Emotional Intelligence: A Question of Culture

International Comparative Study - More than 2000 participants surveyed

Emotionally intelligent people bring together different abilities. They can correctly identify, understand, and influence not only their own emotions, but those of others, as well. They can purposively use emotions to help achieve a specific result. Therefore, this topic is of importance for companies interested in selecting managers. “We know that emotional intelligence in managers has a positive impact on their ability to motivate colleagues,” said Marjaana Gunkel, Professor for Organization and Management at Leuphana University Lüneburg.

How does emotional intelligence come about?  That it has something to do with parental upbringing has been well established.  What remained unknown for a long time was the role culture played in its development  “This is the question which we pursued in our study,” Marjaana Gunkel said.  In the process, we identified three cultural factors that have a positive influence on emotional intelligence.  They include collectivism, an avoidance of uncertainty and a long-term orientation.”

By using the term, “an avoidance of uncertainty,” the researchers were referring to an aversion to enter into situations whose outcomes are difficult to assess. The researchers speak of “long-term orientation” when describing the desire to consider future implications when making decisions. “Cultures with a long-term orientation are interested in lasting relationships, regardless of whether they are in private or public life,” Gunkel explained. “For that to happen, it is important that partners take each other into consideration - an ability that requires a high degree of emotional intelligence.”

The USA, and Germany as well, are considered more individualistic societies, whereas Asian cultural circles are among those seen as more collective. In China, for example, communal interests are more pronounced than individual’s desires and goals. In addition, the Middle Kingdom is considered to have a particularly long-term orientation. Yet, these traditional values are undergoing change as well. Over the last few years some researchers have noticed how China is slowly moving towards a “Me-Culture” - probably at least in part due to its development into an economic super power.

Emotional Intelligence can be trained

“Companies today engage an increasing number of employees from divergent cultural backgrounds,” Professor Marjaana Gunkel said. Research shows that teams with emotionally intelligent members work better together and perform at higher levels. Human resource departments are therefore interested in ascertaining which cultural circles show weaknesses on this point, because they know that emotional intelligence can be trained. “Our results suggest that employees with a cultural background oriented toward short-tem thinking need to be taught how to engage their emotions effectively to increase their motivation,” Gunkel mentioned as an example.     

Women are generally not more emotionally intelligent

Studies indicate that men and women differ in terms of emotional intelligence.  “We cannot presume that women have an advantage in this regard,” the professor stressed. “They seem to be more sensitive than men to the emotional state of other people.  On the other hand, men are better able to engage emotions - their own as well as those of others - in order to achieve their goals. 

Publikation: Culture's Influence on Emotional Intelligence: An Empirical Study of Nine Countries (in press); Gunkel, M.a , Schlägel, C.b, Engle, R.L.c; Journal of International Management 2014

Prof. Dr. Marjaana Gunkel
Professor for Organization and Management
Leuphana Universität Lüneburg
Telephone: 04131/677-2103
E-Mail: marjaana.gunkel@inkubator.leuphana.de