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"It is very important to understand that emotional intelligence is not the opposite of intelligence, it is not the triumph of heart over head -- it is the unique intersection of both." - Dr. David Caruso, Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence

Some people are stuck at this intersection on a perpetual red light. People with low EQ may be intelligent and capable - maybe even smarter and more capable than you. But they are also erratic. They have difficulty explaining themselves. They tell off-color jokes and are surprised when people get offended. They don't know how other people feel, and those who expect them to know, annoy them.

They are, in short, extremely difficult folks to have in the cubicle next door or the office down the hall. But they are there. They're as ubiquitous in the workplace as empty coffee pots and water cooler gossip. If you have to deal with them, how can you deal with them effectively?

Quick Definition: Emotional intelligence allows you to identify, understand, and manage your emotions, and to recognize, understand, and influence the emotions of others.

EQ at Work

Geniuses don't win at work, at least not all the time. Those with average IQs outperform those with the highest IQs an astonishing 70% of the time. This variance is due to the increased level of emotional intelligence. Egon Zehnder International, a search firm, studied over 500 senior executives: those with the highest levels of EQ were much more likely to succeed than those with higher IQs or relevant previous experience.

This is a fact that the Carnegie Institute recognized nearly a century ago: nearly 85% of a person's job success is due to interpersonal skills; just 15% is due to technical knowledge.

We know EQ is critical for success in today's business world; so, too, is the ability to deal with those who don't have deep emotional reservoirs.

In "How to Work with People Who Aren't Good at Working with People," Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, CEO of Hogan Assessments and Professor of Business Psychology at University College London and Columbia University, provides actionable tips for coping with those who have a hard time coping with emotions:

  • Be Gentle. When interacting with low-EQ people, it's tempting to give them a taste of their own medicine. If they're rude, you're rude. If they're agitated, you add fuel to the fire. Tempting - but wrong! Instead, try to act as a "stabilizing and calming agent." The very people who have a hard time displaying positivity, tact, and kindness are those who need it the most. Granted, it's harder to give it to them, but doing so can reduce their exhausting load of "emotional labor" and make it easier to work with them.

  • Be Clear. Very, very clear. You want to avoid subtleties and ambiguous statements. For instance, you might say, "We have an ambitious project in front of us. To get it done on time, and to our client's satisfaction, we need to pull together."

    A team member with a high EQ might take that to mean she needs to work a bit later or pick up some slack for overburdened colleagues. Someone with a low EQ might think, "So? I'm doing my thing." To avoid this, be explicit. "Jim, I need you to do this report by 2:00 PM." "Mary, you need to get me the numbers by tomorrow morning." They may not necessarily want to "pull together." Fine - as long as they do what is needed (and what is asked).

  • Use Reason. People with low EQ are not unemotional; in fact, many are held captive to the slings and arrows of their own outrageous emotions. They just lack the capacity to manage them. Because of this, arguing with emotion is unlikely to yield positive results. Instead, become the voice of reason. Gain their trust by appealing to logic. As Dr. Chamorro-Premuzic writes, "the only antidote to emotionality is rationality..."

  • Don't Get Offended. English comedian and author Stephen Fry once said, "It's now very common to hear people say, 'I'm rather offended by that.'... It has no meaning. It has no purpose. It has no reason to be respected as a phrase. 'I'm offended by that.' Well, so [colorful wording inserted!] what?" Whether you agree or not, it is brilliant advice for dealing with low-EQ folks. They are typically blunt and will say what they mean. Sometimes, this comes out as political incorrectness or rude. Other times, it makes them the masters of transparency. Regardless, don't take it personally. At the least, your feelings won't be hurt. At best, you will learn a great deal from their honesty.

But Wait... Don't Get EQ Smug Yet

Dr. Chamorro-Premuzic brings up an important "but." High EQ and low EQ should not be viewed as Good and Bad. In fact, he says, "Low EQ individuals are often more passionate, creative, and self-critical than their higher EQ counterparts." Is there room in your company for passion, creativity, and honest self-evaluation? (Think Steve Jobs.) Thought so.

On the other hand, there is a "dark side" of high EQ. It has been linked to narcissism, manipulation, self-promotion, and dangerous over-confidence. If you can identify and influence emotions, you can do so for nefarious purposes. A master at EQ, someone who used his in-depth understanding of human nature to manipulate others: Adolf Hitler.

The takeaway: while EQ is essential, one must, as the saying goes, use the emotional power for good, not evil.

One more takeaway: research shows that people are better at evaluating others' EQ than their own - and this is especially true when they have low EQs (the capacity for self-knowledge is lacking). So, before you label anyone as "low EQ," take an honest, and then a very honest, look at yourself. Do you really, in fact, have a high level of emotional intelligence?

People with low EQ may be difficult to deal with; they may also be the creative forces that propel your company forward. The key is to meet them where they are and help move them - and your goals - forward. The bottom line: some people will never be emotional geniuses. That's fine. As long as you know how to handle them, and yourself, you can work together to achieve results. You can get the green light for progress.


Larry Hart

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