By Mike Foster
Probably the biggest adventure Steven Stein’s expertise led him into came in the early 2000s. He went to Dulles International Airport, in Washington, as instructed by the U.S. military, with a packed bag but no idea where he was going.
“This guy came up to me at the airport. He knew what I looked like. I didn’t know what he looked like. The next thing I knew he had the tickets and we flew to Frankfurt, then to Sicily, where we got on this little military plane that landed on an aircraft carrier,” says Stein.
He spent two weeks psychologically assessing sailors and U.S. Navy Seals on the USS George Washington somewhere in the Mediterranean, gauging which ones were most likely to succeed in missions.
Since he founded MHS (Multi-Health Systems) with his wife Rodeen 33 years ago, Stein (MA [psychology] ʼ76; PhD [clinical psychology] ʼ78) has done psychological screening for contestants on Survivor, Big Brother Canada, MasterChef Canada and The Amazing Race Canada, and has been a consultant for the Canadian Armed Forces, the U.S. Air Force, the FBI, special units of the Pentagon and NATO HQ in Brussels. Today, with 125 employees, MHS has published tests and tools that have measured the emotional intelligence or EQ (emotional quotient) of more than two million people.
Stein has also written books on the subject, including co-authoring The EQ Edge: Emotional Intelligence and Your Success, which has been translated into several languages. He is the author ofEmotional Intelligence for Dummies, Make Your Workplace Great and the EISA (Emotional Intelligence Skills Assessment).
In an interview at the Social Sciences Building on campus during Alumni Week last month, Stein, CEO of MHS, explained how he got involved in the relatively new field of emotional intelligence, leaving his job as a psychologist at a children’s treatment centre to start the company in his basement.
After graduating from uOttawa, Stein was doing clinical research on anti-social adolescents as part of his job at the Thistletown Regional Centre, a tertiary centre which offered treatment to troubled youth. It was difficult getting some of the teenagers to answer screening questions, a crucial step for establishing baselines to later determine whether cognitive behavioural therapy or other treatments had been effective.
“The kids, being anti-social, refused to do my pre-test. They said ‘we ain’t gonna take your pre-test, screw you,’” says Stein.
He noticed, however, that the kids loved playing games on the new Apple 2 Plus computer. He got a programmer to digitize the screening questions. Suddenly, the kids were engaging with the test.
“We discovered things off the computer that none of the clinicians knew. I discovered this kid had been sexually abused. They wouldn’t tell any person but they told the computer. I discovered this kid was using all kinds of drugs. None of the clinicians knew; it wasn’t in any of the records or files,” says Stein, who wrote research papers about how the technology had made a difference.
He was so impressed with the potential that he decided to explore it further, leaving his job to form MHS with Rodeen, who has a master’s in psychology from York University and experience working with alcoholics. They hired a programmer and started developing software. Today, MHS has published dozens of tests, including the EQ-i 2.0 and the MSCEIT. The company has won the Profit 100 award for being one of the fastest-growing companies in Canada three years in a row and was named one of Canada’s Best Managed Companies in 2013 and 2014. Recently, Stein was nominated as a finalist for Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year award.
The concept of emotional intelligence emerged through the work of pioneers such as Reuven Bar-On, who developed the first test, as well as Peter Salovey, John Mayer and Daniel Goleman, a former editor ofPsychology Today who is widely credited with popularizing the term with his book Emotional Intelligence, which sold more than five million copies. The concept emerged as a way of explaining how some people with high IQs could be quite stupid in their personal lives, or make disastrous decisions as leaders, says Stein.
The tests published by MHS include questions that assess how people respond when they are angry, how they cope with stress, whether they correctly identify facial expressions, how they would react in certain situations and whether they have ever felt sad for prolonged periods. Stein says the tools are re-evaluated and fine-tuned, taking new research into consideration.
“It is about taking something academic and making it accessible to the professionals. The EQ-i 2.0 is 15 specific areas that make up emotional intelligence across five general headings. We field-test hundreds of thousands of people to make sure it works. We boil it down through the research to 133 items. For the MSCEIT, which is the ability-based test, we are going through a revision process now. We test it over a couple of million people worldwide. We constantly re-evaluate,” says Stein. “It can cost MHS $1 million to develop a good test. We have specific samples: military samples, managers, physicians and lawyers.”
The questionnaires work by benchmarking how most right-thinking people would react in certain situations. The research identifies emotional profiles that are common among, for example, high-performing salespeople or army recruiters, and then frames questions to determine whether people possess such traits.
However, one wonders if it isn’t problematic to categorize people in this way. Are humans not filled with infinite nuances of character, like snowflakes?
“There are a lot of things you can measure in a snowflake but let’s say I am just measuring how quickly it melts,” responds Stein. “I am only measuring very specific things that matter to the specific situation. So when we talk about the job situation, typically we would analyze the job and we would find out what factors matter. If we are doing customer service, we will test 100 really high-performing customer service people, and see what factors they have and then test whether these really matter. Does empathy matter? Do interpersonal skills matter? We can typically find at least four or five emotional skills that differentiate the high performers and the low performers.”
While he was studying at uOttawa, Stein says he and a few other students were “outliers,” inspired by Professor Michel Girodo. They were into this brand new thing called cognitive behavioural therapy, which was little known back then. Today, it is a major therapeutic method.
In addition to running MHS, Stein still finds the time to give something back to his profession — he is a former president of the Ontario Psychology Association and past chair of the Psychology Foundation of Canada. And he is always willing to lend a helping hand to his alma mater. He is a member of the Faculty of Social Sciences campaign cabinet, which aims to raise at least $15 million towards the overall $400 million goal announced last month as part of Defy the Conventional: The Campaign for uOttawa.
“I feel an obligation and a loyalty to the University. My degrees here have led me to where I am today,” says Stein.
There’s one more thing about Stein: he plays alto and baritone saxophone in a traditional 50-piece concert band as well as a smaller jazz band. He’s especially looking forward to a fundraising gig next year. On May 6, 2016, his band — tentatively named Beat the Blues — will be playing 60s songs accompanied by 20 different singers at Toronto’s Koerner Hall to raise funds for the Psychology Foundation of Canada.
Steven Stein sat down for an interview with Tabaret as he attended Alumni Week last month. He is back helping the FSS campaign cabinet as part of uOttawa’s largest fundraising effort, after also helping his alma mater in 2005. Photo: Mike Foster.