Top 7 Misconceptions about Emotional Intelligence (EQ)

Being in the business of emotional intelligence, we often hear comments about EQ that don't quite hit the mark. As a relatively new concept, EQ hasn't yet joined the laypersons vocabulary. Which means sometimes people have heard of EQ, but they don't quite understand what it is or means.

This is a common phenomenon ("you work in what?") so we are never bothered when we meet people who know little (or nothing!) about EQ. But what we don't like to hear is misinformation. Our goal is to educate everyone on the value of EQ and what it looks like in daily practice, so we want to set the record straight on a few of the most commonly held misconceptions about emotional intelligence.

Misconception #1: High IQ is the same as a high EQ

EQ was first conceptualized by a pair of psychologists (Peter Solovey and John Mayer) who addressed this very idea. They wanted to know why politicians, who have world-class education and coming from affluent families, would consistently exhibit such terrible relationship and social behavior. How could some of the smartest, most well-read people in our society make massively inappropriate decisions? What their research uncovered was that being book smart is not the same as being people smart. Developing emotional intelligence is an unrelated process from becoming classically educated. The good news is that just like learning a language or math, you can improve your EQ with practice.

Misconception #2: There are gender and generational biases in EQ

Simply put, having a high or low EQ has little to do with your gender or age. Emotional intelligence is developed through self and social awareness. Often the biggest boon in developing a high EQ is having a healthy role model in your life to set a good example. Cultural and social variances may set up generations and genders for different types of success, but there isn't any group that has a natural advantage over the others. So no, women aren't better or worse off than men, and neither are millennials with any other generation (and vice versa).

Misconception #3: Being charismatic means you have a high EQ

A charming personality makes some people easier and more fun to be around, but it is not the equivalent of having a high EQ. A friend of mine used to say "Ted Bundy was charming too!". Being charismatic and able to talk easily with others is certainly an aspect of emotional intelligence, but so much more depends on understanding your feelings and empathizing with others' perspectives. Charisma without empathy will start to look like manipulation. However, you may develop charisma as a byproduct of increasing your EQ overall.

Misconception #4: Improving EQ is all about "getting in touch with your feelings"

I get it, nothing sounds more unappealing than sitting in a circle sharing your feelings with strangers. Luckily, developing your EQ isn't like a bad group therapy session. There are four levels of EQ —self understanding, self management, relationship understanding, and social management— each of which depend on understanding emotions (but not on being touchy-feely about them). Learning to recognize your own emotional responses and those of others is integral to increasing your EQ, but it is not the only component. The reality is that everyone has emotions, and while some people manage them poorly, learning to control them is key to having a high EQ.

Misconception #5: Emotional people have high EQ

Contrary to the previous misconception, just because someone is emotional doesn't mean they're competent at managing their emotions. Expressing emotions is not the same as controlling them. In fact, sometimes those with the lowest EQ show the most emotion, exactly because they don't know the proper manner and context in which to express them. Having a high emotional intelligence is the balance of feeling and expressing your emotions while knowing when to withhold and control your impulses. We are of the belief that Level 2 of EQ development, personal management, is often the hardest as it requires active awareness of your emotional responses accompanied with on-the-spot management.

Misconception #6: Only really unhealthy/toxic people need to develop their EQ

Sometimes it's really obvious those around us who are completely lacking in EQ. However, they aren't the only ones who can benefit from a little work. Increasing emotional intelligence, like any other skill, is a lifelong practice that requires regular use. Use it or lose it, as they say. Everyone can work on growing their EQ through continued education, training, therapy, and practice. In fact, all of our Emergent team continuously practices and improves their EQ despite being the people who train others in it!

Misconception #7: There is a low ROI on EQ training

As more and more research looks at the impact of emotional intelligence in the office, a consistent pattern in emerging: high EQ staff outperform low EQ staff. Multiple studies have shown that people skills and emotional management accounts for 80-90% of your workplace effectiveness, while only 10-20% of your success derives from technical skills and abilities. Additionally, high EQ staff make more sales, and high EQ businesses are overall more profitable than their low EQ counterparts. Investing in emotional intelligence may be the best business move you can make, both for the health and success of your organization and for the happiness of your staff.

It's easy to understand why some of these misconceptions exist, but getting to the heart of what EQ is about is key to making positive change. The reason we find ourselves so passionate about emotional intelligence is because we've seen real-life improvement from all sorts of people and contexts. 

About the Author

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Taylor McDonald is a social scientist with a BA degree in Psychology and a MSc degree in Psychological and Psychiatric Anthropology. She is interested in how culture affects communication and how cultural awareness impacts success, and is passionate about emotional intelligence development.

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