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The Ethical Dilemma With Emotional Intelligence
 

In a new post, Adam Grant argues that those with high emotional intelligence can be skilled manipulators.

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University of Pennsylvania Psychology Professor Adam Grant recently published an article in The Atlantic about the ethics of emotional intelligence. The term, which refers to a person's capacity to asses and control their personal emotions (and even the emotions of others), is usually used in a positive light. It's been said that those who have a high "EQ" perform better in leadership roles.

But in his post called "The Dark Side of Emotional Intelligence" Grant argues that the tool can be used on others to make them act against their own best interests.

"New evidence shows that when people hone their emotional skills, they become better at manipulating others," Grant writes. Below are summaries of the research that he cites.  

The Dumbstruck Effect 

Jochen Menges, a University of Cambridge professor, published early research on the effects of charisma and persuasion. Menges and his team found that when a leader gave an emotion-filled speech, the audience was less likely to scrutinize what they had heard. Additionally they claimed to remember more of the speech, when in reality they remembered less. Grant refers to this as the "dumbstruck effect."

Emotional Intelligence and Personal Gain

A new study led by University of Toronto psychologist Stéphane Côté suggests that when individuals are after personal gain, they use emotional intelligence as a tool. For the study, university employees filled out surveys about their Machiavellian tendencies and also answered questions about their ability to manage emotions.

The researchers concluded that participants with Machiavellian-like behaviors who also had high emotional intelligence were more likely to embarrass and demean their peers for their own benefit.  

Persuasion for Good 

Though still manipulative, Grant says that emotional intelligence can also be used to achieve benevolent ends. For example Stanford professor Joanne Martin conducted a study of Body Shop founder Anita Roddick's use of emotion to motivate her employees to fundraise for charity.

"Whenever we wanted to persuade our staff to support a particular project we always tried to break their hearts," Roddick said. 

Grant also describes one of his own studies during which he looked at the relationship between employees' drive to help others and their emotional intelligence. He concluded that there is no relationship. 

"Helping is driven by our motivations and values, not by our abilities to understand and manage emotions," Grant writes. "However, emotional intelligence was consequential when examining a different behavior: challenging the status quo by speaking up with ideas and suggestions for improvement." Grant says that emotional intelligence allowed individuals to stand up for a colleague who was being treated unfairly, or to advocate for gender equality at their company. 

What do you think? Have you seen emotional intelligence used for good or for evil? Let us know in the comments below. 

IMAGE: Sayantan Chaudhuri / Flickr.com
Last updated: Jan 6, 2014

LAURA MONTINI is a reporter at Inc. She previously covered health care technology for Health 2.0 News and has served as an associate editor at The Health Care Blog. She lives in San Francisco.
@lmmontini




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