Who Exactly Needs Emotional Intelligence? The Dark Side of EI

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Personality and emotions are hardwired in each of us. You can’t control how something makes you feel.

Some people, however, are better at controlling how they react. Some people (not necessarily the same people) have also learned to “read” other people’s emotions and effectively influence those reactions as well.

If all this sounds a little familiar, it should. We’re talking about emotional intelligence (EI), a term that surged to popularity in the 90s.

Touted as the hidden quality that makes people successful … and gives leaders that little something extra beyond their easily measurable IQ, EI has stayed strong and made its way into businesses and schools. Parents and educators are encouraged to teach children to become more emotionally self aware … and to notice the feelings and emotions of others.

But there’s a dark side to all that emotional awareness, suggests Adam Grant for theatlantic.com. “New evidence shows that when people hone their emotional skills, they become better at manipulating others. When you’re good at controlling your own emotions, you can disguise your true feelings. When you know what others are feeling, you can tug at their heartstrings and motivate them to act against their own best interests.”

But, before we throw the baby out with the bath water, consider that not everyone is using their EI powers … for evil.

A good leader, a strong manager, an astute co-worker is equally likely to simply be trying to do their job well and to be aware of how they can best interact with and encourage others to build key relationships.

And there are definitely occupations where a higher level of EI equates to better job performance. Among those: Salespeople, real-estate agents, call center representatives, front desk personnel, teachers and counselors.

“In jobs that required extensive attention to emotions, higher emotional intelligence translated into better performance,” writes Grant of research data compiled by the University of Illinois. “However, in jobs that involved fewer emotional demands, the results reversed. The more emotionally intelligent employees were, the lower their job performance.”

Another study Grant cites found no relationship between EI and helping colleagues or customers. “Helping is driven by our motivations and values, not by our abilities to understand and manage emotions.”

The one area where emotional intelligence consistently had a positive effect: Speaking up. Study subjects’ ability to control their own emotions gave them confidence (and ability) in speaking up with ideas and suggestions, leading to greater respect, job satisfaction and results.

More than two decades after emotional intelligence first took flight, psychological research has finally caught up. And while these more recent and thorough findings demonstrate that developing your EI will not necessarily make you an instant success, there are occupations and situations where EI definitely helps. Will developing your emotional intelligence make you better at your job? If you’re responsible for recruiting and hiring, should you choose candidates with higher emotional intelligence? The answer is: That really depends on the job.

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