This EI factor governs our ability to objectively validate our feelings and thinking with external reality. This includes assessing the correspondence between what is internally experienced and what externally exists. Testing the degree of correspondence between what we experience and what actually exists involves a search for objective evidence to confirm feelings, perceptions and thoughts. Reality testing, essentially, involves “tuning in” to the immediate situation, attempting to keep things in correct perspective and experiencing things as they really are without excessive fantasizing or daydreaming about them. The emphasis is on pragmatism, objectivity and the accuracy of our perception as well as on authenticating our ideas and thoughts. An important aspect of this EI factor is the degree of perceptual clarity evident when trying to assess and cope with situations; and it involves the ability to focus when examining ways of coping with situations that arise. As such, reality testing comprises elements of and is based on perception, affect (emotions) and cognition. Reality testing is also associated with a lack of withdrawal from the outside world, a tuning in to the immediate situation as well as lucidity and clarity in perception and thought processes. In simple terms, reality testing is the ability to accurately and realistically “size-up” the immediate situation.
Reality testing is closely associated with “situational awareness” in that involves being intensely aware of our surroundings, which includes effectively clarifying and closing potential gaps between our internal perceptions and what actually exists in the outside world. Effectiveness within this frame of reference depends on first recognizing and understanding the essentials of the immediate situation as well as quickly assessing the seriousness and potential risk factors involved, and then attempting to forecast the situation in the near term. Situational awareness (reality testing) depends on accurately identifying and understanding emotions, which suggests that this factor plays an important role in the cognitive processing of emotions (a point that has not yet been fully addressed in the emotional intelligence literature). This EI factor acts as “the rudder” in keeping the cognitive processing of emotions on track. It is associated with a lack of withdrawal from the outside world and a tuning into the immediate situation as well as lucidity and clarity in perception and in thought processes.
Problems in reality testing can be catastrophic for organizational existence as they often are for individuals. Severe psychiatric disturbances, such as psychosis, are fueled by extreme deficiencies in this factorial component of emotional intelligence.