Introducing the Pitfalls of Emotional Intelligence

emotional intelligence pitfalls

We’ve all read the reports of the benefits of EI. While EI has benefits, there are also some serious pitfalls you need to understand as a leader. Over the next number of months, I’ll be exploring those potential snags in a series of articles (interspersed with other topics) – and introducing you to alternatives in the form of SuperEQ.

A big issue with emotional intelligence is that it frequently becomes about emotional control. You learn to manage emotions. Research suggests that emotionally intelligent people handle their emotions in two ways:

  1. Suppression (not so good)
  2. Reappraisal (good, but limited – I’ll talk more about this in a future article).

The most common response is suppression. When you suppress your emotions, you push them out of your conscious awareness. Your conscious, rational thinking part is no longer aware of them.

But that doesn’t mean they disappear. While you’ve programmed yourself to consciously disregard these ‘negative’ emotions, they haven’t gone away; you’ve just buried them within your unconscious mind and body.

Why do people deny their feelings?

  • Religious teachings, spiritual beliefs and moral codes teach us that these feelings are bad and we shouldn’t have them. Even if you haven’t had a religious upbringing, these ideas permeate our culture and affect most people.
  • We dissociate from certain feelings because we mistakenly believe that having or expressing those emotions will make us weak, whiny or unattractive (yet the opposite is true).
  • We want to be good people and hold the belief at some level that good people don’t have certain emotions. Society, family and peer groups teach you some things are inappropriate to express.
  • We live in a culture permeated by the underpinnings of scientific philosophy that values rationality and so we learn to be rational, logical people. We learn emotional repression and control are somehow objective.
  • We’ve confused emotional intelligence with emotional control.
  • We don’t know how to handle certain emotions and there aren’t many role models or mentors in the world for digesting emotions.

Ideas about how we should behave in particular roles – such as leader – also limit us.

As a leader that pressure can be even greater. We have ideas in our head about what a ‘true’ leader looks like. For many leaders that includes an underlying belief that it’s “important to stay objective, rational and not let emotions influence the outcome.”

But emotions will always influence outcomes because we’re human. The trick is use them positively. When repressed, they’re more likely to influence events negatively than positively.

Suppression seems to work in the short-term

Suppression may seem like a decent solution. After all, it allows you to get on with things in the moment.

The problem, though, is that these things aren’t gone. They just been pushed down. When you’re under pressure, they’ll spill back out.

Your unconscious does its best to handle these dissociated emotions, but eventually the build-up becomes too much and threatens the integrity of your system.

Buried emotions hold you back in ways you’re not aware of. They cost you a lot of energy because suppression uses massive amounts of energy. That robs you of creative and adaptive energy.

Emotions buried in your body and mind cause illness and suffering.

They also affect your growth and evolution. When you reach for a new level of mastery, those buried feelings can slow or stop your progress without you having full awareness of the cause.

To change, we have to start with where we are.

Despite what we’d like it to be, people aren’t just rational human beings. In fact, it’s not even a healthy approach.

If you want to be more empowered in your life and the world, then you have to start dealing with your world as it actually is, rather than how you would wish it to be.

That’s the path of awareness. It’s the path that unlocks choice and connection.

To be empowered and operating at our full potential, we need to cleanse (and integrate) our emotional selves in the same way we need to eat good food and be active to maintain optimal physical health.

That means begin to see your emotions as valued parts of yourself. Parts that deserve respect. To begin experiencing those feelings in ways that serve to reintegrate those parts and to harvest the wisdom they contain.

As a leader, it’s even more important to recognize that it’s neither possible or desirable to stay objective, rational and not let emotions influence outcomes.

Emotions are a significant part of the human experience. There isn’t anything inherently bad in any of them. They only become destructive as a result of us pushing them down and bottling them up.

It takes courage to do this. For one thing, you’re bucking the status quo. And it’s not easy to learn to tap into things you’ve been taught to avoid.

But it’s enormously freeing and empowering. And as a leader, the shifts that you make will open up possibilities for your team as well.

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