The skills of emotional intelligence are powerful, to say the least.
The ability to identify different emotions, to understand their effect, and to use that information to guide thinking and behavior, greatly increases the chances of successfully achieving your goals. A high EQ can make you a more effective leader and can improve the quality of your personal relationships.
However, there’s a lot to misunderstand about emotional intelligence.
My new book, EQ, Applied, explores a number of these myths–and shows just how EQ works–and doesn’t work–in the real world.]
For example, here are seven of the most significant myths about EQ:
1. Emotional intelligence doesn’t exist.
The truth is, emotional intelligence as a field of scientific study is relatively new, and even experts disagree on its application.
But although the terms emotional intelligence, EI, and EQ are only decades old, the concepts aren’t. Ancient religions and philosophers have promoted ideas like the following for centuries:
- “Everyone must be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger.”
- “Care for your psyche…know thyself, for once we know ourselves, we may learn how to care for ourselves.”
- “To perceive is to suffer.”
As emotional creatures, we must acknowledge the role our feelings play in influencing thinking and decision making. Only then can we begin working to understand them.
2. Emotional intelligence is just common sense.
Some argue that emotional intelligence is a simply a fancy term for what most of us know better as “common sense,” defined by Merriam-Webster as “the ability to think and behave in a reasonable way and to make good decisions.”
But that takes away from the reality of EI: It takes great effort and deep thinking to understand emotional behavior–both our own and others’–and the reasons behind it. Additionally, even the simplest skills of EI, such as pausing to think before we speak, are much easier in theory than they are in practice.
3. You can control your feelings.
It would be great if we could self-regulate our emotions, dialing back on our anger when we feel ourselves losing control (for example).
But emotions involve our natural, instinctive feelings. Sometimes these are in response to a specific situation or event; other times they’re influenced by our own brain chemistry. In other words, we can’t always control how we feel.
What we can control is our reaction to those feelings. By becoming aware of how our emotions affect us, and then focusing on our thoughts, we can often prevent our emotions from causing us to behave irrationally.
4. More emotional people are naturally more emotionally intelligent.
If you’re the type that cries easily when watching a sad movie, that could be a sign that you have empathy, and can easily identify with others’ feelings.
However, too much empathy can easily be used against you. What if a “friend” is always presenting a sob story to get you to cover for them, while they continue in some self-destructive behavior? Empathy may move you to help them, time and time again, even though it’s not really what you want to do–and is also not what’s best for your friend.
The ability to “feel” the emotions of others is a valuable tool, but it’s only one skill. You’re a unique individual, with a unique emotional response mechanism. Developing emotional intelligence requires understanding how your emotions work, and then effectively managing those emotions to achieve your personal goals.
5. Sharpening your EQ is easy.
On the contrary, developing emotional intelligence is one of the most difficult challenges you’ll ever face.
Think about it: We’re born with emotions, so our emotional behavior is years in the making. Additionally, scientists have demonstrated that attempting to make lasting changes to behavior is a compound process that requires substantial commitment.
If you’re serious about increasing your EQ, you’ve got to be in it for the long haul.
6. Once you’ve got it, you’ve got it.
Since a myriad of factors influence your (and others’) emotions, it’s easy to fall back into bad habits or suffer a bout of bad decision making.
Further, when it comes to understanding others’ feelings and emotions, time works against us. Research proves that even if we’ve experienced the same situation as another, we don’t remember it as well as we think we do.
That’s makes working on your emotional intelligence a continuous process.
7. Those with high emotional intelligence always make the best leaders.
Despite the potential of EI for good, there’s equal capacity for it to be used to exploit, bully, and abuse others. Psychologists have documented how narcissists and egomaniacs use emotionally intelligent skills to manipulate others.
Of course, that’s just one more reason for you to sharpen your own emotional intelligence–to protect yourself when they do.
Enjoy this post? Check out my book, EQ Applied, which uses fascinating research and compelling stories to illustrate what emotional intelligence looks like in everyday life.
A version of this article originally appeared on Inc.com.