When presenting the case for critical thinking, we often hear a contrarian view about emotional intelligence – that critical thinking is important but we also need leaders to be emotionally intelligent. There is no doubt that in a highly knowledge-driven creative world, lack of emotional intelligence can be detrimental to a leader’s success. On the other extreme, if leaders are overly driven by emotions (their own and others), it can be equally detrimental.

We tend to look at critical thinking and emotional intelligence as two mutually exclusive concepts on the opposing ends. The fact is that a leader needs a fine balance of emotion and rationality to succeed. They need to connect with their people using emotion and decide what is best for them using rational thought. Critical Thinking is the connecting link between emotions and intelligence.

In fact, critical thinking feeds and enables emotional intelligence. Let us explore how:

  1. Critical thinking is introspective. The word “critical” often misleads us to think that critical thinking is only based on soul-less data, information, and pieces of evidence. According to a definition given by Rudd, Baker, and Hoover (2000), critical thinking is a “reasoned, purposive and introspective approach to solving problems or addressing questions”. Introspection when solving problems as a team includes acknowledging the thoughts of others, one of the key elements of emotional intelligence.
  2. Emotional Intelligence is not just ‘emotional’, it is also ‘intelligence.’ Emotional intelligence is usually perceived to be heavy on the emotional side. At the core of emotional intelligence is one’s ability to accurately perceive, appraise, and express emotions. It is also about the ability to understand emotions and knowledge that is derived from emotions. Appraising thoughts, consciously looking for non-verbal cues, acknowledging emotions of the group members are all critical thinking skills applied in the context of emotional intelligence. These critical thinking skills help a leader in improving their emotional quotient. Furthermore, any flaw in our ability to understand emotion can lead to flaws in our decision-making.
  3. Both critical thinking and emotional intelligence are about self-regulation. In the process of thinking critically, regulating one’s own emotion is a skill that helps in avoiding bias in decision-making. An emotionally intelligent leader is also expected to regulate emotions when dealing with others. Self-regulation is the key competency that connects critical thinking and emotional intelligence. The other common competencies between critical thinking and emotional intelligence are self-awareness (understanding of the self) and social awareness (understanding of others).

So, what does this mean for HR and Learning and Development professionals when it comes to strengthening leadership development?

Knowing this crucial link between emotional and critical thinking should help HR leaders and learning professionals to promote the culture of critical thinking (refer to the RED Model) where leaders recognize assumptions, evaluate arguments and draw conclusions based on sound judgment. It is during that stage of evaluation of arguments that emotional intelligence plays an important role – to be able to evaluate arguments without being influenced by one’s own emotions is an important strength in critical thinking.

In order to build a culture of critical thinking, businesses can look at assessing their current leadership competence in critical thinking and assess critical thinking skills when hiring leaders.

It is the first important step in ensuring that leaders in your organization are not only equipped to make better decisions but are emotionally intelligent too.

Over to you: Are there other links that you can think of between critical thinking and emotional intelligence? Share your insights through comments.

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