For All Its Relevance And Benefits, Does Emotional Intelligence Have A Dark Side?
Leadership Lesson: It’s important to consider how you recognize and utilize the emotions you see and can interpret in your environment, using them to the workplace’s advantage and not only for your benefit.
Since its first mention in the leadership development field, Emotional Intelligence (or “EQ” for “Emotional Quotient”) has been seen as the someone’s ability to understand and read their environment with clear thinking so as to react without emotion in the moment.
It allows one to be able to process and handle the situation at-hand as objectively as possible without getting wrapped up in the situation so that they can step outside themselves and determine how to proceed effectively, without their response being clouded by immediate emotion.
Since the phrase and concept was coined, much admiration has been garnered for EQ, as it aimed to keep the emotion in the workplace level throughout exchanges and allowed people to understand the needs of others through empathy instead of solely reacting from the standpoint of their own needs.
“Emotional Intelligence allows one to step outside themselves and determine how to proceed effectively, without their response being clouded by immediate emotion.”
With level emotion, it was and is thought, we could all get to the work at-hand without needing to settle emotional differences or imbalances first. With EQ more would be able to be accomplished through better understanding and unobstructed communication.
But could it be that this ability to understand others and act so that the situation does not, for instance, get elevated or disrupted, and so one can get the result they want, be seen as being narcissistic or even manipulative? Some seem to think so.
For my part, I will admit that when I first learned about Emotional Intelligence in school, or realized that there was a name given to what I felt I understood in working with people–that I had to appeal to and understand their emotions to keep the environment productive–I felt like it was a bit manipulative. I felt that way because I wasn’t necessarily carrying out my actions naturally but instead proactively tweaking my actions so that that person with whom I was speaking would find that my reasoning or work were more receptive.
A very simple example existed in times I adjusted my verbal approach based on my understanding of a person’s sensitivity to others’ tones, expressions or emotions. If I spoke with a tone that didn’t seem understanding, the person would take it as me being standoffish or attacking them, and it would disrupt the productivity toward the workplace goal desired. Different people have different personalities and sensitivities we need to understand and work through.
“Different people have different personalities and sensitivities we need to understand and work through.”
Keep in mind that this isn’t coddling in the workplace. In order to keep the workplace as cohesive as possible, we all need to understand that different attitudes, emotions and sensitivities exist in our working environment. The diversity which makes us all up outside of the workplace does not cease once we cross the workplace threshold. People’s best work and mindset comes through when they are most comfortable. We’re all like this in one way or another.
So in such instances I felt I was intentionally doing something the coworker was unaware of to get what I needed and keep the conversation on track.
Sounds manipulative, right? It did to me, initially.
But soon after, I asked myself a few questions to clear up that initial misperception.
The overall question I asked myself: What was my intention in such situations?
Was my intention to make that person look bad? No.
Was my intention to take advantage of them and use them for my own benefit? No.
Was my intention to allow that person to end up at a disadvantage because of my approach. Absolutely not.
Was my intention to simply understand someone’s needs and make sure that I didn’t tread on them as I worked with them? Yes.
Was I working to understand what they needed out of the workplace transaction in order not to interrupt the flow of work and productivity in the workplace? Yes.
“Emotional Intelligence is not hypnotizing someone to do your bidding…necessarily.”
As long as value is delivered for the general group and not solely for the person utilizing their EQ, this label of “manipulative” shouldn’t be used.
Emotional Intelligence is not hypnotizing someone to do your bidding…necessarily.
I say “necessarily,’ because there’s much responsibility in having such a self-awareness and EQ. Not to say that a high aptitude for Emotional Intelligence is tantamount to having super powers; super powers don’t exist (well…that we know of). But if they did, we could say EQ should be approached much in the same way as super powers–understanding you’re capable of it comes with the responsibility to both use it wisely and benefit those around you, in addition to yourself.
To be clear, EQ is not used in every moment of interaction, but it does help in reaching people when it’s needed.
“As long as value is delivered for the general group and not solely for the person utilizing their EQ, this label of “manipulative” shouldn’t be used.”
There also might be instances where no level of EQ will help and the other person might be completely unreasonable and disruptive to the workplace. Situations need to be handled accordingly from case-to-case.
So one could say that the dark side of EQ exists depending on the heart and mindset of the practitioner or person who espouses it.
Emotional Intelligence: Narcissism/Manipulation or not?
Where do you stand?
So…What About You?
- Do you see Emotional Intelligence as part of the dark side, see it as all good or do you see it both ways depending on who’s using it?
- What examples can you think of where someone utilized EQ effectively?
- What were the results you might have witnessed with someone who had low ability for EQ?