Valuing kindness over emotional intelligence in today’s workplace


Justin Bariso, writing for Inc., recognizes that emotional intelligence can be used for both bad and good — and that includes work settings:

This skill we refer to as emotional intelligence (also known as EI or EQ) is like any other ability: You can cultivate it, work to enhance it, sharpen it.

And it’s important to know that, just like other skills, emotional intelligence can be used both ethically and unethically.

He goes on to list 10 ways in which “emotional intelligence can be used against you” by others:

  • “They play on fear.”
  • “They deceive.”
  • “They take advantage when you’re happy.”
  • “They take advantage of reciprocity.”
  • “They push for home-court advantage.”
  • “They ask lots of questions.”
  • “They speak quickly.”
  • “They display negative emotion.”
  • “They give you an extremely limited time to act.”
  • “They give you the silent treatment.”

In the full piece, he offers advice for handling each situation.

How about being a decent person instead?

For years I’ve exhorted the importance of emotional intelligence in the workplace. But Bariso’s piece reminds us that a high EQ isn’t enough. By contrast, Rex Huppke, writing for the Chicago Tribune, suggests that kindness and being “a decent human being” will contribute to better, more successful workplaces:

I’ve spent the week with a head full of questions.

Why don’t we apply more of what we know about human behavior to the workplace? Every aspect of work culture has been studied 5,000 times over — why isn’t everything perfect? Should I have one more scoop of ice cream? (Of course I should.)

But the big question I landed on was this: Why is it so difficult for workplaces to achieve widespread kindness and the efficiency that would logically follow?

We know what works. I didn’t land on my mantra — Be a decent human being — by accident. It’s the distillation of studies and surveys and books and the opinions of big thinkers and successful managers.

Qualities such kindness, empathy, and dignity capture the best aspects of emotional intelligence. They also happen to support healthy, productive workplaces. It’s really not that difficult, is it? And it sure beats jousting with those who are using their emotional intelligence to undermine, manipulate, and hurt others.


Hat tip to Henry Jung for the Bariso article.

4 responses

  1. You have brought up many complex themes by your questions here, but you leap around questions without identifying the root assumptions or pathways to solution. I don’t have all the answers but I am going to take a stab at a possible way forward to begin the discussion that needs to be explored.

    Emotional intelligence (EI) could be loosely defined as an understanding of emotions and feelings and their impact (influence) on thoughts and behavior, of ourselves and others. I totally agree that this understanding creates an advantage over others who don’t possess EI or who are too young and inexperienced to have learned this understanding and the influence skills.

    But whether one possesses EI or not, we all are deserving of kindness, dignity, oxygen, food, water… get the idea.

    So how does the practice of law support these necessary human needs for us all?
    How would the profession of law educate itself to produce law practitioners who develop ethical, moral, policy that is appropriate to cultural realities for all who ‘deserve’ fair and equitable treatment?

    It seems to me that laws govern our society, frame a system of justice and fairness. How would a society go about educating those policy makers and law makers and defenders of human needs?

    Is the study of politics sufficient? Or the study of business? culture? emotional intelligence? or all these ‘subjects’ and more? I don’t think we can do justice to this dilemma until we start at the beginning – how we educate ourselves – but even before that – what is important to a society that strives for justice and equality for all.

    And war is not the answer.

  2. I’ve always understood that EQ involved authenticity, integrity and trustworthiness (among other characteristics). I do not believe what Bariso is writing about is, in fact, EQ. What he’s talking about might have some other label, but it isn’t EQ.

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