Emotional Intelligence: Are You Too Smart?

By Bernard Knight
February 15, 2018

Managers and partners often tell me about employees and associates who are super intelligent and yet, are not candidates for promotion.   What’s holding them back?   In every case, it boils down to communication issues.   These folks always know the right answer, but they don’t know how to properly communicate it in a meeting with executives or other colleagues.

Don’t let this happen to you or members of your staff.   I present below some ways that we can help ourselves and others to communicate better.

geralt / Pixabay

When I give talks on emotional intelligence, I usually get the following question:  “I have an employee who is brilliant, but I just can’t promote her.”   When I ask why, I get a response that goes something like this:  “She offends either management or her colleagues by blurting out the answer or stating the answer in a way that others in the room feel put down.

The universal concern is that the employee or associate is not aware of this behavior and how it affects others.   She often has been promoted in the past because of her intelligence.   Yet, that intelligence alone is not enough to go higher up the corporate ladder or make partner.

I also hear repeatedly from people that their general counsel is not the smartest guy in the company, but he knows how to handle people and motivate them to perform.   These general counsels have emotional intelligence and use it to their advantage.   Learn how you can do the same.

This is not magic or a genetic quality, but a skill that these general counsels and other top executives have learned and honed over the years.

Being Smart is Not Enough

What’s the point if you are smart but can’t communicate your knowledge effectively?   We all must be able to work with people in an effective manner to be successful.

Being intelligent is necessary, but given that you have the requisite amount of intelligence to do a particular job, being more intelligent than others usually is not the key to promotion.   The most important differentiator of people for promotion is emotional intelligence.   Check out my prior IPWatchdog article on the importance of emotional intelligence.

Daniel Goleman has done a lot of research on the importance of emotional intelligence in the corporate world.  In his book, What Makes a Leader: Why Emotional Intelligence Matters, he states:

I also experienced this phenomenon first-hand while managing lawyers at two federal agencies.   Sometimes I would work with lawyers who always knew the right answer and who I could rely upon for sound advice.   When it came time to promote people, these same individuals were sometimes left behind just because some of them were not the most effective people to work with or worse yet, were annoying to others in the way they communicated.   In every case, it was a communication issue.

dschap / Pixabay

I’m sure that you have seen it before.   It’s that person that was in the front row in your college classes that always raised and waved their hand to answer a question and show how smart they are.   It may work in college, but it’s super annoying in the business world.   No-one wants to work with this eager “know-it-all.”   They may be able to work in the back room where interactions are minimized, but they will not be promoted to a senior position.

Another way this often plays out is that the person will shout out the answer before anyone else has an opportunity to respond.   He also frequently states the answer in a way that is demeaning of others or puts them down, although most times unintentionally.   This often is done subtly, but it happens.   His answer likely is correct, but it is communicated in an off-putting way.

Can We Help?

These folks are not a lost cause.   We can help them by strengthening their communication skills.   Emotional intelligence (EI) is the key and it can be learned.

EI is a set of emotional and social skills that affect our thoughts, interactions, coping strategies, motivations and general psychological well-being.    It affects our behavior every second of our waking hours and also controls our relationships with our family, business associates, partners and clients.

IQ is fixed at about age 17.   So, we can acquire more knowledge by reading more books, but we will not improve our intelligence.  On the other hand, EI can be trained (learned) and altered (increased or decreased) throughout the lifespan.    It also can be measured by an assessment tool that takes about 20 minutes to complete.

EI assessment and training helps poor communicators learn to change their behavior.   Your score on the EQ-i (name of assessment) relates to your potential for performance, including components that will help to determine if you have obstacles preventing you from communicating effectively.

We can help these super smart people who should be promoted by getting them to recognize and appreciate their EI strengths and weaknesses.

I have found in my practice that it’s much easier for people to see their communication issues when it’s presented to them in a written report.   If we just tell them about their behavior, it often doesn’t sink in as quickly.    Seeing it in a formal report has immediate impact.

With a typical client, I go over their scores and discuss their strengths and weaknesses as well as any surprises in the results.   This gives us a starting point to discuss the elements that the person might benefit from increasing or decreasing, and how to go about doing that.   I can then put together a strategy for enhancing their communication skills with goals for improvement.

It’s important to take an interest in your staff and show them that you care.   Your employees and associates will better understand what is required to be promoted and how to go about strengthening those skills.

Skills for Effective Communication

The emotional intelligence skills to focus on depends on the person and their strengths and weaknesses.   However, here are some emotional intelligence skills that are key to effective communication:

  • Self-Awareness–your feelings and emotions affect your decisions, relationships with others and job performance.   Self-awareness requires a good understanding of your strengths and a recognition of your weaknesses.   The EQ-i 2.0 assessment tool is a great vehicle to raise awareness.  Are you aware of how you’re feeling and how those emotions affect your decisions, analyses and interactions? Do you find yourself getting short with people without really knowing why?
  • Impulse Control–requires thoughtfulness and reflection before acting. Managing our emotions and actions with others creates trust and a sense of fairness.  Super intelligent folks know the answer quickly and often blurt it out before anyone else has a chance to respond.   This behavior is self-defeating and annoying to others.   Also, managers and partners cannot fly off the handle, get short or say something demeaning to their subordinates.   We all get annoyed, but as the expression goes, “everything that comes up does not have to come out.”   Sometimes we need to keep our negative thoughts to ourselves.   Take the time to reflect and respond when you are less upset.   Feedback is effective ONLY if it is communicated properly.   I describe the most effective techniques for delivering effective feedback in my prior IPWatchdog article, 9 Critical Components of Constructive Feedback   Do you fly off the handle or act without vetting an issue fully?  Do you talk too much in meetings?  Do you always respond first?
  • Empathy—ability to appreciate another’s perspective and feelings.   Empathy is important to making good decisions and making others feel appreciated and heard.   It also enables you to be more sensitive to other cultures and ethnicities.   Put yourself in the shoes of the other person and ask yourself “how would I feel if I was in her position?”   If you can tune into the other person’s perspective, your communication will be much more effective.   Do you take time to get a sense of what the other person is feeling?   Do you understand the business needs and constraints of your client?
  • Interpersonal Relationships–we all need to establish and manage relationships effectively.  This is important in all aspects of our lives.   This is the skill where you learn to connect with people by showing compassion and genuine concern.   It’s all about creating a connection.  Do you take the time to get to know the folks that you work with and develop an interest in their lives?   Are you a loner or do other people come to you for advice and insight?
  • Stress Tolerance–self confidence that we can operate effectively under pressure and the ability to handle stressful situations.   This requires a balanced life and the ability to center ourselves through exercise, meditation, eating healthy or other techniques.   A balanced life and healthy coping strategies are important.   For a discussion of techniques for handling stress take a look at my prior IPWatchdog article, Combatting Burnout and Recharging Your CareerDo you get anxious when placed in a stressful situation?   Do you freeze or can you focus on the issue at hand?  Does anxiety inhibit you from surgically addressing the issue and having a clear mind?   What are your “go-to” coping mechanisms?   Do you get short with others in stressful situations?

Be the Best You Can Be

Look at yourself and your staff honestly.    If you or a member of your team is being held back because of poor communication skills, help them to become more self-aware and give them the tools to improve.   It’s not enough to just criticize their behavior at an annual performance review.

Let’s rise to the challenge as managers and partners by helping ourselves and our staffs to communicate better.

The Author

Bernard Knight

Bernard Knight is a career coach and counselor, and is a licensed professional mental health counselor in Washington, D.C. Bernie was a partner practicing complex patent litigation in the law firm of McDermott Will & Emery LLP from 2013-2017. Prior to joining McDermott, Bernie served as General Counsel for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) from 2010 to 2013. As General Counsel of the USPTO, he led the development and legal review of the regulations implementing the new Inter Partes review, post grant review, business method review and derivation proceedings, as well as the regulations changing the United States to a first-inventor-to-file system. Bernie previously served as Acting General Counsel of the U.S. Treasury at the height of the financial crisis. From 2001 to 2006, he was Deputy General Counsel for the USPTO. Bernie began his government career in 1991 at the Department of Justice, Tax Division, where he served for 10 years.

For more information or to contact Bernie, check out his Coaching Website.

Warning & Disclaimer: The pages, articles and comments on IPWatchdog.com do not constitute legal advice, nor do they create any attorney-client relationship. The articles published express the personal opinion and views of the author and should not be attributed to the author’s employer, clients or the sponsors of IPWatchdog.com. Read more.

Discuss this

There are currently 5 Comments comments.

  1. Anon2 February 15, 2018 8:44 am

    To what extent has the science of emotional intelligence investigated emotional reactions to these smarter people? I am asking this from the perspective of a manager or CEO who wants to learn how lead teams including these “assets” who are a little on the spectrum (perhaps even borderline autistic) but are absolutely crucial to the business.

    Are there any wise lessons in emotional intelligence or emotional maturity and fortitude she could give her staff/employees? Perhaps self-esteem training or some “don’t get defensive or insulted when dealing with a smart person” emotional intelligence seminars? I would want my employees to have the tools to work with the asset if all considered that person’s lack of emotion is objectively less of an actual problem to the business than the rest of the employees’ tendency to get overemotional. In essence I would want to train my employees to be effective rather than coddled.

    Just curious!

  2. anonymous February 15, 2018 11:33 am

    “Emotional Intelligence 2.0” is a fantastic book that describes emotional intelligence and provides suggestions for improving emotional intelligence

  3. Anon2 February 16, 2018 10:02 am

    Thanks. I’ll look into it. From a personal improvement perspective, all people of an organization should endeavor to improve. From a delegation and a specialization and diversity perspective, some are capable of improving and or reaching effectiveness in a particular “aspect” to different degrees. A highly technical person (on the spectrum) and someone in sales can try to meet halfway in their dealings, but inasmuch as we wont expect the salesperson to move very far with the technical aspects, it likely is reasonable not to expect the technical person to move that far on the soft skills… which then means the team manager needs to get the salesperson to ramp up enough on the emotional intelligence to deal with the technical person.

    I’ve seen a grown adult throw a baseball bat, really far, during a business baseball tourney after missing a swing, and I’ve seen a grown adult in a law office yell at a colleague over a disagreement (this was not “Suits” and much to the credit of the person yelled at he left the firm not long after). The hypothetical person I envisage on the spectrum is not the bat thrower or the yeller but someone who might “tempt” a “grown adult” to act in childish ways. If EI 2.0 can help that would be great!

  4. Gene February 16, 2018 10:13 am

    “it’s super annoying in the business world. No-one wants to work with this eager “know-it-all.”

    you’re taking sides. who will stand up for the intelligent know-it-all when people all around them get “offended” by smarts and how the smarts come across. can the offended people get out of their own way? there is a saying on the wall of my dojo: “there is as much fault in taking offense as in giving offense.”

  5. James February 26, 2018 6:41 am

    Awesome information. I like the work done at Google on their search inside program. I have found the years of Tai Chi training allowed me to develop a solid foundation for their first focus ‘attention training’.

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