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At NUS and the world at large, the relevance and importance of cultivating EQ continues to grow. To increase awareness and prompt discussion among our readers, we are pleased in this issue of CDTL Brief to present several informed perspectives on the subject of EQ.

March 1999, Vol. 2 No. 1 Print Ready ArticlePrint-Ready
Nurturing Emotional Intelligence in University Students
Professor Hang Chang Chieh
Deputy Vice-Chancellor

Producing well-rounded students and achieving academic excellence are traditional goals in education emphasised by NUS in its strategic plan for the 21st century and recently reaffirmed by the Ministry of Education in its publication, The Desired Outcomes of Education. The need to cultivate the mind, or rational intelligence, and personal qualities and interpersonal skills, or emotional intelligence, has never been more crucial than before.

The term emotional intelligence was coined by Peter Salovey and John Mayer in 1990 and then popularised by Daniel Goleman in 1995 in his ground-breaking bestseller, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ?. According to Goleman, rational intelligence (or rather, intelligence quotient – IQ for short) only contributes about 20% to the factors that determine success in life. Some extraneous factors such as luck, and particularly the characteristics of emotional intelligence (or rather, emotional quotient – EQ for short), constitute the other 80%. These vital EQ characteristics are the abilities to motivate oneself and persist despite frustrations; to control impulse and delay gratification; to regulate one’s mood and keep distress from overwhelming thought; and to empathise and to hope.

Management guru Stephen Covey, author of the bestseller, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, has observed that highly effective people are proactive; begin with the end in mind; put first things first; think win/win; seek first to understand, then to be understood; synergise; sharpen the saw. But beyond understanding the importance of such qualities, one has to practise them constantly and, in so doing, internalise them as habits. Consequently, part of our role as teachers is to nurture EQ to assist such habituation.

Definition of EQ

The study of emotion and its practical importance has interested people for many centuries. In the 1st century B.C., Publilius Syrus said: “Rule your feelings, lest your feelings rule you.” For David Packard, a guiding principle in developing and managing Hewlett-Packard has been the advice given by his football coach: “Given equally good players and good team-work in a championship, the team with the strongest will to win will prevail.”

Yet, the developing of emotional strength was not explicitly regarded as a skill that can be learnt and mastered until Daniel Goleman published Emotional Intelligence. Other authors have since further expanded the meaning, development and applications of emotional intelligence. The following are two simple definitions EQ:

“EQ is the ability to sense, understand, and
effectively apply the power and acumen of emotions as a source of human energy,
information, connection and influence.”
(Robert Cooper and Ayman Sawaf)

“EQ is the ability to monitor one’s own and other’s feelings, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s
thinking and actions.”
(Peter Salovey and John Mayer)

It is clear from these definitions that a person with high rational intelligence does not automatically possess high EQ. For all students to be well rounded, it is thus necessary to enhance both their IQs and EQs.

EQ Qualities

EQ consists of five major qualities or characteristics:

  • Self-awareness
  • Mood management
  • Self-motivation
  • Impulse control
  • Interpersonal skills

The first four can be broadly grouped under intrapersonal EQ. They each influence the development of one’s courage, perseverance, enthusiasm and passion. Such personal qualities are vital in competitive sports, breakthrough scientific research, inventions, entrepreneurship and extraordinary achievements. They also make the difference because creative solutions or radically new approaches are usually considered illogical based on conventional wisdom; they only become logical on hindsight.

An example is the development of fuzzy logic. When Professor Lotfi Zadeh first proposed the concept in 1965, most scientists and engineers could not accept this radically new proposal and disregarded its potential practical significance. They thought it was absurd to have logic that was not precise. More than 15 years later, Japanese engineers successfully demonstrated the wide applications of fuzzy logic, ranging from controlling high-speed trains to simple cameras and washing machines. Consequently, fuzzy logic is now the foundation of the new science of ‘Soft Computing’ that deals rationally with imprecise knowledge. Through the years of being rejected, Professor Zadeh remained passionate about his discovery and continued to champion it, thereby demonstrating extraordinary intrapersonal EQ.

Intrapersonal EQ qualities are equally important to all of us in our daily lives. Through self-awareness, we are conscious of our feelings and can deal with them better. Self-awareness also helps us to catch any worrisome episode as soon as possible. Through mood management, we can act to overcome any negativity (e.g. being angry or depressed) that prevents us from accomplishing our goals. To hope or think positively helps us to sustain our morale in the face of setbacks or defeats. Self-motivation is the internal drive to scale new heights, overcome obstacles, disappointments and frustrations, and search proactively for opportunities. It also prompts us to initiate resolving conflicts, seeking clarification and mending relationships. Impulse control allows us to resist temptation and delay gratification; it encourages a person to pursue higher goals as he/she copes better with the stress associated with a difficult task, foregoes short-term rewards for more substantial long-term goals, and follows through on difficult plans.

The fifth quality can be called interpersonal EQ. It is the ability to understand other people: what motivates them, how they work, how to work co-operatively with them. It requires the fundamental skill of empathy – identifying oneself mentally with a person and understanding his/her feelings. Empathy makes other people feel safe enough to talk freely without fear of being judged. There is a great difference between listening and empathetic listening. In listening, we listen but may not hear what the speaker is saying; instead, we may be trying to interpret what they mean. In empathetic listening, we place ourselves in the speaker’s shoes, undergo what he/she is feeling and identify with his/her problems.

Empathy and the four intrapersonal EQ qualities combined together create other important interpersonal skills that Hatch and Gardner of Harvard University have identified:

  • Organising groups
  • Negotiating solutions
  • Personal connection
  • Social analysis

In all, these are the stuff of interpersonal polish, the necessary ingredients for charm, social success and even charisma!

Interpersonal EQ is essential in the practice of management with ‘heart’. Managers with low interpersonal EQ criticise easily and are frugal with praise. In contrast, managers with high interpersonal EQ empathise, show compassion, praise others generously, avoid prejudice, and accommodate mistakes by using them as opportunities for staff to learn and gain experience. With their positive outlook, they are easy to interact with; they also gain trust, build consensus and co-ordinate teams well.

Such managers will be very important in the knowledge-based economy of the 21st century for effective teamwork in a flat organisation of empowered knowledge workers will be a critical competitive advantage. There is need to pay special attention to developing such skills, particularly as life becomes potentially more impersonal with technology – email and distance deliveries, for instance, becoming increasingly pervasive.

EQ Improvement

Unlike IQ that may only be marginally improved over the years, EQ can be nurtured and significantly strengthened and it is never too late for students to improve their EQ. It is, however, harder to nurture EQ than IQ in a classroom setting. Traditionally, schools and universities have used opportunities such as extracurricular activities to provide a rounded education, indirectly facilitating the development of students’ EQ.

Other more direct and conscious strategies can be adopted too. The first essential step, naturally, is to have students gain a better understanding of the fundamentals of EQ. This might be achieved through awareness courses or self-study. Having been made aware, they should be encouraged to reflect on the differences between high IQ vs. high EQ people as illustrated in Table 1. What follows should then be the practice of what has been learnt till these habits become automatic and integral components of one’s character. For instance, if impulse control is weak, walking often amongst peaceful surroundings might have a calming effect while regular exercise improves general well being. Participation in committee work would be one way of practising people skills. All these efforts could be part of achieving EQ improvement as a life-long pursuit.

Creative Thinking and Intuition

EQ can also be cultivated via academic pursuits. As university education increasingly requires the exercise of creative thinking skills through open-ended assignments and project work, students will have more opportunities to practise and improve their EQ skills. The conventional educational approach where obtaining the right answer all the time is emphasised tends to prevent new ideas from emerging that might unravel complex difficulties. In contrast, creative problem solving encourages the development of multiple ideas, no matter whether they are ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. This process allows for questioning of the status quo, prompts a ‘why not’ mindset, and promotes humility and tolerance for ambiguity and multiplicity of viewpoints, embracing even those from non-experts. Clearly, this concurrent nurturing of both problem-solving and EQ skills will better prepare students for the competitive knowledge economy that requires the flexibility and fortitude to solve real-world problems for which no easy answers might be found.

A more advanced source of problem-solving skill is intuition, defined in the dictionary as “direct knowing without the conscious use of reasoning”. Intuition, when followed by thorough analysis and planning, has sparked many innovations and successful business developments globally and is now a widely sought-after quality in an entrepreneur, leader, or great scientist. This is because intuition is a great asset when there is not enough information or when there is too much data that confuses the situation. It may be described as ‘gut feeling’ or a form of self-awareness (one of the basic qualities of EQ) that enables us to listen to our hearts and distinguishes opportunity from vulnerability; truth from politics; depth from motion. A heightened dimension of emotional intelligence, intuition can be better understood and practised continually, drawing on emotional wisdom garnered through past experiences.

Other intrapersonal EQ qualities also help in the process of learning and practising intuition. For instance, one needs to overcome fear when dealing with the unknown. We cannot be intuitive if we are anxious about being right. We need to gain experience and hence should not be afraid to make mistakes. This requires emotional strength. As General Bolivar Buckner once said: “Judgement comes from experience and experience comes from bad judgement.

Concluding Remarks

I shall now address the inter-relation of IQ and EQ. First, emotions are known to be powerful organisers of thought and action. EQ often complements IQ when we need to solve complex and vague problems or make a key decision, and helps in accomplishing these tasks quickly and with exceptional results. Emotions invoke intuition, helping us to anticipate uncertainties and plan our actions accordingly. IQ and EQ in tandem lift intelligent energy. As NUS increasingly emphasises creative thinking, independent research and teamwork, the nurturing of EQ will contribute tremendously to academic performance. All university students should be urged to develop their EQs to match or even surpass their IQs.

Second, the mutually complementing roles of IQ and EQ are crucial in teamwork. A team leader should have a high EQ if the team is to have a good chance to perform brilliantly. The high-EQ leader would muster team members with high IQ and EQ and harness both these strengths to boost team performance.

Much of what I have discussed in this paper is common sense, but certainly not common practice. NUS provides many opportunities and an excellent learning environment for enhancing knowledge while nurturing EQ. By highlighting the importance of acquiring EQ to students, we will, hopefully, cultivate EQ literate graduates who will become champions of EQ as well as role models of life-long learners in EQ in their future workplace.


1) Robert Cooper and Ayman Sawaf, Executive EQ, Orion Business Books: 1997.

2) Daniel Goleman, Emotional IntelligenceWhy It Can Matter More Than IQ?, Bantam Books: 1995.

3) Patricia Patton, EQ In The Workplace, SNP Publishers: 1997.

4) Peter Salovey and John Mayer, “Emotional Intelligence”, Imagination, Cognition and Personality, Vol. 9(3), 1990, pp. 185-211.

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Nurturing Emotional Intelligence in University Students
Summary of Chan Cheng's EQ For Youths For You
Emotional Intelligence and Careers