The downsides of being very emotionally intelligent

By Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic and Adam Yearsley via hbr.org   Article

“Gemma is extremely caring and sensitive. She pays a great deal of attention to others’ emotions and is kind and considerate. … She is usually upbeat and remains positive even in the face of bad news. Her colleagues love working with her because they see her as a beacon of calm. No matter how much stress and pressure there is at work, Gemma is enthusiastic and never loses her cool.

Gemma’s manager enjoys dealing with her, as she rarely complains about anything, is reliable and dependable, and shows great levels of organizational citizenship. Indeed, Gemma is extremely trustworthy and ethical. …

In many ways, she seems like the ideal employee, someone with excellent potential for a career in management. If you agree, you are not alone: Most people would find Gemma’s personality a great asset, and not just in a work context. The main reason for this is Gemma’s high emotional intelligence (EQ), which explains all of the qualities described above. …

Let’s focus again on Gemma and explore some of the less favorable implications of her high EQ.

Lower levels of creativity and innovation potential. There is a negative correlation between EQ and many of the traits that predispose individuals toward creativity and innovation. …

Difficulty giving and receiving negative feedback. … Gemma’s high interpersonal sensitivity and empathic concern may make it hard for her to deliver critical or negative feedback to others. …

Reluctance to ruffle people’s feathers. … Although people like Gemma are psychologically well-endowed for entry-level or midlevel management jobs, senior leadership roles will require the ability to make unpopular choices often, bring about change, and focus on driving results, even at the expense of sacrificing employee relations. …

A well-developed ability to manipulate others. Gemma’s high EQ may help her empathize and deliver a message that feels right to the audience — this is often a good thing. … In that sense, the darker side of EQ is helping people with bad intentions to be overly persuasive and get their way. As with charisma, we tend to regard EQ as a positive trait, but it can be used to achieve unethical goals as well as ethical ones.

An aversion to risk. … People like Gemma are much more likely to play it safe and avoid bold choices. … EQ equates with more self-control, yet extreme levels of self-control will translate into counterproductive perfectionism and risk avoidance.

To be clear, Gemma is no doubt a highly desirable employee, but her extremely high EQ makes her more suited to roles where regulating her own emotions and being able to sense and adapt to the emotional needs of others are pivotal. Salespeople, real-estate agents, customer support reps, counselors, and psychologists all benefit from EQ like Gemma’s. In contrast, Gemma’s profile may not be advantageous, and may even be a handicap, in jobs focused on creativity, innovation, leading change, or taking risks.”

 

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