Emotional intelligence is nothing new.
Sure, the term was coined in the 1960s, and popularized by psychologists in recent decades. But the concept of emotional intelligence–which I define as a person’s ability to recognize and understand emotions and use that information to guide decision making–has been around as long as we have.
This skill we refer to as emotional intelligence (also known as EI or EQ) is like any other ability: You can cultivate it, work to enhance it, sharpen it.
And it’s important to know that, just like other skills, emotional intelligence can be used both ethically and unethically.
The dark side of emotional intelligence
Organizational psychologist and best-selling author Adam Grant identified EI at its worst in his essay for The Atlantic, “The Dark Side of Emotional Intelligence“:
Recognizing the power of emotions…one of the most influential leaders of the 20th century spent years studying the emotional effects of his body language. Practicing his hand gestures and analyzing images of his movements allowed him to become “an absolutely spellbinding public speaker,” says the historian Roger Moorhouse–“it was something he worked very hard on.”
His name was Adolf Hitler.
The last thing anyone wants is to be manipulated, whether it’s by politicians, colleagues, or even those who claim to be our friends.
Below, I’ve listed 10 ways emotional intelligence can be used against you. Of course, these actions and characteristics don’t always identify a lack of ethics; a person may practice them unintentionally. Nonetheless, increasing awareness of these behaviors will equip you to deal with them strategically, and sharpen your own EQ in the process.
1. They play on fear.
A manipulator will exaggerate facts and overemphasize specific points in an effort to scare you into action.
Strategy: Beware of statements that imply you lack courage or attempts to instill a fear of missing out. Make sure you have the whole picture of a situation before taking action.
2. They deceive.
All of us value transparency and honesty, but manipulators hide the truth or try to show you only one side of the story. For example, consider the manager or employee who purposefully spreads unconfirmed rumors and gossip to gain a strategic advantage.
Strategy: Don’t believe everything you hear. Rather, base your decisions on reputable sources and ask questions when details aren’t clear.
3. They take advantage when you’re happy.
Often, we’re tempted to say yes to anything when we’re in an especially good mood, or jump on opportunities that look really good at the time (but that we haven’t really thought through). Manipulators know how to take advantage of those moods.
Strategy: Work to increase awareness of your positive emotions just as much as your negative emotions. When it comes to making decisions, strive to achieve balance.
4. They take advantage of reciprocity.
Manipulators know it’s harder to say no if they do something for you–so they may attempt to flatter, butter you up, or say yes to small favors…and then ask you for big ones.
Strategy: For sure, giving brings more joy than receiving.
But it’s also important to know your limitations. And don’t be afraid to say no when appropriate.
5. They push for home-court advantage.
“A manipulative individual may insist on you meeting and interacting in a physical space where he or she can exercise more dominance and control,” says Preston Ni, author of How to Successfully Handle Manipulative People.
These people may push to negotiate in a space where they feel ownership and familiarity, like their office, home, or any other place you might feel less comfortable.
Strategy: If you need to negotiate, offer to do so in a neutral space. If you must meet the person on his or her home turf, ask for a drink of water and engage in small talk upon arrival, to help you get your bearings.
6. They ask lots of questions.
It’s easy to talk about ourselves. Manipulators know this, and they take advantage by asking probing questions with a hidden agenda–discovering hidden weaknesses or information they can use to their advantage.
Strategy: Of course, you shouldn’t assume wrong motives in everyone who wants to get to know you better. But beware of those who only ask questions–while refusing to reveal the same information about themselves.
7. They speak quickly.
At times, manipulators will speak at a faster pace or use special vocabulary and jargon in an attempt to gain advantage.
Strategy: Don’t be afraid to ask people to repeat their point, or to ask questions for clarity. You can also repeat their point in your words, or ask them to name an example–allowing you to regain control of the conversation.
8. They display negative emotion.
Some people purposefully raise their voice or use strong body language to show they’re upset, in an effort to manipulate your emotions. (Basketball coaches are masters at this.)
Strategy: Practice the pause. If someone demonstrates strong emotion, take a moment before reacting. In some instances, you may even walk away for a few minutes.
9. They give you an extremely limited time to act.
An individual may try and force you to make a decision within a very unreasonable amount of time. In doing so, he or she wants to coerce you into a decision before you have time to weigh the consequences.
Strategy: Don’t submit to unreasonable demands. If your partner refuses to give you more time, you’re better off looking for what you need somewhere else.
10. They give you the silent treatment.
“By deliberately not responding to your reasonable calls, text messages, emails, or other inquiries, the manipulator presumes power by making you wait, and intends to place doubt and uncertainty in your mind,” says Ni. “The silent treatment is a head game, where silence is used as a form of leverage.”
Strategy: After you’ve attempted communication to a reasonable degree, give your partner a deadline. In situations where alternatives are unavailable, a frank discussion addressing his or her communication style may be necessary.
Putting it into practice
There will always be those who work to increase their emotional awareness–in both themselves and others. Sometimes, they’ll use that power for manipulative influence.
And that’s exactly why you should sharpen your own emotional intelligence–to protect yourself when they do.
(If you’d like more tips on how to make your emotions work for you, instead of against you, make sure to sign up for my free monthly newsletter.)