Emotional intelligence is the ability to read emotions. Someone with strong emotional intelligence might be a very good poker player. He will be able to identify the “tells” he sees on his opponent’s face and act accordingly.
Assuming that your friends have not been botoxed and surgeried beyond recognition, you will, when engaging in a conversation with them, pick up cues from their faces. These cues will tell you when they are enjoying the conversation and when you have veered into uncomfortable territory.
The ability to read these emotions will allow you to continue or to change a topic, without forcing your interlocutor to tell you to stop. If you can do so you will save everyone the embarrassing moments when someone asks you to please change the subject.
Emotional intelligence allows you to economize your conversation, to master the arts of tact and consideration and to make a connection with another person.
Of course, emotional intelligence also involves your ability to read your own emotions, to read them as indicative of aspects of your experience.
The two are obviously connected. You read other peoples’ emotions by mimicking their facial expressions and monitoring the emotion it produces in you.
Emotions try to tell us something. Those who can interpret them correctly are in better shape than are those who ignore them.
One understands that many people can easily confuse emotional intelligence with empathy. If the empath feels your pain, someone with emotional intelligence sees an emotion as a piece of information. He makes use of it in making a decision.
When a poker player reads “tells”, he does not just want to feel the anxiety or the confidence of his opponent. He is looking for information that will enable him to hold ‘em, fold ‘em or go all in.
Now to the fun part.
It has generally been assumed that women have more emotional intelligence than men. And it has also been assumed that women are more inclined to use their emotional intelligence to care for and comfort other people.
Now, this appears to be wrong. Women with more emotional intelligence tend to seek more thrills and to engage in more delinquent behaviors. Apparently, having more emotional intelligence does not necessarily make women more caring and more moral. It makes them more likely to bully and manipulate.
Lori Keong reports in New York Magazine:
For the study, led by Plymouth University’s Alison Bacon, researchers asked 96 college students a series of questions to evaluate them on a spectrum of thrill-seeking tendencies, delinquent behavior, and emotional intelligence. They had expected that while people with thrill-seeking tendencies might also have delinquent impulses, if these people also had high levels of emotional intelligence, that intelligence would help them curb those impulses. This was true — but only for males. Females were actually more likely to engage in delinquent acts if they reported higher levels of emotional intelligence.
Did we get that right? Men who have high emotional intelligence use it to curb their delinquent impulses. Women, not so much.
Why might that be? Part of it may come down to the fact that, young females tend to process their emotions differently than males and to gravitate toward different forms of delinquency. Troubled young men, the researchers note, externalize their emotions and tend toward violent acts in their delinquency — acts that don’t generally require a sophisticated understanding of how other people think. Young women, on the other hand, tend to internalize negative emotions and may be channeling this energy into forms of delinquency that require more emotional understanding, such as bullying and social exclusion.
“When you think about manipulative behavior or Machiavellian ways of relating, for that to be a successful social strategy, you have to have some degree of emotional intelligence,” said Bacon. “You have to understand what effect your behavior is going to have on other people, in terms of their thoughts, or feelings or emotions … otherwise you won’t have the social skills to pull that off.” In other words, in the wrong hands, emotional intelligence is more than a valuable skill for navigating daily life — it’s also a potentially potent weapon.
What does this mean?
It suggests that delinquent males and delinquent females have different ways of being delinquent.
Men use force to impose their will on other people. Women use subterfuge to manipulate people emotionally.
Given the male style of delinquency, a sense of the other person’s feelings will shift the game into an alien mode and make it more difficult to continue to bully him.
Given the female style of delinquency, a sense of the other person’s feelings provides an opportunity to abuse and manipulate the other person more effectively.
One suspects that, on the whole men are more likely to be delinquent, except when their emotional intelligence gets in the way.
Whatever else this research tells us, it helps us to dispel the idea that men and women are the same thing and it counters the notion that men and women function socially in the same way.