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Did Sherlock Holmes Feel Nothing? The Science Behind The Emotional Intelligence for Detectives

Image: Instagram/Sherlock Holmes(sherlock.holmes.official)

Image: Instagram/Sherlock Holmes(sherlock.holmes.official)

Detectives, like all other professionals, need to learn the nuts and bolts of their craft but emotional intelligence provides the cutting edge.

A classic Indian cop delving into a thrilling chase through a corrupt system against a genius killer who is killing all the scientists. R. Giridharan who is currently a general manager in RBI and an international sports commentator and behavioral trainer weaves a story with his new book "Right Under Your Nose" of every cop who flew too close to the sun and got transferred to the traffic department but is called back with a deadline by the Chief Minister to solve a case before Parliament resumes in a week.

Sounds daunting, doesn’t it? But that is what Padmini, the lead female protagonist and detective manage to do in ‘Right under your nose’ (a mystery thriller penned by me).

'Detectives are expected to decipher a world from a grain of sand,' confessed a sleuth. How do detectives manage to solve crime?

They create crime scenes in their minds and get into the skins of the victim, the witness and culprit to solve the puzzle.


The legendry Sherlock Holmes says, “But love is an emotional thing, and whatever is emotional is opposed to that the cold reason which I place above all things”. This would imply that a detective needs to be a cold-blooded computer bereft of human feelings. That quote portrayed the thinking of that era, but all that has changed with the popularization of the concept of Emotional Intelligence.

John Meyer and Peter Salovey coined the term, while Daniel Goleman is the most extant commentator on the subject. Emotional intelligence is defined as the ability to understand one’s own emotion as well as that of others and use it to one’s own advantage. This would be a radical departure from Sherlock Holmes, but I believe it to be necessary, possibly because:

(i) The detectives deal with human beings and human activities. After all, victims, witness and culprits are all human beings.

(ii) The motivation for a crime, the key element for any detective is decidedly a human emotion like revenge, quick success, fear etc.

(iii) The detective himself is a human being.

Emotional Intelligence according to Daniel Goleman consists of four components and I would be analyzing these components from a detective’s perspective:

(i) Self-Awareness: This basically refers to the extent to which the individual is in touch with his emotions, his insights into his own strength and weakness knowing your limitations wins half the battle and playing to your strength wins the other half. Introspection of the thought that one gets while being alone, dispassionate analysis of one’s behaviour and desire to take feedback from others enhances self-awareness. Vijay, the lead protagonist in my name was acutely aware of his lack of familiarity with social media, and also his ability to think out of box.

(ii) Self-regulation: This refers to the ability of an individual to control his own emotions, as well as external behaviour. This is exceedingly important. Detectives are a part of a team and it is important for a team member to step back and play second fiddle when required for the larger goal. There are occasions when patience and perseverance are required, especially to get the witness to talk. Choice of appropriate words apart from of course dignified behaviour are examples of self-regulation.

(iii) Relationship management: This has become increasingly important in the modern era where the world has become a global village. The detectives need to cast their nets far and wide and they should be able to catch hold of the right person in double-quick time.

Sometimes the right person isn’t a formal expert who is listed in a directory, but someone whom the detective known through his informal network. Dalvi who plays a supportive role to the main protagonist excels in this dimension.

(iv) Empathy: It is the game-changer. It is popularly defined as the ability to get into the shoes of the other person. According to me, empathy is defined as listening to the other’s heart, reading other’s mind and seeing other’s world. It is the most difficult of all the components of emotional intelligence and probably include all the other components as well. You need to have self-awareness to aim, you need self-regulation to get on top of your biases, and you need relationship management to know how lots of people feel, behave and think. Empathy comes from effective listening and the male protagonist Vijay comes across as an avid listener and displays exceptional empathy. The clinching piece of evidence comes from his ability to empathize with the chief antagonist.

(v) Detectives need plenty of imagination in addition to emotional intelligence. People would argue that crime detection is a science but who would disagree with the reflection of arguably the greatest scientist of all time Albert Einstein who said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge”. Padmini leveraged her imagination effectively leading to certain daunting obstacles being surmounted.

(vi) Sure, detectives like all other professionals need to learn the nuts and bolts of their craft but emotional intelligence provides the cutting edge. For you dear reader, irrespective of your age, sex, and profession, it is probably the same.