How to Work with People Who Aren’t Good at Working with People


Here is an excerpt from an article written by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic for Harvard Business Review and the HBR Blog Network. To read the complete article, check out the wealth of free resources, obtain subscription information, and receive HBR email alerts, please click here.

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Twenty-five years after the term “emotional intelligence” was first introduced by academics, thousands of independent scientific studies have highlighted the importance of managing your own and others’ emotions in relation to career success, job performance, entrepreneurship, and leadership.

But research suggests that people with low EQ, as emotional intelligence is often called, may not realize what important skills they lack. Indeed, studies have shown that all of us are better at evaluating others’ EQ than judging our own, but that this is especially true when we have low EQ: because EQ also includes the capacity for self-knowledge.

Although lower EQ people are generally less rewarding to deal with — they are grumpier, more negative, and more erratic than average — there will be many circumstances where we have to deal with low EQ individuals. Given the difficulties this can entail, it may be useful to keep in mind the following, evidence-based recommendations for managing those situations effectively.

[Here are the first two of four.]

o Be gentle: Just because someone is unpleasant doesn’t mean you have to respond with unpleasantness or ostracize them. In fact, you can become a stabilizing and calming agent for low EQ people if you make an effort to act politely and kindly in your interactions with them. Remember that having a lower EQ is psychologically taxing, not just for others but the low EQ individuals themselves. They are often fighting inner demons and riddled with existential angst – the academic euphemism for this is emotional labor. So, don’t make them work even harder. Instead, you can brighten them up and make their lives seem a little simpler, safer, and happier, or at least less anxious. Conversely, if you react in a negative way they will perceive you as a psychological threat and source of stress. Kindness and positivity go a long way with everyone, but even more so with emotionally unintelligent people. Yes, some people lack soft skills, but being hard on them is not the solution. On the contrary, tact and delicacy are needed particularly with those who are less capable of displaying those very qualities.

o Be explicit: In particular, avoid social subtleties, or you will be misinterpreted. Low EQ individuals are generally less capable of reading between the lines and their ability to decode others’ intentions is typically limited. As Professor Simon Baron-Cohen noted, they are quite similar to the stereotypical engineer or professor: disinterested in nonverbal communication, non-empathetic, and somewhat detached from interpersonal contact; happiest when on their own or interacting with their own thoughts rather than people. Baron-Cohen’s spectrum theory posits that cognitive skills often increase at the expense of social skills (take this brief test to find out where you fall).

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While interventions to boost EQ are often successful, people have limited control over their personalities, and each personality will confer more strengths in some situations than in others. The current enthusiasm about emotional intelligence can obscure the fact that plenty of brilliant and successful people, from Friedrich Nietzsche to Steve Jobs, had lower EQ—and that these people are also capable of rewarding relationships, even with their work colleagues.

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Here is a direct link to the complete article.

ChamorroPremuzicsTomas Chamorro-Premuzic is an international authority on personality profiling, talent management, and people analytics. He is the CEO of Hogan Assessment Systems and a Professor of Business Psychology at University College London (UCL) and Columbia University.

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