Dialogue with Esther López-Zafra

Rafael Bisquerra

The book Emotional Intelligence in Organizations has just been published by the Editorial Síntesis, whose authors are Esther Lopez-Zafra and Manuel Pulido-Martos. We are fortunate to be able to discuss this subject, which is so interesting and current, with Dr. Esther Lopez-Zafra, Professor of Social Psychology at the University of Jaén. In addition, she is the secretary of the SCEPS (Spanish Scientific Society of Social Psychology). From her personal and professional life, I would like to highlight her tenacity, capacity for work and her loyalty, albeit with a critical spirit in the groups to which she belongs. Her resume shows a research career that has led to the publication of more than seventy-five impact articles and an active participation in different scientific societies. Her strong commitment to social psychology is evident in her recent election as president of SCEPS, a society that works to promote and place psychosocial knowledge more closely, building a sense of identity and to make known the work and development in this area that is being carried out in our country. Her commitment is also seen in her work as editor of relevant journals such as Frontiers or the International Journal of Social Psychology, and in her work to strengthen social psychology in countries such as El Salvador or Morocco. At her university, she has held prominent positions such as vice-dean or vice-chancellor, which allows her to have a very good knowledge of the university environment. She enjoys teaching and loves spreading research results to enhance the role of social psychology in society.

The dialogue held with Esther Lopez-Zafra developed as follows.

Rafael Bisquerra (RB).- Hello Esther. In this excellent book, Emotional Intelligence in Organizations, a very up-to-date overview of research on this subject is presented. If you had to highlight the main applications for practice, what would you propose to place emotional intelligence in organizations?


Esther López-Zafra (ELZ).- Thank you very much Rafael. For us, we are very happy with this publication, as it is the result of many years of work that we can summarize in this book in an informative, yet rigorous and scientific way.  In relation to your question, since the book focuses on organizations, I would highlight the role of leadership in organizations. I would propose that when promoting or evaluating people who are going to occupy a leadership position, their level of emotional intelligence must be taken into account. An emotionally intelligent leader tends to use positive leadership to a greater extent (transformational, ethical, authentic...) and this generates a more positive organizational climate, with less uncivil behavior, better results and an organizational culture that is transmitted to the different levels of the organization.

RB.- It is clear that leadership is an essential element to put emotional intelligence in organizations. Thinking of an organization that wants to enhance emotional intelligence, what other elements would you highlight? More specifically, thinking about what the company may decide to incorporate.


ELZ.- Organizations must have training plans that allow them to improve in all organizational processes. Many organizations focus more on technical processes and forget the human aspect, which is so fundamental. Some, when they realize that something continues to fail, begin to take into account the human factor. I think it would be best to be aware of this aspect from the beginning and work on emotional intelligence and other psychosocial processes (I.E, communication or teamwork as examples), as something else within the organization. In those companies and organizations where they begin to include this, we observe relevant improvements.

RB.- This proposal is very interesting: the need for training in emotional intelligence in organizations. And wouldn't it also be convenient to introduce this training in formal education (primary, secondary and university)?

ELZ.- Indeed, emotional intelligence has been shown to be a facilitator of positive processes and a protector against negative ones. If we had emotional intelligence as part of the educational curriculum, we would see an improvement in global life satisfaction, in interpersonal relationships, such as with your significant other, and a decrease in violence (bullying or harassment), that would be very beneficial. However, given that this is still incipient in our country, with some very interesting experiences in different autonomous communities, we must take into account all areas of activity and adapt the interventions to a specific space. In addition, as we state in our book, it is important to take into account the levels of analysis, so one of them which is very relevant and we spend a lot of time in our lives is the organizational level. Most of these people, groups and organizations still do not assume or internalize this aspect in their day to day functions. The perspective of healthy organizations is beginning to be taken into account, so we understand that we must continue working and researching in this direction.

RB.- To move towards organizations with emotional intelligence, could we think of universities that include the development of emotional intelligence in the training of their students, from all careers? I mean that students of Law, Engineering, Medicine, and so on; that is, "all students" receive training for the development of emotional intelligence. Would this be recommended?


ELZ.- As in the previous question, it would be about starting at the beginning (when we begin our social interaction in schools) and reaching all educational levels. For example, at the University of Jaén, it is included as training in transversal skills within a program called FoCo (Complementary Training) where we offer, among other preparation courses for the work environment, courses that include emotional intelligence.  If people are emotionally intelligent, they will show it in all areas, and therefore, when they arrive at your organization, they will already have it in mind. We are not at that point yet, so including these aspects in organizations will make them healthier.

RB.- What you say seems very interesting to me. It must be a pioneering experience in Spanish universities. With the intention of informing other universities in Spain and Latin America, please provide us with some information in this regard, such as the duration of the course and main contents.

ELZ.- It certainly appears to be pioneering. We started with this experience in the 2016-2017 academic year and it is a program that has been growing and consolidating. It is about training students in transversal skills necessary for their future work, and for their lives. The training includes how to do a job interview, prepare a resume, speak in public, and so on. The program includes two courses with content on emotional intelligence, one specifically on this topic, and the other including it as a relevant factor in leadership, which is directed by Professor Pulido-Martos and myself. It is a blended course with three types of actions: a master conference to which we always invite an outstanding speaker.  For example, this year our guest is Dr. Salanova, who will speak to us about healthy organizations. The second part consists of online training where the students have the material and virtual teaching at their own pace for a month, and lastly face-to-face workshops (if possible) in which they apply what they have learned. Emotional intelligence, as we have discussed before, is an important part of positive leadership. For this reason, I include emotional intelligence in the workplace in this module. At the end, the students who pass all the actions have 1.5 credits that they can add to other courses and obtain a final certificate or an expert title. Our experience is very positive, although it is certainly  just a small piece.

RB.- Thank you very much, Esther, for all these answers and contributions and we wish the book Emotional Intelligence in Organizations to be a success, which will mean giving a boost to emotional education, which is what we strive to work towards at RIEEB.