Emotional Intelligence – Myths & Misconceptions

Common Emotional Intelligence Myths

The study and practice of emotional intelligence isn’t new. Daniel Goleman’s seminal work came out in 1995. However, with a newfound focus in 2022 on what it means to be human at work, there is a lot being written and discussed and we thought it might be helpful to dispel some myths and misconceptions about the topic.

3 Myths About Emotional Intelligence

  1. EQ Myth 1: Your EQ is a “soft-skill” not tied to your success
  2. EQ Myth 2: High EQ means you avoid feedback
  3. EQ Myth 3: High EQ can be misused

EQ Myth 1: Your EQ is a “soft-skill” not tied to your success

Daniel Goleman’s research suggested that IQ and personality only account for 20% of the variance in performance. Journalists and consultants alike have incorrectly assumed that the remaining 80% is due to emotional intelligence. The truth is, emotional intelligence is one of the main factors that impacts performance, and it is crucial because it can be learned and developed. People with high EQ are able to motivate and empower employees, communicate effectively, and use empathy to engender better relationships–with colleagues, clients, and stakeholders–to ultimately drive results.

EQ Truth #1: EQ is one of the most powerful predictors of success and unlike IQ and personality, you can develop your EQ even if it isn’t something that comes naturally to you

Emotional intelligence is a broad framework of skills that fall into four primary areas: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management. Having skill in one area does not necessitate skill in another. You may be great at self-awareness but have work to do in relationship management. It is possible to over index on one category, to the detriment of another, so it’s important to understand what success looks like in your role and organization.  It’s crucial to get feedback about what is working and what is not relative to your emotional intelligence skills. It is also important to recognize that emotional intelligence, like other skills, is not static. We don’t “achieve” emotional intelligence.

I played the piano while I was growing up; I took lessons, practiced, was a part of competitions and recitals. I stopped actively playing when I left for college, and though I can still make my way through some of my original repertoire, I am nowhere near as skilled as I was 20 years ago. Why? Because I’m not actively working on it. It is the same with emotional intelligence. For most of us, we need to be actively working on the skills for them to remain part of our repertoire.

EQ Myth 2: High EQ means you avoid feedback

One claim is that if you have high emotional intelligence, you won’t be good at giving or receiving challenging feedback. The argument being that someone with high interpersonal sensitivity is less likely to engage in such behavior, a necessary skill for leadership and developing others. The truth is, it might be a challenge for someone to give or receive feedback, initially. Someone’s first visceral response might be anxiety, fear, defensiveness, sadness, or anger. But what matters is your second response. People have choices and while it takes work, you can lean into discomfort because you know it is important for you and others.

EQ Truth #2: Knowing your EQ provides insight so you can better manage things that make you uncomfortable

In working with leaders over the years, I have seen that it can require a mindset shift about what is “kind”. People with emotional intelligence skills can overemphasize harmony and caring over other skills. Part of leadership development is recognizing that hard conversations–feedback, included–don’t necessarily get easier and, at the same time, they are essential for healthy working relationships. Hard conversations may not get easier, but they can get better. It could be argued that high emotional intelligence can actually help someone when it comes to delivering feedback. Research shows pairing empathic concern statements like “I know you are working really hard” or “I know what you are going through is challenging” when delivering constructive feedback helps with the sting and makes someone more motivated to act on the feedback. It is also good for someone’s career. Direct reports evaluated leaders who provided high-quality negative feedback paired with empathic concern as more promotable.

EQ Myth 3: High EQ can be misused

As mentioned above, it is possible to overemphasize one area of emotional intelligence to the detriment of others; any skill overused can be problematic. Think about active listening. Most people would agree that active listening is a wonderful skill to have, personally and professionally. But even listening can be overdone. If you are listening too much, you likely aren’t adding your voice to conversations, may be avoiding necessary action, and could be indicating to others you agree, even if you don’t. An EQ assessment, like our Emotional Intelligence Appraisal, helps people understand where they have EQ strengths and opportunities for development so they can develop skills in a balanced way.

Another argument is that high emotional intelligence allows people with bad intentions to manipulate people and situations. When it comes to emotional intelligence, we need to be careful talking about the skills as a spectrum. In Brene Brown’s new book, Atlas of the Heart she writes, “If you are connecting to how I feel so you can leverage my emotions, we shouldn’t call that empathy–it makes no sense. We should call that manipulation or exploitation. Language matters.” Manipulation isn’t empathy overused or emotional intelligence channeled for negative use. Manipulation is manipulation.

EQ Truth #3: EQ is a set of skills that can help you live a better life—personally and professionally. EQ is simply a framework to help you understand what you do and how you do it. TalentSmartEQ has come up with dozens of strategies to help individuals, teams, and organizations to be more effective and satisfied with their work and in their relationships.

From Insights to Action

Here are four selected strategies–one from each of the four core skills– from our book Emotional Intelligence 2.0. Think of these as micro-experiments. Try them and see how they impact your work, relationships, and personal experience.

  • Self-Awareness Strategy: Lean into your Discomfort. This is important generally so you can accurately see yourself as you really are–the good and the bad. As mentioned above, this is also important so you can engage in things that might not come as naturally, like delivering constructive feedback. What can you learn about your discomfort and how might that help you?
  • Self-Management Strategy: Take control of your Self-Talk. Research suggests we have over 50,000 thoughts each day. Because there is a strong relation between what we think and how we feel, pay attention to what you tell yourself. Feedback you give yourself can be as impactful as that from those around you. Talk to yourself as you would a best friend – how might that change what you say or don’t say?
  • Social Awareness Strategy: Seek the whole picture. Invite your fans as well as your critics to honestly share their perceptions of what you’re good at and where you could use some help. Research shows we are more likely to be effective if we surround ourselves with both. Whether they are right or wrong, make the goal to learn.
  • Relationship Management Strategy: Align your intention with your impact. At the moment that the impact of what you said or did was not what you intended, stop to clearly communicate your intent, feelings, and wishes by explaining the “why’s” behind your actions and words.

Have you heard any other myths or misconceptions about EQ that we didn’t cover? If so, we want to tackle them!  Please email [email protected] to submit a response.  If you have questions about emotional intelligence, please contact us.

For more easy-to-implement strategies to improve your EQ, purchase our book Emotional Intelligence 2.0.

To learn more about emotional intelligence training and TalentSmartEQ’s programs and solutions, please visit: https://www.talentsmarteq.com/contact/ or contact TalentSmartEQ at 888-818-SMART.

By EVP of Applied Research, Dr. Maggie Sass

Share this post