4 emotionally intelligent skills that are overrated

Emotional intelligence is a trait that has been touted as crucial to the future of work, but it’s not always a good thing.

4 emotionally intelligent skills that are overrated
[Photo: Oladimeji Odunsi/Unsplash]

Emotional intelligence, or EQ, is a skill that’s going to make you thrive in the future of work, and VCs look for it in founders when they decide whether or not to invest in a company. But EQ encompasses a wide range of attributes.


It’s obvious why certain EQ habits–like being a good listener, having empathy, and managing stress are important to workplace success. But there are also EQ skills that have, well, probably gotten more hype than they should have. That’s not to say that they’re terrible to have, but as set out below, they’re not always necessary or appropriate in every circumstance.

1. High self-esteem

Having high-self-esteem used to be all the rage. The problem is, sometimes too much self-esteem can inflate your ego, and it becomes harder for you to come to terms with how others really see you–particularly when it comes to your flaws and not-so-flattering parts, writes Melissa Dahl, editor of New York Magazine‘s Science of Us.

Rather than focusing on increasing your self-esteem, Dahl argues that everyone should strive for “self-clarity.” This means seeing yourself and situations through a non-emotional lens, and acknowledging your imperfections that others see in you. If this doesn’t come naturally, Dahl suggests thinking of a time when you felt low in self-confidence. Let yourself feel the feelings, but then step back and think, has this happened to others? You might realize that your flaws are not so embarrassing and are easier to accept after all.

Related: The “self-esteem” movement is over, here’s what’s taking its place 

2. Positive thinking

In a world driven by fear and negative headlines, optimism can seem like an attractive attribute. It’s easy to see why. When you know how to turn obstacles into opportunities, and focus on what went well rather than what went terribly, the inevitable challenges of life can seem less daunting to face.


It’s a great thing to be an optimist, but there is a time when too much of it isn’t a good thing. For example when you’re overly optimistic about achieving a goal, you’re less likely to work hard toward it, making you less likely to achieve it. As Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic previously wrote for Fast Company, “those who skew more pessimistic about reaching their goals may be more likely to achieve them, not least because their self-doubt pushes them to work harder to reach them. When you really want something, you’re better off thinking that you won’t get it than assuming you will.”

When you undertake challenging tasks, thinking about what could go wrong can help you avoid it. Of course, that doesn’t mean that you constantly dwell on the worst-case scenarios, as Stephanie Vozza previously wrote for Fast Company. But by having a plan of what you’ll do if it does happen, you’ll probably end up mitigating the risk and it better.

Related: How being pessimistic can help you succeed 

3. Mindfulness

Mindfulness is sometimes treated as the be-all and end-all solution to the stresses of modern life. But just as too much technology is bad for you, too much mindfulness isn’t so great either, psychologists Dr Robert Biswas-Diener and Dr. Todd B. Kashdan previously wrote for Fast Company. The authors noted, “Mindfulness is the act of focusing attention and observing the present moment without a lot of mental dialogue and interpretation.” But your brain isn’t always wired to focus all the time. When you give it space to wander and drift, that’s when you’re letting your thoughts incubate, and when you’re more likely to come up with a solution to the problem that’s been bugging you all day.

That doesn’t mean you should give up on the practice altogether. Rather, Biswas-Diener and Kashdan wrote, “Mindfulness and mindlessness should coexist. You benefit from the lightning-strike of creativity, but then you want to be able to analyze the potential and drawbacks of your spontaneous ideas.” So next time you meditate and focus on your surroundings, allow a few minutes where you let your thoughts wander freely, without forcing yourself to “go back to the breath.”


Related: This is why meditation isn’t working for you 

4. Willpower

There’s a misconception that productive people have strong willpower, discipline, and self-control. But as Lydia Dishman previously reported for Fast Company, research from Duke University indicates that the more you exercise self-control, “the bigger the drain on brain structures that support recall and, consequently, productivity.”

Think about New Year’s resolutions. People resolve to lose weight and eat healthy, but rely too much on their willpower, and inevitably fail. If they designed their environment differently however, they don’t need to rely so much on willpower. Brian Wansink, author of Slim By Design: Mindless Eating Solutions, argues that putting out the fruit bowl and hiding the chocolate bars does more to someone’s eating behavior than discipline ever will. When it comes to changing habits, Wansink says that what works are “behavioral tools people can use to change what they select without knowing it’s good or bad for them.”

“We have far less control over our own behavior than we like to think,” social scientist Joseph Grenny previously told Fast Company. So don’t rely on it when you’re trying to change a habit; instead, focus on creating systems in your life that set you up for success, whether it’s a support system or you motivate yourself with small rewards. You’ll probably find that you’ll get much further.

About the author

Anisa is a freelance writer and editor who covers the intersection of work and life, personal development, money, and entrepreneurship. Previously, she was the assistant editor for Fast Company's Work Life section and the co-host of Secrets Of The Most Productive people podcast.