Emotional intelligence often touted as a tool that can be used to make every outcome better. However, the more academic literature suggests economic intelligence is not a panacea.  There are numerous papers that identify scenarios in which emotional Intelligence has not discernible impact on business outputs and might actually get in the way. Several are described below:

Emotional Intelligence in Non-Emotional Environments

Dana Joseph of the University of Central Florida and Daniel Newman of the University of Illinois comprehensively analyzed studies that showed a link between Emotional Intelligence and job performance. The study of studies found that the level found emotional intelligence was not consistently related to job performance.  However when the data was broken down into jobs that require an extensive understanding of emotions and those that did not the analysis told a different story. When the studies for jobs requiring extensive attention to emotions were analyzed separately, higher levels of emotional intelligence translated into better performance. Examples of jobs requiring significant levels of emotional intelligence include salespeople, call center representatives and other customer-facing roles. While not included in the studies we would expect project managers and Scrum masters in this group of roles. Alternately, when personnel in the study with higher levels of emotional intelligence in jobs that involved fewer emotional demands were studied they were found to have lower performance.  The authors suggest that spending time reading emotions of others when you should be doing something more introspective, such as writing code, is counterproductive.

Emotional Intelligence as a Tool for Manipulation

One often quoted study supporting this potential problem was published by University of Cambridge professor Jochen Menges.  Dr. Menges found that when a leader gave an inspiring speech filled with emotion, the audience was less likely to scrutinize the message and remembered less of the content. People that hone their emotional skills are often better at manipulating others. While leaders often manipulate emotions to generate a good output for an organization, examples abound of those leveraging their understanding the emotions of others to motivate them to act against their own best interests.

There are a number of other areas of concern noted in a recent article on the Harvard Business review blog.

  1. The potential impact of emotional intelligence on creativity and innovation. The article points out that attributes typically associated with creativity and innovation are generally at odds with those associated with emotional intelligence.  Emotionally intelligent people are more apt to stay within bounds of common process and go along with others because those actions are less likely to cause emotional pain.  Whereas innovation and creativity often require breaking pushing boundaries and breaking rules. Steve Jobs was not an emotionally intelligent person, he was an innovator.
  2. People with high emotional intelligence tend to have difficulty giving or taking negative or difficult feedback.  It is emotionally painful to deliver negative feedback and people with high emotional intelligence feel that pain, and as a general rule people avoid pain whenever possible.
  3. Similarly, people with high emotional intelligence tend to not to make unpopular decisions for much the same reason as they avoid delivering negative feedback. While you might put an emotionally intelligent person in charge of communication a corporate downsizing they probably wouldn’t the best person to plan and execute the downsizing because it would be painful. 
  4. People with high levels of emotional intelligence tend to avoid taking risks. People with high emotional intelligence avoid taking risks because they want to avoid negative emotional feedback if the risk comes to fruition.

Emotional intelligence can be used to manipulate individuals or teams.  The natural tendency is to consider manipulation as a negative; however, when an emotionally intelligent leader helps position a team to avoid a negative emotional problem they are acting in the best interest in a team. Manipulation, in this case, would be good (and would probably be called leadership).  For example, I often ask team members to remember and share positive events prior to team meetings. The goal is to increase sharing, cause bonding, increase trust, and most importantly put the team in a positive mood before the meeting. In this case, manipulation is a good thing. If I manipulated them to act against their own greater good or that of the team, in the long run, I think I would be judged less positively.