The Downsides of Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is often touted as the key to personal and professional success, but it can also have its dark side.

Research suggests that when people have self-serving motives, emotional intelligence can become a weapon for manipulating others. In a work context, employees who engage in the most harmful behaviour often possess high emotional intelligence, which they use for personal gain. People who are good at controlling their own emotions can disguise their true feelings and when they understand what others are feeling they can motivate them to act against their own best interests. In terms of leadership there can be a fine line between motivation and manipulation (Adolf Hitler’s speeches displayed high levels of ‘emotional intelligence’, for example).

Studies have also revealed that high emotional intelligence doesn’t necessarily translate to better performance. Being able to read and regulate emotions is a clear plus for jobs requiring attention to emotions (e.g. sales reps, call centre staff, counsellors, managers). However, for jobs that have fewer emotional demands (e.g. mechanics, scientists, accountants) it seems that the more emotionally intelligent an employee, the lower their performance. In this context the ability to read facial expressions, body language and vocal tones appears to be more of a distraction than an asset.

Being able to understand and manage our emotions can be a powerful tool, but it’s worth bearing in mind that like any skill, emotional intelligence may not always be associated with good intent. Always use your powers to improve the lives and emotional states of people around you – because how they feel affects you too!

Read more about the dark side of emotional intelligence in The Atlantic.

Learn more about your mind in our illustrated guides, The Mind Manual and A Mind for Business, published by Hamlyn Press and Pearson/FT.