“All my life I’ve wondered why I wasn’t like everyone else,” writes Anne*. In a long text published on the Facebook group “HPE, HPI, Zèbres, Empathes, Hypersensibles… LES ATYPIQUES”, this mother delivers a confession that sounds like an illumination. “I was diagnosed with HPE,” she reports. Three initials which, for them, as for the 58,000 members of the group, mean a lot. Anne would have just discovered that she is a high emotional potential, a variant of HPI, these people with an intelligence quotient greater than 130. It is less a question of logic than of emotions. As an HPE, this mother ensures that she feels everything stronger than the others. His “emotional quotient” would explode the meters.

The concept raises the eyebrows of many psychiatrists and psychologists. However, it is gaining more and more followers, as its corollary – emotional intelligence – gains recognition. Books, articles, training… Thirty years after its creation across the Atlantic, emotional intelligence is establishing itself as an asset in the world of work. Many training courses now offer managers the opportunity to learn to “better know” and “manage” the emotions of their colleagues. A real gold mine for coaches wishing to invest the subject. Billed sometimes more than 2,000 euros for fifteen hours, offered by large schools, often expensive training promises to handle a concept that they present as having become essential in the world of work. But the notion, nebulous, struggles to be based on scientific foundations.

Created in the United States, the concept was popularized in 1995 by a scientific journalist, Daniel Goleman, in a book, Emotional Intelligence at Work. The “intelligence quotient” is also its measure, designating the ability of each person to identify their emotions and those of others, as well as to “master” them. These tools quickly attracted media attention, notably on the cover of Time magazine. In an increasingly flexible work organization, the journalist’s thesis arouses interest. “Goleman’s great strength was to forge a notion similar to that of IQ to affect engineers. This technician’s language has made it possible to rationalize non-academic techniques by giving them an almost scientific aspect”, deciphers Scarlett Salman, lecturer in sociology at the Gustave-Eiffel University.

In France, the book is translated and republished regularly, and brings in its wake a host of works on the subject. On the Amazon side, there are more than 800. On the Edistat site, which specializes in book sales statistics in France, more than 100 works jostle, from Emotional Intelligence at school and in the family, to La Emotional Intelligence Toolkit. Proof of the enthusiasm for the subject, most of these works were published between 2018 and 2022. In 2017, the year preceding its big boom in France, emotional intelligence had moreover been designated as a “skill key” in a report by the World Economic Forum in Davos on the future of employment. Gone are the days of preaching that IQ alone determines success at work. With equal studies and environment, the capacity of an individual to be pleasant with his colleagues guarantees him a faster progress than the average. An evidence ? For the apostles of emotional intelligence, this observation is less important than what it implies: knowing how to manage one’s emotions – and those of others – is acquired, at least in part. An apprenticeship which it is possible to trade, especially by adding a term as popular as that of “emotional intelligence”.

The training organizations were not mistaken. The Abilways group, for example, offers fourteen hours of training spread over two days in order to “master and use your emotions to be more efficient”. Cost of the experience, financed by the professional training account: 1,420 euros excluding taxes. In the same format, Gereso offers courses, this time remotely, for a slightly lower price: 1,398 euros. For six additional hours, the prices of the Cegos organization climb to 1,995 euros. “With the development of teleworking, understanding the emotions of your colleagues through screens has become increasingly difficult. Our training courses allow you to take stock and take a step back”, explains Céline Peres-Court, consultant at Cegos.

Largely driven by the “awareness” brought about by the pandemic, more and more companies are reportedly turning to these intensive internships. To the point that even the big schools have gotten into it. For twenty-seven hours of lessons and 2,000 euros disbursed, EM Lyon Business School promises to “implement emotional tactics to promote personal and collective development” as well as “managerial performance”. Sciences po has also gotten into it, offering in its master’s “Executive Education” to “manage through emotional intelligence”. Cost of training: 2,370 euros. “We fall back on the same principle: learn to regulate the impact of work on our emotions, in order to be more productive”, continues Scarlett Salman.

With a few variations, these trainings always take place on the same principle: a “self-diagnosis” carried out by the participants, a course on “the exploration of emotions”, scenarios to “manage one’s emotions in tense relationships”. .. “It looks like the conflict management courses that you could find in the 1990s, but with a new name”, remarks doctor of psychology Juliette Jérôme Pellissier. Nothing new under the sun, then? “Emotional intelligence is part of the ‘managerial fashions’. Organizations are careful to use fashionable names to attract customers, even if the concept ultimately only responds to the same problem: the lack of communication in the business,” notes Scarlett Salman.

Some devote most of their activity to it. The Center for Emotional Intelligence, for example, offers training ranging from 1,500 to 3,000 euros. A test is available, allowing everyone to assess their emotional intelligence. On the program: 130 questions, which the participant must answer online, for twenty minutes. “To the statement ‘I avoid hurting others’, the person must for example answer ‘never, sometimes, occasionally, often, almost always, or always'”, explains Lucie Lauras, the creator of the organization. A one-hour analysis of each skill is then delivered. All this for the modest sum of… 250 euros.

But the relevance of these assessments is questioned. “Unlike IQ tests, which are based on objective logical elements, these questionnaires are based on self-assessment, which induces major biases,” says Juliette Jérôme Pellissier. Among them, the Barnum effect which, in social psychology, refers to the ability of everyone to accept a description that applies to their personality if it is sufficiently vague… and rewarding – think horoscope, or tarot reading. “This is why it is often very easy to have high results in personality tests carried out online. You will always choose the most flattering answer”, continues the researcher. Without even going through training organizations, evaluations – often free – that aim to measure everyone’s emotional intelligence have also multiplied online in recent years, increasing tenfold the number of people likely to declare themselves “high emotional potential”. “. “The result is entertaining but can have harmful consequences and mask real psychological problems, warns Juliette Jérôme Pellissier. This test is in no way a medical diagnosis.”

On the training organization side, this is not the stated ambition anyway. Here, there is no desire to solve mental health problems: the objective is first and foremost to ensure a better atmosphere at work and, ultimately, increased employee productivity. With a risk: “To suggest that the possible problems in the company are only due to the feelings and reactions of individuals, points out Scarlett Salman. That the resolution of each obstacle is due to an individual reaction, and not a broader problem of the company.”