Monday, October 17, 2016

The Downside of High EQ: Where is the handle of Your Psychic House?

Care about what other people think and you will always be their prisoner. ~ Lao Tzu ~
There is no denying that the world could use a booster shot of Emotional Intelligence (EQ). All of us having more ability to read the emotional states of others, more awareness of our own inner states, more awareness of how our behavior is viewed by and affects others, more emotional fluidity...please...bring it on!

High EQ sounds really good. But the way things seem to work in this world is that assets are always offset by liabilities in some form. What could possibly be the liability of high EQ?
EQ is a multifaceted capability. Oversimplifying it, there is a "self" dimension and an "other" dimension.

The self dimension includes abilities such as being aware of and able to report on one's own emotional states, the ability to compartmentalize emotions to maintain focus and equilibrium when needed, the ability to move fluidly between emotional states, etc.

A big part of the "other" dimension includes being sensitive to and aware of others' emotional states, being able to read facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice
Moreover, people with high EQ on the "other" dimension seem to be not only sensitive to but genuinely curious and interested in the feelings and states of those around them. High "other" EQ also includes understanding how one is seen and experienced by those around you.

If the self and other dimensions are both high and balanced, there will probably be few problems. But if one dimension is too strong relative to the other, that is where troubles can form.

For example, someone who is able to compartmentalize their emotions well, but is less equipped to read and interpret the feelings of others, should not be surprised to get the "tone deaf" label in their 360 feedback report. Moreover, that ability to "push through" despite the feedback and feelings around them can foment resistance and, in the extreme, some form of backlash.

What about an imbalance in the other direction? What if you're highly tuned into the needs and feelings of others, but unable to compartmentalize in order to maintain an even keel?

If you're like this, when the environment and those around you don't align to your needs and expectations, you can get judo-thrown by your own reactions, emotions...left bloodied by an attack of of your own Inner Critic. It is often the case that the external feedback wasn't even that bad. It is what was done with that stimuli internally that caused the real problems...the proverbial "inside" job.

Someone highly attuned the reactions of others that lives/works in an environment short on positive support should know they are living near the edge. On any given day or at any given moment, you can't count on how you are going to feel about yourself and how you will perform. This is because your inner world view is highly dependent on the people and environment around you. You've effectively outsourced your well-being, equilibrium and confidence into the hands a minimum...unreliable, but worse often vagarious...“others.” 
I tell my clients with this issue that if they want to stop living on the edge, they have to get the handle of their psychic houses on the inside.
I tell my clients with this issue that if they want to stop living on the edge they have to get the handle of their psychic house on the inside. When the handle is on the inside, Life/the environment/someone cannot just metaphorically whip open the door to your head and heart and, through what they say or do or don't say or don't do or what happens or doesn't happen, affect how you feel about yourself.
When the handle is on the inside, external circumstances and others have less influence over your mood, your confidence, your sense of self-worth. You control when you open that door and what feedback gets in. You make sure it gets processed in a more measured way so it can be integrated as opposed to overwhelming you.

How do you get the handle of your psychic house on the inside and give yourself more ballast? There are two key strategies, both very effective, but very different from each other.

The first starts with just recognizing that you have this tendency. You know you can get whipsawed by external events and you take steps to prepare. Forewarned is forearmed as it were.

The late Muhammad Ali used to say that he would never get knocked out by a punch he saw coming: he could turn his head to take enough off it that it would not knock him out.

Strange as it sounds, that's your objective too: to not get knocked out by punches you see coming. Muhammad Ali was ducking punches thrown by someone else. Most of the punches you're ducking are being thrown by your Inner Critic. And by now, no one should know better than you that your Inner Critic has a wicked right.
And by now, no one should know better than you that your Inner Critic has a wicked right.
There are a range of options here for staying on your feet. Steps such as shifting your focus to what you want to learn as a result of, for example, putting hours into writing a report vs. doing it for an "atta boy" that may never come... following your thoughts more closely and developing strategies to break-set when particular self-talk starts to spiral...maintaining daily practices that help you find and tap into your own, self-referenced power...are all efficacious countermeasures.

The second strategy for getting the handle of your psychic house on the inside is to shift your focus to a bigger game. Here the counsel is to develop a larger mission and a vision for that mission...for your department, for your team, for yourself. With your mind and heart on bigger objectives, some less than stellar feedback about a presentation or some offhand comments don't have that destabilizing effect.

Living in Silicon Valley, I work with a lot of entrepreneurs. Everywhere you turn in their start-ups, there seem to be problems as far as the eye can see. I never ceased to be amazed at how, founders especially, seem to look right past them. Asked about it, the responses seem to center around keeping the focus on a preferred future...a down-the-road version of the company that does not have these problems.

Yes, you could call this a form of compartmentalization, referenced previously as a key element of EQ. But it is compartmentalization, not as a strategy or means of its own, but as a byproduct of focusing on a bigger game and not losing that focus when the results are not what you had hoped.

This is part of what I imagine enabled Martin Luther King, in the face of blinding prejudice and horrific acts of racism to see a brighter future and reiterate the phrase "the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice," versus being completely broken by the continuous stream of injustices all around him.

So yes, more EQ. But also mindful of the equilibrium between the self and other dimensions of it. Moving the handle of your psychic house to the inside through the two strategies outlined here is a way to address that equilibrium.

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