The truth about emotional intelligence

This is my first blog since 23 June.  In my next newsletter I will explain what I have been doing since then but I am restarting blogging now.

This excellent article by Janan Ganesh appeared in the August 26 2023 edition of the Financial Times.  To save you effort of signing up to the FT subscription service I am quoting it in full.

“Coming to Riverside Studios in west London this autumn is a production of Othello with (but of course) a modern twist. Three different actors play Iago. For those who haven’t had a chance these 400 years to acquaint themselves with Shakespeare’s greatest villain, what Iago does, again and again, is fathom the inner life of other people to gain mastery over them. He senses: the sexual paranoia of his boss, the neglected feeling of his own wife, the romantic desperation of a local chump called Roderigo, the mix of ambition and chivalric honour in a fellow soldier.

Iago has more than the regular quotient of evil. But that alone wouldn’t get him far. His real advantage is, if we use this term with rigour, emotional intelligence. 

But we don’t, do we? The more that emotional intelligence is exalted — in the workplace, in private relationships — the sloppier its usage becomes. It now appears to mean something like being nice and sympathetic (a word that itself has got conflated with empathetic). It has become a matter of external behaviour: what one does, not what one is capable of perceiving.

You can be an emotionally intelligent bastard. You can be an emotionally tin-eared sweetie

This shouldn’t need saying, but people of genius-level EQ include con artists, pick-up artists, stand-up comedians, spies, abusive partners and, from double-glazing showrooms to the plushest investment bank trading floor, sales staff. Emotional intelligence is what tells you, in a work meeting, that a colleague who keeps touching their face and sipping water is nervous about speaking. Whether you then use that information to soothe them, or to ask them a tough question in front of the others, well, that is a test of your conscience — not your emotional intelligence.

Long ago, when I had to decide whether to join the FT from a no less comfortable nest, the most penetrating giver of advice, the person who best intuited my inner state, was someone who is now an MP viewed across Britain as the archetype of Tory arrogance and gaucheness. The public perception might be correct. But those flaws didn’t stop him divining another person’s anxieties and motivations with almost a novelist’s antennae. 

That conversation wouldn’t stick in the mind if it hadn’t since been reinforced by other experiences. When in a personal fix, there are lots of people I can turn to who are kind, ever ready to listen, steeped in the language of care — and lacking any insight whatever. At the same time, I am lucky to know some detached and cynical creatures who, more often than not, perceive the heart of the matter. 

There is no correlation between outward goodness and psychological acumen. You can be an emotionally intelligent bastard. You can be an emotionally tin-eared and uncomprehending sweetie. If the first type of person doesn’t get their due, that is no great loss to the world. But the over-promotion of the second type, the attribution of an almost mystical power called EQ to those who are just nice, or wet, seems riskier.

The most obvious case against sensitivity training and the like is the rightwing tabloid one: that it softens people, that being called an idiot five times before lunch in the 1990s never done me no harm. But mine isn’t that. I just don’t believe it even works on its own terms. I don’t believe the simpering line manager whose “door is always open” has any more clue about the staff mood than the martinets of a generation ago. I don’t think the popular interest in psychology has led to a general increase in people’s understanding of themselves or others. 

Emotional intelligence is harder to achieve than that. To the extent that it is learnable, it comes from forensic observation of other people, and might therefore be commoner among the taciturn than among those who talk (and talk, and talk) about emotions. The reason we are still parsing Iago’s motives four centuries on is that he has so little to say about his inner life. To notice things about people, you have to be able to shut up for a bit. You might wish you hadn’t, though. Among the first discoveries you’ll make is the sublime EQ of the malevolent.”

Now any article about Emotional Intelligence that quotes Shakespeare always attracts my attention.  (In my book The Humm Handbook: Lifting your Level of Emotional Intelligence I analyse Julius Caesar, Hamlet and King Lear in a similar fashion to Janan Ganesh).

The thrust of the article is that corporate psychopaths have a high level of emotional intelligence while the current “ideal” manager who is sweet, sympathetic and collaborative can be tin-eared and ineffective.

This is an argument I have been pursuing since 2011 see The Emotional Intelligence of a Psychopath, admittedly with limited success so it was particularly gratifying to read Ganesh’s article,

However where I do differ from Ganesh is that I have developed an emotional intelligence tool, the 7MTF, that explicitly describes the temperament of the corporate psychopath and helps to recognise one in 60 seconds.

If you want to learn more about the 7MTF watch this short 4-minute explainer video.  If that awakens your appetite to lift your EQ this online-video course: Introduction to Practical Emotional Intelligence: The 7MTF is now available.  The investment is A$25 and the course comprises ten lessons and takes 5 hours to complete.  This is the quickest course available that will dramatically lift your emotional intelligence.  Note all students are entitled to a full refund within 30 days of their initial payment.

This blog first appeared on LinkedIn on 20 September 2023–qY_?utm_source=share&utm_medium=member_desktop


Add Your Comment

Chris Golis - Author


"Put in a sales perspective, I loved your presentation! I got a lot from what you talked about and I will read your book."

Peter Morris, Executive Officer, Lomax Financial Group

Your presentation on 'Lifting your Level of Emotional Intelligence" to 10 CEOs scored an average 8.9 out of 10 for the topic and 8.5 for the presentation which is great. A couple of the attendees gave you a 10 out of 10, and the comments were:

- Great presentation. Very informative.

- Excellent presentation.

- made me think.

Christi Spring CEO Institute. - web