In 1995, when Daniel Goleman published his book, Emotional Intelligence – Why It Can Matter More than IQ, very few had heard of the term. Fast forward 25 years later, you will find references to emotional intelligence almost everywhere. Most of the time, those references are positive. Emotional Intelligence (EI) can make you a better leader, employee, parent, and human being.

But, like any skill, emotional intelligence (understanding and being in touch with your emotions and those of others) can be used for good or evil. A growing body of research has begun to show particular contexts when EI does not appear helpful and may even be detrimental to a person, or those they are in contact with. Very high levels of EI can convey adverse outcomes, suggesting a “dark side” to the construct.

In my last two posts from this 5-part blog series, I broke down the dark sides of two of the five emotional intelligence composite scales from the EQ-i 2.0 model – The Dark Side of EI – Self Perception and The Dark Side of EI – Self Expression.

The EQ-i 2.0 model was developed by Multi-Health Systems, a leading publisher of scientifically validated assessments for more than 30 years. MHS produced two of the EQ assessments we use to measure and assess our clients’ emotional intelligence, the EQ-i 2.0® and the EQ-360®.

Let’s now break down the dark side of the third composite scale – interpersonal, and interpersonal’s three competencies: Interpersonal Relationships, Empathy, and Social Responsibility. The interpersonal composite scale is about how we interact with others; it examines our social graces and social skills.

Interpersonal Relationships

Interpersonal relationships is the ability to build and nurture long-term, trust-based, mutually-satisfying relationships. Quality and healthy relationships are one of the essential parts of your life. Great connections with people enhance your life, contribute to your well-being, and strengthen your mind. For instance, if you have a high level of interpersonal relationships, you feel at home in social situations. You have no problem showing affection and intimacy and can maintain your relationships over time. 

When the interpersonal relationships competency is overplayed, this leads to putting yourself last and solely placing your happiness on your relationships — in other words, being too dependent on others. You place others’ needs above your own, making your relational needs less important or valid. When you are a dependent person, you may not feel worthy of expressing or having an opinion that differs from someone else’s

If you are so concerned about maintaining good solid relationships, you may avoid discussing specific topics that might cause conflict, which can create and sustain positive illusions about the relationship that may cover up a darker reality. You may lie or conceal information to protect the feelings of someone else. This avoidance can lead to appearing like you are very satisfied in the relationship when there are more significant issues underneath the surface you may not be facing.


Empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and understand their perspective in a way that you respect their feelings. You may not agree with them; you just need to understand and appreciate what is going on for them. When you have a high level of empathy, you are very sensitive to the feelings of others, pick up on social cues, and can anticipate the reactions of others.

Being empathetic means, you can notice and release the emotions in your body when someone is sharing, holding the space for that person to express him or herself in a safe environment. You have compassion for others but also do not get entangled in their stories. In her YouTube video, Boundaries with Brene Brown, Brene shares the most compassionate people she interviewed over the years were the most “boundaried.”

When you have the dark side of empathy and are too empathetic, you pick up, embody and carry the weight of others’ emotions and are not able to separate yourself from them. You do not have clear boundaries and are not able to differentiate yourself from others.

In Edwin Freidman’s book, A Failure of Nerve, he talks about self-differentiated leadership, which is the capacity to separate oneself from surrounding emotional processes. Friedman says that “leadership is an emotional process of regulating one’s own anxiety.” When you have too much empathy, you take on others’ emotions and carry their emotional burdens on your shoulders, and your body and mind can be emotionally hijacked.


Social Responsibility is the willingness to contribute to society and the welfare of others. Being socially responsible means caring about others, acting responsibly and with concern for the greater community. That community may be the community in which you live, the organization in which you work, or the people in which you lead. In essence, it means giving back.

Someone active in social responsibility is dependable, has a genuine concern for others, is accommodating, and supportive, and contributes to society. As Winston Churchill once said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”

A key element of personal social responsibility is endeavouring to have a positive impact on other people and the environment. When you strive to make positive contributions, you are acting in a personally responsible way toward society.   Companies focusing on the social consequences of their products is good business. By recognizing that our every action and utterance impacts those around us, we become more conscious of our words and actions and are more likely to act in a socially responsible way.

So how could being too socially responsible be a bad thing? Well, the answer is simple.  When you help and give too much to others, you can create a culture of dependence. Our helpful intentions can give way to dysfunctional helping and giving. In Dr. Shawn Megan Burn’s book, Unhealthy Helping, she shares how to find your “giving and helping sweet spot” where your help is beneficial and your giving is healthy for others, your relationships, and for you.

Remember, when you are helping in a healthy way, you are promoting other people’s growth, independence, and the development of their positive potential. Unhealthy (dysfunctional) helping does the opposite. When you help too much, your help can sometimes stagnate others and prevent them from developing their skills. You can create a culture where people feel they can’t take care of themselves or do their jobs well. Unhealthy helping can make others think they are less than what they are truly capable of. Healthy helping promotes others’ independence; it doesn’t retard it. The key is to use your helping energies and resources to give people a hand up, not a handout.

Now it’s time to reflect on your own interpersonal competencies. If you’re not sure where you rank, take a look at our EQ Assessments, where you will receive a personalized debrief with a certified EQ coach. You can also check out our online emotional intelligence training courses, to begin or continue your own emotional intelligence journey!

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