04/17/2014 02:17 pm ET Updated Jun 17, 2014

Can Apps Gauge Emotional Intelligence? Maybe

Some claim the new phone app MEIT (mobile emotional intelligence test), which shows photos of people's faces and asks you to identify a person's emotions, can tell how emotionally intelligent you are. Maybe, but I'm dubious.

For one, identifying a person's feelings from their facial expression taps only one of three kinds of empathy, as I explain in Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence. That taps cognitive empathy, thinking about how the other person thinks and feels. Sociopaths can be excellent at this kind of empathy, but I don't see them as models of emotional intelligence.

Nor does the phone app assess emotional empathy, the ability to resonate in the moment with another person's feelings. And it doesn't come anywhere near measuring empathic concern -- actually caring about the other person and wanting to help them if you can. The best organizational citizens and most effective leaders, I've argued, have such concern, and so create the sense of a secure base in their direct reports. This helps a leader's direct reports operate at their best rather than being on the defensive.

Another consideration: There are other parts to emotional intelligence beyond empathy, like self-awareness, self-management, and relationship management -- the best measure would assess all of these.

Coincidentally, I read the article about MEIT just after getting off the phone with an editor at the ASTD magazine, T + D. We had talked about how employers and their HR team could spot emotional intelligence in job applicants. I told her that in interviews people put their best face forward, and even skillful questioning may not get at how a person will actually get along with their co-workers once on the job.

I suggested following the advice of Claudio Fernández-Aráoz, the hiring guru, and try to interview people in confidence who have worked with that person in the past, and who will be honest with you.

Actual on-the-job performance gives you the best answer. After all, any test of EI in the workplace finds validation to the extent it predicts such performance.

Why not simply judge it for yourself?

This post first appeared on LinkedIn.