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Using a Situational Judgment Test to Measure Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence (EI) is an intuitively appealing concept and is a useful one if we stick to the basic idea of it denoting differences between people in the abilities to recognise and manage emotions – both our own and those of other people. However, beyond that basic fact, the concept has run into controversy – to which we indeed contributed more than ten years ago in an article in People Management.

If we can avoid treating EI as some great discovery but rather as a brilliantly communicative label for something that it would be useful to measure, the next question is how to do so? Self-report questions are not the obvious solution because someone lacking EI will lack the very self-awareness necessary to give accurate answers about the self-awareness component of EI. So one is left with, most obviously, 360 feedback where others give reports on the person’s EI and an assessment centre where the person displays EI. But 360 cannot be used for selecting external candidates and the assessment centre is an end-stage to selection before which it would be efficient to eliminate candidates grossly lacking in EI. How might one eliminate such people before lavishing the resource of an assessment centre on them?

One answer comes from a recent study reported in the International Journal of Selection and Assessment. The authors set about developing a Situational Judgment Test of EI. The 46 items (situations) they retained as a final set fell into three factors:

  • Self-management of one’s own emotions
  • Sensitivity to other’s emotions
  • Understanding the emotional context – judging the appropriateness of an emotion in a particular situation.

Whatever the precise validity of these researchers’ SJT, the overall approach is interesting. If the elements of EI are important for a person’s success, developing an SJT to measure it could be a useful pre-selection device. However, we have some cautions and these return us to the controversies surrounding EI.
They are as follows:

  • Rather than picking EI off the shelf, we suggest identifying the elements of it that are clearly relevant to success in the role and measuring those elements
  • Rather than using a generic SJT we suggest putting people in realistic formulations of situations that they might actually face working in your organisation.

How Can Human Assets help?

Our wide-ranging experience in business psychology enables us to give you advice on making use of such concepts as emotional intelligence. We have an objective, dispassionate and analytic approach to specifying what qualities are required for success and how to go about measuring those qualities. Our expertise includes the design of SJTs and we will guide you past the various pitfalls that can accompany such measures – particularly issues around diversity.
For further information contact Wendy Lyons on


Sharma, S., Gangopadhyay, M., Austin, E. and Mandal, M.K. International Journal of Selection and Assessment Volume 21, Issue 1, pages 57–73, March 2013 Woodruffe, C. Promotional intelligence, People Management, Jan 2001


July 2013

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