Emotional Intelligence Is Great, Until It's Misused

Emotional intelligence is a double-edged sword: It helps us avoid common misunderstandings that result in hurt feelings, but in the wrong hands, it can become a tool of manipulation.

Emotional intelligence, i.e., the balancing of raw intelligence with emotional awareness, is a double-edged sword: It helps us empathize with others and avoid common misunderstandings that result in hurt feelings, but in the wrong hands, it can become a tool of manipulation.

A brief overview of recent studies at The Atlantic cites evidence that developing emotional intelligence can result in more narcissistic behavior, and if one has the proclivity toward deceit, having emotional intelligence can make such subterfuge more insidious still:

"A 2010 journal article [published in Research in Organizational Behavior] reviewed 'self-serving' uses of EI in office settings, such as 'focusing on strategically important targets' (subordinates, rivals, supervisors) and working to 'distort, block, or amplify rumors, gossip, and other types of emotion-laden information.'"

What's perhaps worst of all is that individuals with strategically deceitful attitudes may be blissfully unaware of their own behavior. Neuroscientist James Fallon is famously one of those people. Blind to his own manipulative tendencies his whole life, it was only in his 60s that he realized he habitually badgered and manipulated people without concern for his own actions. His Big Think interview is a fascinating look at what it's like to discover one's darker side and come out the other end.

Popularized by psychologist Daniel Goleman in his 1995 book Emotional Intelligence, the idea took popular psychology by storm. The concept of a non-quantifiable, emotionally intuitive intelligence retooled our vision of what it meant to be smart, helping to explain why some extremely bright people just can't get along. 

Emotional intelligence also signaled that people who understood uniquely human desires, such as the need to feel respected, listened to, and understood, could benefit organizations by harnessing social capital. But just as human resource departments cultivated emotional intelligence, narcissistic and Machiavellian coworkers did the same.


Read more at The Atlantic.

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