Emotional intelligence: for good or evil?

Updated: May 10, 2018

Emotional Intelligence is defined as the ability to balance the emotional brain with the rational brain. However, scientists have discovered that there may actually be a dark side of of high EQ.

Since psychologists Peter Salovey and John Mayer first introduced the concept of emotional intelligence in 1990 and Daniel Goleman popularized it with his 1995 bestseller Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More than IQ, EQ has largely been accepted as the critical factor that sets the all-stars apart from the rest. EQ has been offered up as the secret sauce to a wide range of social issues from bullying to conflict resolution to more engaged workplace culture. As a result, organizational leaders, coaches, policymakers, and educators have embraced it as the magic bullet for success.   


EQ for Evil

In a nutshell, emotional intelligence is defined as the ability to balance the emotional brain with the rational brain. However, scientists have discovered that there may actually be a dark side of EQ. While people with high EQ are better able to identify and understand their own emotions, some use that ability to master the art of manipulation. Recent studies show that those who have control over their own emotions also have the ability to hide their true feelings and create pseudo personas to deceive others. According to many experts, emotionally intelligent people may intentionally disguise their emotions and create favorable impressions of themselves to obtain some type of gain.


In addition, people who are skilled are reading others use that ability to appeal to the emotional state of those around them rather than rational thought. Jochen Menges studied this phenomenon with his research team at the University of Cambridge. They examined the impact of speakers who appealed to the emotions of the audience. When audience members used emotional words like “admire,” “inspirational,” “fascinating,” and “charismatic” to describe the speaker, they were less likely to critically contemplate the message or remember it later. Ironically, the more emotionally moved the audience members were, the more they claimed to remember later.  Menges referred to the propensity to blindly accept emotional messaging the “awestruck effect,” and those who master the art of strategically expressing emotions can actually subjugate our capacity to reason.


EQ for Good

Not everyone who demonstrates high emotional intelligence has nefarious intentions. When used for good, EQ enables us to create and nurture healthy and fulfilling relationships that enhance our lives personally and professionally. Emotionally intelligent people are in tune with their emotions and able to accurately identify them. They don’t try to hide them, and they don’t try to disguise them as something else. People with high EQ are able to use the understanding of emotions – their own emotions and the emotions of others – and apply it in various aspects of their lives. 


Overwhelmingly, experts agree that EQ is a strong predictor of professional performance and a foundation for a wide range of critical interpersonal skills.  Communication between the emotional brain and the rational brain is the source of EQ and it affects how we manage behavior, navigate social complexities, and make decisions. While there is a wealth of research-based books and programs that prescribe the recipe for emotional intelligence, the hallmarks of EQ are awareness, focus, and intention. Get started with a few simple attitudes and behaviors that emotionally intelligent people consistently demonstrate.


Identify emotions with precision.

It’s easy to generalize emotions as “happy” or “sad.” But, the more specifically you can identify your emotions, the better insight you have into exactly how you are feeling and why. Learning how to identify and label emotions is a critical step in growing emotional intelligence.


Embrace failure as learning.

It is easy for failures or mistakes to put us in negative emotional states. On the other hand, dismissing them completely eliminates the opportunity to learn from them. The key is to embrace mistakes or failures as opportunities for growth. This shift in perspective will enable you to nurture positive traits such as resilience and confidence.


Don’t put the key to your happiness in someone else’s pocket.

One of the cornerstones of EQ is the ability to determine when and if the opinions, reactions, or behaviors of others should impact your own emotional state or decisions. There may be times when the opinions of others have an influence on your mood or decisions. But, emotionally intelligent people know their strengths and weaknesses, and utilize both to stay grounded.


Seek progress not perfection.

Emotionally intelligent people look for opportunities to make progress toward their goals rather than perfection in their accomplishments. Seeking perfection is an unrealistic and discouraging quest that will perpetuate a negative sense of self-worth. Focusing on progress perpetuates an optimistic view of the future. 

© 2018 Andrick Group, LLC.