Emotional Intelligence is Dumb

Posted Monday, September 17, 2012

Allen Slade

There is a problem with emotional intelligence. “Intelligence” implies an upper limit on competence. Emotional intelligence, at its worst, implies you can’t exceed your native ability.

Intelligence tests were originally designed to place children into limited academic tracks. At Riverside Elementary School, we had four tracks. At the age of 12, I was placed into the lowest track, designed for students who did not have the intellectual ability to go to college. I decided to prove the school wrong. For every question by the teacher, I was the first to raise my hand. I worked for perfection on every assignment. I helped other students master the material. Because of my efforts, I earned the nickname of “The Professor”. Something fundamentally changed in me during that year. I went to college and stayed for a while. At the age of 28, I was called professor again. But this time it was by my management students at the University of Delaware.

Tracking students based on intelligence tests may or may not be a good education strategy. Limiting your leadership based on “emotional intelligence” is just plain dumb.

What is smarter than emotional intelligence?  I prefer to talk about managing emotions. Management – of organizations, projects or emotions – can be learned and mastered. Our emotional competence is virtually unlimited. As a leader, you can get better at understanding and shaping your own emotions. You can get better at understanding the emotional landscape – the patterns and peaks of the people around you. You can master the art of managing emotions.

When life happens, managing emotions consists of four steps:

1. “How am I feeling?” Ask this regularly. Ask this question when you are blocked, when you can’t think straight or when you are shaking. Ask it before the big meeting, before the difficult conversation, before the Big Ask. Ask it when you are surprised by life’s events. If you want to develop your emotional competence, I recommend using an emotional log. Regularly ask “How am I feeling?” and then record their observations. An emotional log helps you master monitoring of your emotions.

2. “How are my emotions serving me right now?” If your emotions are serving you well, continue on.. If your emotions are not serving you well, ask yourself:

3. “Would different emotions (type or intensity) serve me better?” Are you too intense? Too flat? Are you experiencing fear (flight response) when anger (fight response) would serve you better?  

4. “How do I get there?” For more moderate emotions, you can center or take a deep breath. For different emotions or for more intense emotions, you can silently declare your desired future to yourself. Since you are the most credible person you know, you can probably persuade yourself. You can touch an object or totem to remind yourself of your purpose and passion.

Two weeks ago, I was preparing for a radio interview on managing emotions. About 20 minutes before we went on air, I noticed my writing was wobbly and my voice had a slight tremor. I reflexively went through the four steps: 1. How am I feeling? Nervous, excited. 2. How are my emotions serving me right now? I will sound nervous on air, undermining what I hope to communicate. 3. Would different emotions (type or intensity) serve me better? Yes. The type of emotions are appropriate, but they are too intense. I like to have an edge when I speak, but I need moderate intensity. How do I get there? I took five minutes to center before I went on air.

I started the interview in a better emotional state. During the interview, I continued to monitor my emotions. When I felt my emotions ramping up too much, I took a deep breath (after covering my mike). I touched my signet ring to remind me of my purpose and passion. Listening to the recording of the interview, I observed good content, good grammar and clear phrasing but too many fillers (ums and ahs). I was probably still too much on edge. I will do better next time. Interview performance, like emotions, can be mastered.

At Slade & Associates, we create dialogue and insight for intelligent change. Intelligent change often means exceeding preset boundaries. There is no upper limit on your emotional competence. You can learn to manage emotions. Like managing projects, going to college or radio interviews, you just need to work at it.

2 comments on “Emotional Intelligence is Dumb

  1. I love this article, Allen. Managing emotion is so much a part of management and leadership and yet people tend not to have a process to use in order to bring back a sense of control. Your process is a simple and yet deeply powerful way to keep emotions on an even keel.

    At times I’ve worked with people who struggle with #1 in your process, that is to say they are not familiar enough with monitoring their emotions in order to give those emotions a name. I like to get them to identify where they’re feeling sensations in their bodies, such as they’re feeling butterflies in their bellies, or they’re feeling fidgety. It’s a start for them to become more self-aware about the impact of their emotions on their results.

  2. Pingback: Change Intelligence Quotient

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