Emotional intelligence, otherwise known as EQ, has been the soft leadership skill du jour of recent years in corporate America. Defined as not only the ability to identify emotions, but also anticipate potential impact and behavior because of feelings in yourself and others. Daniel Goleman, the “father” of emotional intelligence, attributed emotional intelligence as a solution to a wide range of leadership issues. And rightfully so! EQ strengthens employees’ abilities to build relationships, gain support around an idea and challenge the status quo with grace and tact. However, there are pitfalls to over-relying on a strength or blindly applying it in every situation. Current research confirms that emotional intelligence can lead to lower job performance in specific roles and increased levels of stress.
Many people think self-awareness, emotional regulation and empathy can only lead to positive outcomes. In actuality, a high level of emotional intelligence can interfere with doing a good job in certain jobs or fields. For example, look at a role that has little need for interpretation of emotions. Technical jobs that focus on execution often fall into this category. A coder’s key skills revolve around technical skills and know how. A high level of emotional intelligence can lead to more time spent interpreting and responding to feedback from end-users, regardless of whether it was a part of their role or slowed down their output and productivity. To be clear, there are jobs where emotional intelligence is a superpower. Salespeople and client service professionals are both great examples of using this strength to increase performance. The ability to connect elevates the relational aspects of their job.
Stress is another potential ramification of leaders overusing emotional intelligence. A German study showed that cortisol levels were elevated for an extended period in those with a high EQ. What does this mean in the workplace? It means that employees who are easily able to “read the room” may be carrying an undue amount of tension baggage throughout their day. Emotionally sensitive employees may be sponging dissent, disagreement, and negative attitudes from their colleagues. This burden leads to a shorter fuse in dealing with staff and may alienate peers from engaging in what otherwise would be healthy debate. Emotionally saddled leaders may also hesitate from giving others critical feedback because of anticipated negative reactions. This “walking on eggshells” environment is not conducive to business success.
EQ is a valuable leadership skill to have in your arsenal. Understanding how and when to wield this skill is the work leaders need to practice. Using this skill at random can affect not only your work performance but also your level of stress. A pro tip is to proceed with caution and analyze how emotional intelligence is affecting you and the individuals around you.
Chamorro-Premuzic, T. & Yearsley, A. (January 12, 2017). The Downsides of Being Very Emotionally Intelligent. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2017/01/the-downsides-of-being-very-emotionally-intelligent
Dickie, R. (March 11, 2020). The Dark Side of Emotional Intelligence. Mind Tools Business. https://mindtoolsbusiness.com/resources/blog/the-dark-side-of-emotional-intelligence
Grant, A. (January 4, 2014). The Dark Side of Emotional Intelligence. The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/01/the-dark-side-of-emotional-intelligence/282720/