear whether one approach is better than another.

These three broad models can be described as: 

  • Personality/trait

This approach was popularised by Reuven Bar-On (1997) and consists of five main components of skills and abilities including self-perception, self-expression, stress management, interpersonal
skills and decision-making.

  • Behavioural/mixed

This approach is often conceptually based on the work of Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis (2008) and orients ESC as a set of social and emotional competencies associated with performance, health and success.

This popular ESC model organises a set of competencies and behaviours typically organised along four areas: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and social/relationship management.

  • Ability

Another approach is based on the work of Jack Mayer, Peter Salovey and other colleagues (2008) who conceptualise ESC as a true cognitive or general mental ability (GMA) that has four unique branches: ability to perceive emotions, ability to use emotions, ability to understand emotions and ability to manage emotions in self and others.

This is an excerpt from May’s magazine. To get the full insight, subscribe here.


About the authors

Dr Ken Nowack is co-founder and chief research officer of Envisia Learning Ltd and Andrew Munro is director of consulting services.


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