The persistent pulse of inquiry in history
Throughout history, our innate curiosity has been the heartbeat of progress, driving us from basic questions about nature, like “Why does it rain?” to profound existential inquiries, such as “Do we have free will?”. In today’s fast-paced world, the art of asking questions feels somewhat overshadowed by the avalanche of information available. Yet, recognising what we don’t know often serves as the true essence of wisdom.
One lasting method of exploring knowledge through questioning is the Socratic method, a tool from ancient Greece that aids critical thinking, helps unearth solutions, and fosters informed decisions. Its endurance for over 2,500 years stands as a testament to its potency. Plato, a student of Socrates, immortalised his teachings through dialogues or discourses. In these, he delved deep into the nature of justice in the “Republic”, examining the fabric of ideal societies and the character of the just individual.
Questions have not only transformed philosophy but also propelled innovations in various fields. Take, for instance, Alexander Graham Bell, whose inquiries led to the invention of the telephone or the challenges to traditional beliefs during the Renaissance that led to breakthroughs in art, science, and philosophy. With their profound questions about existence and knowledge, the likes of Kant and Descartes have shaped the philosophical narratives we discuss today.
Critical questioning has upended accepted norms in the scientific realm, leading to paradigm shifts. For example, Galileo’s scepticism of the geocentric model paved the way for ground-breaking discoveries by figures such as Aristarchus, Pythagoras, Copernicus, Newton, and Einstein. At its core, every scientific revolution was birthed from a fundamental question.
On the educational front, the importance of questioning is backed by modern research. Historically, educators have utilised questions to evaluate knowledge, enhance understanding, and cultivate critical thinking. Rather than simply prompting students to recall facts, effective questions stimulate deeper contemplation, urging students to analyse and evaluate concepts. This enriches classroom experiences and deepens understanding in experiential learning settings.
By embracing this age-old method and recognising the power of inquiry, we can better navigate the complexities of our contemporary world.
Questions through the ages: an enduring pursuit of truth
Throughout the annals of time, the act of questioning has permeated our shared human experience. While ancient civilisations like the Greeks laid intellectual foundations with their spirited debates and dialogues, their inquiries’ sheer depth and diversity stood out. These questions spanned from the cosmos’ intricate designs to the inner workings of the human soul.
Historical literature consistently echoed this thirst for understanding, whether in the East or West. It wasn’t just about obtaining answers; it celebrated the journey of arriving at them. The process, probing, introspection, and subsequent revelations hold a revered spot in our collective memory. The reverence with which we’ve held questions, as seen through the words of philosophers, poets, and thinkers, showcases the ceaseless human spirit in its quest for knowledge.
In today’s interconnected world, the legacy of these inquiries remains ever-pertinent. We live in an era of information, a double-edged sword presenting knowledge and misinformation. As we grapple with this deluge, the skills of discernment and critical inquiry, inherited from our ancestors, are invaluable. It’s no longer just about seeking answers but about discerning the truths among many voices.
With the current rise in misinformation and fake news, a sharpened sense of questioning becomes our compass, guiding us through the mazes of contemporary challenges. By honouring the traditions of the past and adapting them to our present, we continue our timeless pursuit of truth, ensuring that the pulse of inquiry beats strongly within us.
Understanding the Socratic Method
Having recognised the age-old reverence for inquiry, it becomes imperative to explore one of its most pivotal techniques: the Socratic method. Socrates, widely regarded as a paragon of wisdom, believed that life’s true essence lies in perpetual self-examination and introspection. His approach was unique in its time, as he dared to challenge societal norms and assumptions. When proclaimed the wisest man in Greece, he responded not with complacency but with probing inquiry.
The Socratic method transcends a mere question-answer paradigm. Instead, it becomes a catalyst, prompting deep reflection. This dialectical technique fosters enlightenment, not by spoon-feeding answers but by kindling the flames of critical thinking and understanding. The beauty of this method rests not solely in the answers it might yield, but in the journey of introspection and dialogue it necessitates.
Beyond philosophical discourses, this method resonates powerfully in contemporary educational spheres. It underscores that genuine knowledge transcends rote memorisation, emphasising comprehension and enlightenment. This reverence for knowledge stresses the imperative of recognising our limitations fostering an ethos where learning is ceaseless and dynamic.
In our information-saturated age, the Socratic method’s principles are not just philosophical musings but indispensable. According to Statistica, only about 26% of Americans feel adept at discerning fake news, while a concerning 90% inadvertently propagate misinformation. Herein lies the true power of the Socratic approach. It teaches us discernment, evaluation, and the courage to seek clarity continuously. By integrating this method into our lives, we are better equipped to navigate our intricate world, fostering lives marked by clarity, purpose, and profound understanding.
Why the question often surpasses the answer
Having delved into the rich tapestry of historical inquiry and the transformative power of the Socratic method, one may wonder: Why such an emphasis on the question rather than the answer?
We are often trained to seek definite conclusions throughout our educational journey and societal conditioning. Yet, as Socrates demonstrated through his dialogues, there’s profound wisdom in embracing the exploration inherent in questioning. His discussions rarely aimed for definitive answers, suggesting that the reflective process, rather than the conclusion, held deeper significance.
Imagine a complex puzzle. While the completed picture might offer satisfaction, aligning each piece, understanding its intricacies, and appreciating its nuances truly enriches the experience. Similarly, questions, even those without clear-cut resolutions, can expand our horizons, provoke self-assessment, and challenge our preconceived notions. This process broadens our perspectives and fosters a more holistic understanding of our surroundings.
By valuing the act of questioning, we equip ourselves with the tools to navigate ambiguity, confront our limitations, and engage with the world more thoughtfully and profoundly.
The Socratic Method in contemporary frameworks
Socratic questioning involves a disciplined and thoughtful dialogue between two or more people, and its methodologies, rooted in ancient philosophy, remain instrumental in today’s diverse contexts. In the realm of academia, especially within higher education, this collaborative form of questioning is a cornerstone. Educators don’t merely transfer information; they challenge students with introspective questions, compelling them to reflect, engage, and critically evaluate the content presented.
Beyond the classroom, the applicability of the Socratic method stretches wide. Business environments, such as boardrooms and innovation brainstorming sessions, harness the power of Socratic dialogue, pushing participants to confront and rethink assumptions. Professionals employ this method in therapeutic and counselling to guide clients in introspective exploration, encouraging clarity and self-awareness.
Through its emphasis on continuous dialogue, deep reflection, and the mutual pursuit of understanding, this age-old method remains a beacon, guiding us as we navigate the ever-evolving complexities of our modern world.
Conclusion: the timeless art of inquiry
From the cobbled streets of ancient Athens to contemporary classrooms, boardrooms, and counselling sessions, the enduring legacy of the Socratic method attests to the potent force of inquiry. By valuing the exploratory process as much as, if not more than, the final insight, we pave a path towards richer understanding, intellectual evolution, and the limitless possibilities of human achievement.
In today’s deluge of data and information, the allure of swift answers is undeniable. Yet, Socrates’ practice reminds us of the transformative power held in the act of questioning. Adopting such a mindset, as this iconic philosopher once did, extends an open invitation to a life punctuated by curiosity, wonder, and unending discovery.
It was the summer of 1964 when the members of a burgeoning British band named The Rolling Stones found themselves on American soil. They were halfway through their first stateside tour when they made their way to Chess Studios in Chicago, keen to record the follow-up to their debut album. The studio was the hallowed hub of their musical heroes, the cradle of the blues and rock ‘n’ roll genres that shaped their sound. The anticipation was palpable as they stepped into the studio, the very place where legends like Howlin’ Wolf, John Lee Hooker, Bo Diddley, and Muddy Waters had crafted their biggest hits.
In a serendipitous twist of fate, their first encounter at Chess was not with a studio executive or an eager intern but Muddy Waters himself. But he was not wielding a guitar; he was clad in overalls, perched on a ladder, paintbrush in hand, and whitewash streaming down his face. The Stones were startled, and in the confusion, an opportunity emerged, laying bare the perfect juxtaposition of the seemingly mundane and its grand potential.
Keith Richards and the band did not just meet an idol that day; they built a relationship that would later see them tour and work with Muddy, learning first-hand from one of the greats. The Stones’ deep understanding and appreciation of blues music and readiness to learn propelled their career to unprecedented heights, leading them to their first number-one hit, ‘It’s All Over Now’.
Preparation meeting opportunity
This principle of “Preparation Meeting Opportunity,” often defined as luck, is equally applicable in the world of work. It emphasises that when individuals and organisations are mentally and practically prepared, they are more likely to recognise and capitalise on opportunities.
Much like The Rolling Stones recognised the value in learning from a legend like Muddy Waters, forward-thinking companies understand that their talent is their scarcest resource. According to a McKinsey report titled “Organising for the future: Nine keys to becoming a future-ready company,” successful companies anchor their efforts on the principle that talent is indeed scarcer than capital. They continually ask themselves: What talent do we need? How can we attract it? And how can we manage talent most effectively to deliver on our value agenda?
Inclusion & diversity
Inclusion and diversity have surfaced as critical aspects of this talent strategy. A company that fosters an inclusive employee experience becomes an attractive destination for top talent and benefits from the increased profitability associated with diverse leadership.
The Rolling Stones, who had already seen early success, remained hungry for improvement and open to learning from the best in their field. Similarly, organisations and their employees can foster a culture of continuous learning and development, seeking out opportunities in the most unexpected places.
The story of The Rolling Stones’ encounter with Muddy Waters and their subsequent rise to global fame is not just a story of music and stardom. It’s a tale of recognising and seizing opportunity, preparation meeting chance, and the power of a creative, curious, and prepared mindset.
Whether you’re a fledgling band walking into a legendary recording studio or a company trying to navigate the rapidly changing business landscape, this story serves as a reminder that opportunity can present itself in the most unpredictable ways. The question is, are you ready to grasp it when it does?
What if we approached mental fitness the way we approach physical fitness? That is to say, conceiving it as necessary and making it a priority. What would that regime entail if it were a daily act, and what might be gained as a result? What if we resituated emotionality in our profession as a catalytic force, not a disruptive one? Thus, shifting the workplace from a rational environment to a place of outward feeling and engagement. The answer to all these questions is related to the development and implementation of emotional intelligence.
The science of social dynamics
Emotional intelligence is ‘the ability to understand and manage emotions’ (Cavaness et al., 2020). Crucially, within this definition, knowledge and application are linked by awareness. Being self-aware and aware of others’ emotions are similar, albeit different skills. Both are equally valuable, and today’s leaders should use each to their advantage to manage the people they are in charge of and the projects they are tasked with completing.
Research affirms that emotional intelligence and personality are critical factors for achieving organisational goals and adapting to an ever-changing professional landscape (Eby et al., 2000). This outlook is self-explanatory as well as scientific. Emotional intelligence, or emotional quotient (EQ), has been a source of theory since the 1920s. However, it was only in the 1990s that we came to have a broader awareness of it through the work of psychologists John Mayer and Peter Salovey, who first coined the term. Notably, Daniel Goleman (1995) established a framework for its analysis and posited that EQ is, in fact, a better predictor of success than IQ, which had been the dominant metric of excellence. In truth, standardised tests cannot accurately measure any form of intelligence; therefore, EQ or IQ scores are arbitrary.
Nevertheless, the significance of Goleman’s postulation is that we need emotional intelligence to succeed. He is certainly not alone in reaching this conclusion. For instance, Forbes magazine has written about the topic no less than twenty-seven times since 2019 and deduces, again and again, ‘emotional intelligence has become a prized trait in leadership’ (Santilli, 2022). Seeking marginal gains from every angle, many companies now enlist psychologists to create ‘competency models’ to identify, train and promote employees.
Conducting later research for the Harvard Business Review, Goleman studied two hundred large global companies to decipher the role of emotional intelligence in the workplace. His data suggested that those traits traditionally associated with leadership—e.g., mental intelligence, determination, fortitude, and vision—were insufficient diagnostics of success. He concluded, ‘To be sure, intellect was a driver of outstanding performance. Cognitive skills such as big-picture thinking and long-term vision were particularly important. But when I calculated the ratio of technical skills, IQ, and emotional intelligence as ingredients of excellent performance, emotional intelligence proved to be twice as important as the others for jobs at all levels’ (Goleman, 2004).
Signs of emotional intelligence
Granting that emotional intelligence is ostensibly incalculable or more substantive than measurable. Some tests can give us a baseline for where we stand. The Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT) is one example and can be taken online by answering prompts for around 30–40 minutes. For some, this may be a useful starting point.
More fundamentally, a point of sincere reflection is the primary means to begin. The commitment to do so, and follow through with filling your gaps, will positively impact your professional and personal life. Some characteristics that may reiterate one’s emotional intelligence include (but are not limited to):
- Knowing one’s strengths and weaknesses and being able to identify and express emotions.
- The ability to regulate and utilise a full spectrum of emotions.
- Self-motivation to achieve goals while filtering out negative self-talk.
- Having empathy for and comprehending other peoples’ emotions.
- Effective communication skills.
- Being curious about the feelings of others.
- Managing relationships and responding appropriately to conflicts.
Goleman’s framework for evaluating emotional intelligence lists the first five bullet points as core metrics that reveal a truer EQ. The last two are subsidiary qualities. It can be argued that the others constitute investment and follow-through and gesture to a sense of emotional credibility that is indispensable.
Maybe the most surprising finding in Goleman’s research is the value of emotional intelligence at the highest leadership levels. In a subset of the data, he compared star performers against average ones within senior leadership positions. The numbers revealed that almost 90% of the differences between those who stood out and those who did not trace back to deficiencies in emotional intelligence and not cognitive abilities. Hence, not only is emotional intelligence relevant to performance at all levels of the corporate sphere—it is one of the most significant ways that strong leaders distinguish themselves.
Social awareness and authenticity
Embedded into any serious discussion of emotional intelligence is a secondary conversation regarding social awareness, which is ‘your ability to accurately pick up on emotions in other people and understand what is really going on with them’ (Bradberry et al., 2009). In practice, it is the ability to read people around you and respond with empathy. Accordingly, it combines components of Goleman’s framework but emphasises the relationship of the self to others; and, critically, deprioritises the first and prioritises the latter.
Some industry leaders profess social awareness is the most significant facet of emotional intelligence (Golis, 2012). It is invaluable insofar as it is instrumental toward the ability to positively effect change in the emotional drives of others, leading to improved performance. Others avow that social awareness contributes to authentic leadership and is communicated through:
- Intonation allows us to reconcile the grey spaces that exist in digital communication. Through tone, we leave little room for interpretation and can project confidence in and consideration for others.
- Checking in may seem like inconsequential small talk, but connecting with your team displays concern, if not empathy, and potentially builds trust in cooperative situations.
- Active listening means pausing the monologue in your head to listen to others with your body and brain. If your mind is preoccupied with constructing your reply, you cannot hear what is being said. Nor are you able to pick up minor verbal signals or diction that may reveal concerns, doubts, or any emotions beneath the surface.
These skills may seem basic, and they are, yet many of us fail to realise how we may appear or come across to those around us. In this regard, empathy is not performative. Paying greater attention to these granular social details provides the foundation for communicating genuine concern for others.
At the top, social awareness relative to emotional intelligence equates to efficacy. That is a statistical and intuitive fact. Those with social awareness are likely to have the other fundamental skills that make up a strong EQ and will be more able to execute essential leadership tasks such as dissecting groups and interpreting how individual personalities work (or do not work) together, delivering feedback and conveying personal investment to those who play a part in determining whether you succeed as a leader. Remember, their success is your own. In this regard, social awareness is ultimately relationship management.
The importance of emotional intelligence in the workplace—and especially in leadership circles—cannot be overemphasised. It is vital. Without it, the power of cognitive intelligence risks dilution if you are less able to communicate your ideas and coordinate their execution. In daily social situations, it is everything. ‘A high IQ, coupled with high EQ, is an optimum combination for individuals to excel in meeting organisational objectives’ (Cavaness et al., 2020).
Transformational leaders are credited with high emotional intelligence, while those who do not display it perform worse on evaluative metrics. Although EQ’s impact on personality and leadership is widely accepted, it is less certain whether emotional intelligence can be learned or is innate. Scientific research points to a genetic component involved; be that as it may, psychological development research contends that nurture is a factor. Ergo, emotional intelligence is indeed something that can be acquired with time and effort. What is more, it may even increase with age.
As an intangible, emotional intelligence encompasses communication skills, conflict resolution, and successful collaboration. As a tool, it provides a range of methods through which we can better manage our behaviour and the behaviour of others. It should inform our words and decisions and help us to bridge across disparate personalities to foster a collective social climate. The benefits are readily apparent, and relatedly, harmonious workplaces notably have fewer conflicts and decreased absenteeism (ibid).
Building relationships across an organisation is intrinsic to success, but knowing how to do this is increasingly difficult within a corporate landscape that is continually changing due to globalisation, diversity, generational shits, innovation and evolution. Against this backdrop, the interpersonal skills associated with emotional intelligence are not new age. They are a necessity.
Reflecting on his observations, Goleman (2004) surmises that ‘to enhance emotional intelligence, organisations must […] help people break old behavioural habits and establish new ones. That not only takes much more time than conventional training programs, it also requires an individualised approach.’ EQ cannot be learned or boosted in seminars or training courses alone. It is experiential and requires a personal commitment. The power, then, is well and truly within us.
Bradberry, T., Greaves, J., & Lencioni, P. M. (2009). Emotional Intelligence 2.0 (31565th edition). TalentSmart.
Cavaness, Keith, et al. “Linking Emotional Intelligence to Successful Health Care Leadership: The Five of Personality.” Clinics in Colon and Rectal Surgery, vol. 33, no. 4, July 2020, pp. 195–203, https://doi.org/10.1055/s-0040-1709435.
Eby, Lillian T., et al. “Perceptions of Organizational Readiness for Change: Factors Related to Employees’ Reactions to the Implementation of Team-Based Selling.” Human Relations, vol. 53, no. 3, Mar. 2000, pp. 419–42, https://doi.org/10.1177/0018726700533006.
Goleman, Daniel. Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. 10th Anniversary edition, Random House Publishing Group, 1995.
Goleman, Daniel (2004, January 1). What Makes a Leader? Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2004/01/what-makes-a-leader
Golis, Christopher. (n.d.). Emotional Intelligence For Managers.
Grandey, Alicia A. “Emotional Regulation in the Workplace: A New Way to Conceptualize Emotional Labor.” Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, vol. 5, 2000, pp. 95–110, https://doi.org/10.1037/1076-8918.104.22.168.
Santilli, M. (2022, March 24). What Is Emotional Intelligence? Forbes Health. https://www.forbes.com/health/mind/what-is-emotional-intelligence/
Ugwu, L. I. (2011). Emotional and general intelligence: Characteristics, meeting points and missing links. Asian Social Science, 7(7), 137-140.