Wednesday, July 15, 2015

On emotional intelligence.

The Atlantic has an article up called The Dark Side of Emotional Intelligence, which they define as:
the ability to recognize, understand, and manage emotions.
I'm not 100% on managing, but I’d say I'm practically a sharpshooter regarding the first two. The article goes over how emotional intelligence should not be assumed to be a moral characteristic, and how as a form of intelligence, it can be used for both “good and evil.”
There was no relationship whatsoever between emotional intelligence and helping: Helping is driven by our motivations and values, not by our abilities to understand and manage emotions. However, emotional intelligence was consequential when examining a different behavior: challenging the status quo by speaking up with ideas and suggestions for improvement.
Emotionally intelligent employees spoke up more often and more effectively. When colleagues were treated unjustly, they felt the righteous indignation to speak up, but were able to keep their anger in check and reason with their colleagues. When they went out on a limb to advocate for gender equity, emotional intelligence helped them keep their fear at bay. When they brought ideas for innovation to senior leaders, their ability to express enthusiasm helped them avoid threatening leaders.
This was the part that stuck with me, since the friends I value as being extremely emotionally intelligent are also the most likely to notice when something isn't fair, or is inappropriate at the workplace. We’re often quick to notice work-policies we feel to be counter-intuitive or lacklustre.

I would argue that it’s a sensitivity to environment, and to the lived experience of policy and procedure. Especially in a working environment, where we live daily. It’s also a way of reading people I’d say is akin to instinct. Reading certain cues is a way of communicating that is mainly lost to us, but was a way of surviving for thousands of years. Similarly to the way in which a cat twitches a tail in annoyance, seeing someone purse their lips or grind their teeth can signal a similar state.

I wouldn't really say it’s my ability to “express enthusiasm” that allows for a smooth description of a problem to a boss, I would say it’s a navigation of their ego, explaining a basic logic and also trying to express the benefits of the idea.

I think emotional intelligence also involves an understanding of context and environment. External factors are always at play, no matter how enthusiastically you pitch more vacation time.

And, as always, there's also power at play. There are power-dynamics and hierarchies. When we describe emotional intelligence as being a major root to standing up to the status quo, we can't ignore the way in which identity politics and privilege inform our relationship to that structure.

I can't help but think of "emotional intelligence" as a classed term. There's privilege in it. It's academic. Also, considering the original researchers define emotional intelligence as:
focuses on the individual's ability to process emotional information and use it to navigate the social environment.
"Oh, you mean be a fucking human who feels things and notices stuff?"

Maybe the reason old, white academics needed the term is because they don't understand human fucking experience the way anybody who doesn't carry the privilege of white maleness does.

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