Emotional intelligence, or EQ, is the ability to read and understand emotions in ourselves and others. It is said that emotional intelligence accounts for 80 percent of one’s success.
That’s almost certainly an exaggeration. But ever since the 1995 publication of US psychologist and science writer Daniel Goleman’s best-seller, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, EQ has been seen by leaders and educators as the solution to many social problems. In some Western countries such as the US, emotional intelligence is now taught widely in secondary, business and medical schools.
EQ is important. But our enthusiasm for it has obscured a dark side, says a recent article in The Atlantic.
Weapon of mass emotion
Recent research and studies show that as people improve their emotional skills, they become better at manipulating others. When someone knows what others are feeling, they can tug at their heartstrings and motivate them to act against their own best interests.
Does this remind you of those “managers” at pyramid scheme companies? Hundreds of thousands of otherwise cautious and rational people have been brainwashed by their impassioned speeches and become bankrupt as a result.
Social scientists have begun to document this dark side of emotional intelligence. A study by the University of Cambridge found that when a leader gave an inspiring speech filled with emotion, the audience was less likely to scrutinize the message and remembered less of the content.
Researchers call this the “awestruck effect”, but it may just as easily be described as the dumbstruck effect, says The Atlantic article. Leaders who master emotions can rob us of our capacity to reason. If they have self-serving motives, or their values are out of step with our own, emotional intelligence becomes a weapon of manipulation and the results can be devastating.
This is consistent with another recent study from Kyoto University. According to The Huffington Post, the study shows that “people with high interpersonal EQ influence others’ emotions based on their own goals”.
A research team led by University College London professor Martin Kilduff shed more light on this dark side of emotional intelligence. According to them, emotional intelligence helps people disguise one set of emotions while expressing another for personal gain. Emotionally intelligent people “intentionally shape their emotions to fabricate favorable impressions of themselves”, Kilduff’s team writes in the journal Research in Organizational Behavior. “The strategic disguise of one’s own emotions and the manipulation of others’ emotions for strategic ends are behaviors evident not only on Shakespeare’s stage but also in the offices and corridors where power and influence are traded.”
It seems that to better understand the dark side of EQ, we need look no further than Shakespeare’s Macbeth or its modern adaption on TV: House of Cards.