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16 May 2011

Emotional Intelligence vs. Intuition: The Difference

This entry is part 1 of 6 in the series Emotional Intelligence vs. Intuition

I’m frequently asked about the difference between emotional intelligence (EI) and intuition. Essentially, EI is a head thing, intuition a heart thing. EI is being “intelligent” about emotions; it’s not about feeling. If you look at EI’s definition of empathy according to Daniel Goleman, this distinction becomes clear:

Ability to understand the emotional makeup of other people

In my work with intuition, I define empathy as a feeling (or collection of feelings):

Ability to feel what the other person is feeling

Just because we understand someone’s emotions, it doesn’t mean we feel what he feels. If a truly totally empathic person existed, she would not be able to kill anyone because she would die too from intense pain and sorrow. The closest real example is a mother losing her child; that bond is so empathic, that mothers never really recover from this. A part of them dies with their child. EI understands this but wouldn’t necessarily feel it.

This head/heart difference between EI and intuition shows up in two other areas besides empathy: the unconscious and problem solving.

EI is about intelligence; therefore, it’s concerned with conscious activity (the head). On the other hand, since intuition is about the acquisition of knowledge and the making of decisions through emotions, unconscious activity plays a vital role because emotions emanate from there.

As for problem solving, EI doesn’t play if you’re alone in the woods. It requires a social or interpersonal context. However, intuition plays in social, interpersonal and solitary contexts. Thus, while an inventor would not need a high EI, he would definitely benefit from keen intuition.

Therefore, EI and intuition differ when it comes to empathy, the unconscious and problem solving. Symbolically, EI is a matter of the head while intuition a matter of the heart.

Series NavigationEmotional Intelligence vs. Intuition (Pt 2): Distinct as Head and Heart >>

6 Responses

  1. Good post and thanks for making this important distinction! I agree that people misunderstand the meaning of “Emotional Intelligence” and I wish we could change the term to something else like “Behavioral Intelligence.”

    Pam Stanton

  2. Roger

    These are words and often people have different definitions about what they mean. I’m not sure I agree with your definition:

    I don’t see any reason why EI and Intuition would have to be completely separate things and they can overlap to some degree.
    Its also not clear what the difference between Emotion and Feelings are in your article and also in reality, these are often used interchangeably.

    To me the real question is not how do we define these terms for the sake of definitions, but it should be to discover the different parts of how we work in order to develop them to reach their potential.

    1. Thank you, Roger, for your comment. I agree: definitions can get in the way. Unfortunately, without them it’s hard to converse in a common language so we can understand one another, develop our attributes and reach our potential. For instance, you can call “red” “blue” and I can call it “yellow,” but if we are going to make any headway in a discussion, we need to agree on a meaning for all the words we use or else great misunderstanding ensue.

      As for my definition of empathy, I can understand if you don’t agree. What EI describes as empathy, I describe as sympathy. I began the journey of arriving at my definition by trying to distinguish between empathy and sympathy.

      Here is a link to an exchange between Lyn Boyer, an EI advocate, and me on her blog regarding EI’s definition of empathy. It has links to various dictionaries’ definitions of empathy. It’s interesting how restrictive EI made their definition by comparison.

      I’m sorry I did not define the difference between emotions and feelings. Yes, you’re right, people often use them interchangeably, but they are two different things (if not then wouldn’t have felt the need to have two different words). I did not feel it pertinent to the post. In fact, I use the two words so often I might be defining them in every post. Nevertheless, here are two links to previous posts where I make a distinction:

      What is intuition?
      Decisions: Roles of Intuition and Cognition

      EI and Intuition might overlap but I really see them as two different things especially after studying the definitions underlying the EI concept. Again, the above blog discussion will help here. EI is very conscious, rational and scientific; whereas, intuition is very unconscious, emotional and unscientific. In fact, EI was published before science proved the unconscious to exist. EI deals very little with it, but it’s a large part of my work and perspective.

      Again, Roger, thank you for your thoughts and for visiting my blog.

  3. Laura

    Some intuitive “feelings” can be so strong that they have the power of conscious thought and intellectual processing. When there is a sense of “certainty” about the intuition, it’s transformed into something else. It gets a little tricky and if you’re intuitive, you have to have the discipline to question yourself. That’s where the EI circles back around.

    1. Mike Lehr

      You’re right, Laura, about that power. You do need to question it. I would suggest not in a narrow right-wrong dimension, but rather in “How does this apply?” or “How do I apply this information?” You can always apply in ways to minimize risk, or take on risk commensurate with the certainty you feel.

      Keep in mind though, that emotional intelligence applies exclusively to social contexts, not solitary ones. That’s why some, including Daniel Goleman at times, refer to it as social intelligence. Furthermore, none of Goleman’s five components of emotional intelligence include problem solving especially with non-human problems.

      For example, I often refer to the “woman in the woods” scenario. If you are alone in the woods and need to figure out how to get out or survive, emotional intelligence isn’t going to help here. Intuition will though. Intuition works in interactions with our non-human surroundings. EI doesn’t.

      When it comes to circling around in those non-human situations, it’s really about checking in with your cognition to see what observations it has captured.

      Thank you for visiting and giving your insights.

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