An Antidote to the Dark Side of Emotional Intelligence

Let’s not idealize emotional intelligence. Like any other human skill set – IQ, hacking skills, strength – it can be used for self-serving ends or for the common good, as addressed in Adam Grant’s recent article for The Atlantic titled The Dark Side of Emotional Intelligence….


Then there’s empathic concern, sensitivity to other people’s needs and the readiness to help if need be. Workers with such concern are the good citizens of any organization, the ones everyone else knows can be counted on to help when the pressure is on. Among leaders, those with empathic concern create a “secure base,” the sense that your boss has your back, will support and protect you as needed, and gives you the security to take risks and try new ways of operating – the key to innovation.


This is the kind of empathy that serves as an antidote to the dark side of emotional intelligence – the manipulative use of talents in EI in the service of one’s own interest, and at the expense of others. Narcissists, Machiavellians and sociopaths all do this, as I’ve detailed in Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence. A Norwegian study found that men who lacked empathic concern in childhood were far more likely than others as adults to end up as felons in prison.


Daniel Goleman