Is there a dark side to emotional intelligence?

I consider my emotional intelligence to be one of my greatest strengths, and because of it, I’ve had thousands of positive and successful professional relationships. This trait allows me to easily work with a variety of people, handle conflicts effectively, comfortably navigate change and build even stronger relationships.

Seeing such a positive use and outcome, it was quite the shocker to find out some people use their emotional intelligence to actually manipulate others. According to research in The Atlantic’s articleThe Dark Side of Emotional Intelligencea research team led by University College London Professor Martin Kilduff found:

“…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,’ Professor Kilduff’s team writes. ‘‘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.’”

This got me thinking: Had I ever used my emotional intelligence to manipulate others? After some thought, I realized that yes, I had. I was “guilty” of tweaking the way I communicated a message to get the results I was looking for. I’ve used a stronger “tug-at-the-heartstrings” approach toward certain people for certain asks, and I’ve used a more “tough-love-assertive” style when I thought that approach would yield the results I needed.

Was this wrong? Absolutely not.  Adjusting my communication style to better meet the needs of my audience or situation is what all effective communicators should do. But could my “manipulating” have been unjust if I were trying to get people to say “yes” to a malevolent cause? Most certainly. This was a scary revelation.

Ultimately, the lesson here is to be aware that your emotional intelligence could be used “for evil” if you’re not careful. To make sure you converse with integrity, plan on clearly defining your goals and action plan before communicating whenever possible. This way, you can check in with yourself and ensure your strategy is ethically sound. Try involving others in your communication tactics so that you can get unbiased feedback on your motives and intended communication approach.

Danielle Clark is a higher education leader, educator, career coach and HR consultant. She has a strong and diverse professional background working with higher education institutes and family-owned and Fortune 500 companies. Her goal is to educate and inspire professionals to change their way of thinking. Danielle is also an active community volunteer, wife, mother and passionate lifelong learner.

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