Emotional Intelligence (by Daniel Goleman)

This is a book we were given by a friend when we moved from the UK towards the end of 1997. We had not heard of the author, Daniel Coleman, and I doubt if this would ever have come across my radar, so I was very glad that this friend, selecting books he felt would be appropriate for our family, picked this one. He said that the title appealed…

‘Emotional Intelligence’ is not a phrase I had come across back in 1997. Before the widespread use of the Internet, and discussion forums, I had no reason to have heard of it, although nowadays the term is bandied about fairly often, along with ‘multiple intelligence’ theories, and the acknowledgement that there is a great deal more than IQ to make a popular, successful or well-rounded person.

I read the book with this title a few months after moving, and found it quite heavy-going in places. However I was very much taken with the principles explained: that the ability to relate to or empathise with others is just as important as linguistic or mathematical ability, and that when children are given good social skills (quite different from ‘socialisation’) either at home or at school, they are far less likely to turn to dangerous or illegal behaviour in their teens.

In February of this year I decided that I would re-read the book, and it’s taken me ten months to complete it. That’s partly because I have been reading so many other books, and partly because a lot of it is scientific or technical, looking at ways in which the brain processes emotions: neural pathways and other medical terms tend to go rather above my head. I don’t think it’s necessary to understand how emotions happen, but the book is all-encompassing, and no doubt that information would be of great interest to more scientifically minded readers.

I was much more interested in the sections about family life, the art of listening, and of suggestions for spotting when someone is in the grip of strong emotion, and adjusting one’s own tone of voice and conversation accordingly. I was also interested again in the section towards the end, looking at ways in which children from ‘at-risk’ homes or neighbourhoods can be taught techniques of conflict resolution and other useful skills that will probably be of far more benefit to them than the study of geography or history.

As I read this, I wondered why the author felt that teachers needed to be trained to work with children in these areas which, on the whole, seem to me to be common sense. But there are families caught up in a cycle of neglect or worse, where parents themselves may lack the ability to empathise or listen actively to their children, and in those cases, the cycle will most likely continue unless the children are taught to think and behave differently.

It’s not a book to read in one sitting; there’s a great deal to take in, and much to think about. Perhaps there’s some repetition and over-technical parts, but as a handbook for a layperson wanting to know more about emotions and emotional intelligence, I would recommend it.

Review by copyright 2016 Sue's Book Reviews

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