Are we making a mistake with EQ?

Compare these two perspectives:

Adam Grant Ted Talk about givers and takers and Travis Bradberry on Emotional Intelligence 

Does high EQ correlate to a giving personality or an agreeable personality? Are those with high EQ all team players, supportive and able to act in enlightened self-interest? If there is a correlation with givers, is there the same correlation of success and failure as shown in the Ted Talk? If there is more correlation with agreeableness I think we need to rethink this.

EQ is a trending topic, but I’m finding myself getting sceptical of how it is perceived and promoted:

  1. All the arguments made in the Linkedin article are for personal gain
  2. 90% of “top performers” have high EQ – to me that means they get promoted or good pay because they’re good at personal emotional control and person management skills eg networking, and convincing people to like and support them.
  3. As a woman in a male-dominated profession (tech) I find that observation painful on two levels:
    1. so much for equal pay for equal skill, and
    2. women are commonly expected to do the social roles in corporate jobs, because it is understood that we soft-heartedly look after others, and exist to make other people’s lives easier. We then we get “mum-zoned” and forgotten about. Women in top positions commonly don’t embody that feminine care characteristic, so they will get some respect, and they are trusted less as a result. What does EQ look like in that contradiction? People with high EQ show compassion and are trustworthy, but women in top positions are not trusted, and women who show compassion get side-lined.
  4. If 90% of “top performers” have high EQ, and 21% of senior professionals [are] psychopaths (from admittedly only one study) how does that work out?

EQ looks more and more like the skills of clever emotional and social manipulation, which is very different from a personality of a giver. One doesn’t have to be sociopathic to exhibit these traits, but a lot of sociopaths can and do.

I wonder what EQ looks like in armed forces top brass, or Fortune 500 businesses? These organisations tend to be more goal oriented, and success is commonly found at the expense of the lives or livelihoods of others, and those at the cutting edge have less scope to be patient and understanding with those around them. There are CEOs in the Fortune 500 said to have high EQ, so it is possible, but it certainly doesn’t look like it is necessary, since there are also a number of sociopaths.

Alternatively, maybe those bosses with high EQ just employ others to do the nasty expedient stuff. I have seen this before: a Christ-like New Age guru and his frantic bevy of female carers, throwing themselves in the way of anything that might disrupt his view of Nirvana. It’s easy to be nice when it’s someone else’s job to do the dirty work for you.

I also wonder how successful the businesses are that have a lot of people with high EQ – do they show the same success metrics as businesses that put the bottom line first, instead of a nice working relationship?

Perhaps EQ has missed some salient factor/s, as IQ measuring surely did in its infancy? Perhaps there needs to be more understanding about the EQ it takes to own up and be responsible for the pain that one can cause, willingly or not, to yourself and others, as one goes through life? What does EQ look like in someone with a genetic predisposition to more intense emotional states? Is EQ culturally biased to present the Western ideal of emotional balance or maturity? What does EQ look like in a refugee, or someone who lives in a war zone? Is it impossible for a person with a disease like depression to have a high EQ?

When I look at my own EQ, I know I exhibit a lack of management skills, mostly relationship management, but that’s not because I am not aware of how I come across. In the giver/taker parlance I am a disagreeable giver. I know how a lot of people feel, and where they are coming from, and I love the potential of humanity, and yet I learn to have no sympathy for some of them, because they are (culpably, deliberately or lazily) weak: they take resources from others, ignore their opportunities, fail to learn, and do nothing to help themselves. I will only give so much.

I know I’d do better in my career and social circles if I was “nice” (agreeable), but I don’t want to change. Firstly, I know we don’t live in an ideal world, and I work to change what I can, but while doing that through the emotional manipulation of others may be more successful, I find that option too personally distasteful. I express how I feel, and hope people care enough to help me change things. It feels dishonest, too, to be “nice” to people who I have learnt to distrust, and I find that such people don’t change, regardless how you treat them (nice or not). They are just more likely to socially isolate you when you stop giving, since you are no longer useful, and they don’t want you affecting the belief of others. These are many of the “nice” people I have met (not all – there are some I believe are genuinely kind, too) and this is why I don’t trust EQ.

[Footnote: James Bach says it very well in this blog post, in the section “On Being Nice”. I related to that.]



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