A recent article from the Harvard Business Review discussed emotional intelligence as an important characteristic of effective leaders. In the organizational behavior literature, emotional intelligence has been operationalized as the abilities of “knowing one’s emotions, managing emotions, motivating oneself, recognizing the emotions of others, and handling relationships” (Goleman 1996, p. 43-44). In fact, extensive research has been conducted regarding emotion (or affect) across several streams of academic research, including organizational behavior, management, and psychology, among others. Most often, research regarding emotional intelligence studies the idea that success is not solely dictated by cognitive task abilities, rather emotional abilities are examined as contributing to performance outcomes, e.g. academic performance, negative and positive behaviors, and job outcomes. 

It is surprising, then, with the historically dense and large amounts of literature exploring emotional intelligence that little to no attention has been given to research regarding emotions (or individual/interpersonal variables, for that matter) within the public relations discipline, despite the fact that much of the emotional intelligence research has been linked to job performance in other areas for scholarly research, i.e. the management discipline in particular.

Further, the lack of emotional intelligence research within public relations is particularly surprising when considering the vast amounts of public relations literature exploring excellence/effectiveness (See Grunig, 1992, for example). In fact, public relations is generally defined as “the management of relationships between an organization and its publics” (Grunig & Hunt, 1984): A definition that seems inherently related to the previously noted definition of emotional intelligence, “knowing one’s emotions, managing emotions, motivating oneself, recognizing the emotions of others, and handling relationships” (Goleman 1996, p. 43-44). 

I have engaged in research to this extent over the past year and have found that beyond validity concerns (that is another discussion in and of itself), emotional intelligence can be used to differentiate between public relations practitioners performing the manager and technician roles. Indeed, public relations is a strategic management function, not left to emotional ability, alone; however, it follows that in the management of the often subjective, relationship-centered situations (e.g. with the media, with both internal and external publics, etc.) practitioners encounter, practitioners’ EQ abilities would seem to supersede cognitive task abilities. Therefore, it would follow that public relations practitioners high in EQ would have the highest job performance.

Based on the research surrounding public relations’ roles (manager-technician), support has been shown for public relations professionals functioning in the manager (as opposed to technician) role as more likely to practice two-way, open-systems models of communication, which are considered the most effective method of public relations practice, as opposed to one-way models of communication that involve more technical tasks (Grunig & Grunig, 1992 and Dozier, 1992). Dozier (1992) explains, “Conceptually, the role (manager) and the functions (two-way asymmetric and symmetric models) go hand in hand” (p. 347). In other words, job performance (or at least promotion) in public relations seems to be indicated by the management role or those practicing two-way communication. Likewise, public relations technicians are those who practice more technical tasks, such as writing, photography, graphics, etc. At this level, it can be inferred that less emotional intelligence, and more cognitive task ability is required to navigate technical duties.

What do you think? How important are such individual/interpersonal variables to public relations research? Practice?