Emotional intelligence changed my life for the better. It is the reason I launched a division of my business called EI Experience, a management training company specializing in creating leadership development programs for all levels of management, and businesses of all sizes and scope. Because of my passion for all things EQ, emotional intelligence is the foundation for all of our training and coaching programs, which have drastically changed our client’s lives. Although having high emotional intelligence is critical to success and fulfillment, and is the direction we work towards with our clients, one needs to make sure they don’t land on the dark side of emotional intelligence. When high levels of emotional intelligence are too high, one’s strengths actually can become a weakness.
In the last four posts in my 5-part blog series, I have been discussing the dark side of emotional intelligence. Firstly, I reviewed The Dark Side of EI – Self Perception, then I wrote on The Dark Side of EI – Self Expression. Next, I shared the Dark Side of EI – Interpersonal, and finally, I ended with The Dark Side of EI – Decision Making. Now, let’s do a deep dive into the final area that contributes to emotional intelligence – Stress Management and the three EI skills related to this area: Flexibility, Stress Tolerance, and Optimism. Stress management is about how we manage when things are changing or are not going well. We all know, we can’t eliminate stress completely, so the aim should be at boosting our ability to cope with stress, which helps us face larger challenges with more self-assurance.
Flexibility is the ability to adapt easily when the situation is unfamiliar and unpredictable. Being flexible means, you can deal effectively and appropriately manage the emotions you feel when faced with new and unforeseen circumstances. When someone has challenges in this area, they can be seen as very rigid, stuck in patterns, preferring the status quo. When someone is strong in flexibility, they can adapt to change with ease, are open to new ideas, and tend to go with the flow.
But what happens when one is too flexible? Too much adaptability can lead to a lack of direction and not being committed to a strong sense of purpose. There are times when commitment more clearly takes precedence over adaptability. On some issues, we need to take a stand and be strident. For instance, adaptability may not be the best approach when dealing with inappropriate behaviour or harassment at work.
When you are too flexible and adaptable, you can also flip-flop and not know what direction to take or decision to make, which can lead others to lose confidence in you. The key here is balance. You need to constantly ask yourself when to adapt and when to commit? Both adaptability and commitment have their place. In their book, Built to Last, Jim Collins and Jerry Porras advise us to “Preserve the core but stimulate progress.” In other words, be inflexible and committed about your core values and beliefs, but flexible and adaptable when it comes to your practices and strategies on how you drive for progress and change.
Stress Tolerance is the ability to cope with difficult or stressful situations without a decrease in performance. It is the belief that you have some control in managing and influencing these situations in a positive manner. People who believe they can impact conditions in a positive way tend to be more stress-tolerant when change is occurring. A low score in this competency might leave people feeling fearful and reactive. They can have high anxiety levels, feel overwhelmed, and have ineffective coping strategies. When you can’t handle stress, physical symptoms can emerge. Those can include headaches, insomnia, upset stomach, chest pains, and tense muscles, etc. As well, psychological issues can appear, such as depression, anxiety, anger issues, trouble staying focused, memory challenges, etc., not to mention, making poor decisions. Someone who is strong in stress tolerance has effective coping strategies. They tend to be calm and maintain control in stressful situations, and are optimistic, stable and relaxed, despite life’s drawbacks.
But again, what happens when you have too much stress tolerance? When you are too tolerant of stress, it can lead to asking too much of others, while not understanding their ability to cope with stress. When you can handle overbearing workloads, heavy family responsibilities, and unwanted personal issues, you may not realize when others can’t do the same. As stress gets too high for your employees, their momentum decreases, and it can immobilize them. You stifle the creativity required to come up with new ideas, trigger fear of taking a wrong step in a high-stakes situation, or unleash frenetic but ineffective activity.
As a leader, it is critical to pay attention to how much stress you are putting on your workers. If you are trying to drum up new business or increase your numbers, putting a little pressure on your team can go a long way. But when you put too much stress on your team, it can create debilitating worry. It’s a fine line that John Kotter calls the “Productive Range of Distress,” to keep the heat high enough that it motivates but low enough to prevent counterproductive turmoil.
Optimism is having a positive outlook on life. When faced with a challenge, optimistic people look at the situation in a hopeful manner, and are resilient, even in the face of setbacks. They are definitely “glass half full” people. They can rebound easily from failure and can envision what others can’t see, all great qualities for entrepreneurs and leaders. When someone is low in optimism, they have trouble seeing the good in things. They are pessimistic and very uncertain about their future. Someone strong in optimism is confident about their future, sees life full of possibilities, and is enthusiastic about what lies ahead.
But there is the dark side of optimism. When someone is too optimistic, it leads to not seeing things as they are, remaining blissfully ignorant of what’s actually going on around them. Instead of being a tool for supporting persistence, it becomes the method of unwitting avoidance. When someone has too much optimism, they can filter a negative situation and put an optimistic spin on it. They can say, “it can’t be that bad”; therefore, they do nothing, they ignore, avoid, invalidate and discredit. When someone never looks at the negative side of things, it can keep them stuck and not prepare them for future curve balls life may throw at them. Curveballs are a normal and expected part of life and are a great motivator to improve yourself. Sometimes a dose of realistic pessimism may be helpful and teach us painful life lessons, and prepare us for the future.
After reading my five-part blog series, which of your EQ competencies are on the dark side of emotional intelligence? What actions are you going to take to thwart or lower the soft skills that are over-exaggerated?