Emotional intelligence is the ability to perceive and understand emotions, and to use this information to inform one’s actions. On the surface, that seems like a great quality for a manager to have. In reality, there are some potential downsides to the emotionally intelligent boss. It all depends on the character of the person who’s wielding that high EI.
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“Emotional intelligence is important, but the unbridled enthusiasm has obscured a dark side,” writes Adam Grant at The Atlantic. “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.”
Awestruck = Dumbstruck
Grant refers to research from Cambridge University professor Jochen Menges that shows that people are less likely to remember the message of a speech that is delivered inspiringly. Even worse, audience members were more likely to claim they remembered more of the speech if they were moved by it — meaning that while we think we know what charismatic leaders are saying, we might be responding to their charm, not their message.
In the workplace, this means that a persuasive manager can use their charisma to make us think we agree with them, when we don’t. That’s bad for individual workers and potentially bad for the company’s bottom line.
Emotionally Intelligent Liars Are Better at Lying
In another study from University College London, researchers found that emotionally intelligent people “intentionally shape their emotions to fabricate favorable impressions of themselves.” In other words, they’re more persuasive liars. Good news for the sneaky leader who wants to put one over on his team, but bad news for the team itself.
The bottom line? Any skill or talent is only as good as the person who uses it. So perhaps the number one thing we should look for in a boss is a good character.
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