Why being emotionally intelligent doesn’t mean putting up with BS

By David M. M. Taffet 5 minute Learn

In my expertise as a marketing consultant who has remodeled 16 firms, and as an entrepreneur who has constructed or purchased virtually as  a lot of my very own enterprises, I’ve realized that managers and leaders usually miss one essential level about emotional intelligence (“EQ”): EQ requires intolerance for the insupportable simply as a lot because it requires empathy. 

Daniel Goleman writes in Working with Emotional Intelligence, “. . . [E]motional intelligence doesn’t mean merely ‘being good.’ At strategic moments, it might demand not ‘being good,’ however relatively, for instance, bluntly confronting somebody with an uncomfortable however consequential fact they’ve been avoiding.” That is troublesome and uncomfortable work that contradicts a key studying absorbed by most of us as youngsters: that being type and agreeable is socially rewarding. The narcissist would possibly get to the highest of the meals chain by being bullish and conflict-prone, however nobody really likes that individual. 


As current political developments have heightened our sensitivity to the harmful energy of narcissistic leaders in authorities and enterprise, empathy has turn into one thing of an antidote to the occasions. It could possibly result in mutual understanding, larger self-awareness, extra inclusive management, and a extra simply group. The issue is that empathy and agreeableness are sometimes conflated, which diminishes EQ by weighing it down with poisonous positivity. This solely emboldens the poisonous actor who preys on kindness (one thing I’ve witnessed numerous occasions over the previous three a long time).  

Toxicity can’t be killed with kindness. If that had been attainable, our greatest needs and fervent prayers would treatment most cancers. As a substitute, we should bear invasive surgical procedures, painful radiation, and nauseating chemo to excise cancerous cells. Regardless of this fact, many leaders nonetheless willingly endure poisonous people, clinging to the delusional hope that with simply the correct amount of fastidiously executed kindness, the hostage taker will see the sunshine, come to the training, and turn into an excellent crew participant. That is pure fantasy. 

Nice leaders fight toxicity

If a misguided dedication to agreeableness causes you and your colleagues to tolerate somebody who does insupportable issues, it’s time to wake up and scent the fallacy. Nice leaders and organizations fight toxicity. Those that tolerate it are left questioning why worker engagement and productiveness are so low as bullies and obstructionists run the entire crew ragged. This inaction demoralizes the remainder of the crew who is aware of what must occur. And in addition to, what’s empathetic or agreeable about consciously subjecting optimistic contributors to a poisonous particular person?!

The query we have to ask ourselves is, the place ought to our empathy finish? What ought to we do when somebody poisonous is poisoning an in any other case wholesome group? Far too usually, the maddening reply is that we have to attempt more durable to succeed in frequent floor. The failure is ours; we haven’t put in satisfactory work to rehabilitate the offender. They’re good, we merely haven’t set them up for achievement. They only can’t assist themselves. 

Does the truth that somebody can’t cease themselves from doing hurt absolve them of duty? Does tolerating their insupportable habits someway make you a greater chief? Does it serve the group? 

A well timed and related parallel to the thought of tolerance for the insupportable is Ibram X. Kendi’s overarching argument in How to Be An Antiracist. Specifically, that being impartial versus proactively antiracist is tantamount to loosely veiled racism. Racist insurance policies have existed to subjugate folks of shade because the starting of time; subsequently, being “impartial” or having tolerance for such insurance policies solely serves to underwrite racism, not resist it. 

As Mimi Fox Melton, CEO of Code2040, defined not too long ago, being silent or taking a “non-political stance” on racism is, initially extremely political, and secondly, a selection to privilege whiteness and the programs of energy that shield it. Likewise, selecting to tolerate office toxicity privileges poisonous people, empowering them to spew venom and convey down would-be-healthy organizations. 


In the event you passively permit for the continuation of racist insurance policies, you’re not an antiracist. In the identical vein, when you knowingly permit for poisonous people to hurt your group when you inexplicably mine the depths of empathy and kindness, you’re not a frontrunner—you’re an enabler. 

The paralysis of politeness

In our effort to be empathetic and well mannered (particularly in troublesome eventualities), we frequently fail to search out our conviction and, by extension, our true voice. On this sense, we’re paralyzed by politeness. Efficient communication arises out of your core fact. Well mannered communication seeks to incentivize higher habits with niceties to which poisonous people are immune. 

Discover your conviction and converse from it actually in a fashion that instructions respect and conveys penalties. If the poisonous particular person stays indignant, hearth the individual summarily and with prejudice. While you lastly shield the entire by sacrificing the unworthy, you’ll hear “Ding Dong! The Depraved Witch is Useless!” echoing all through the corporate Zoom chambers. 

Typically, compassion requires doing troublesome issues. We give our kids vaccines, which damage and sometimes trigger uncomfortable unwanted side effects earlier than they supply prophylactic results. In the identical vein, to assist somebody, we frequently need to jolt them and put them again on their heels. You possibly can’t do this whereas remaining agreeable. You usually need to growl. What they select to do with the discomfort they expertise will both assist them rise to the problem of changing into a greater crew member or expose their unshakeable poisonous nature. 

Just lately, I had the chance to jolt an govt who was extensively thought of a bully. I requested him, “In case your daughter advised you she was being handled the way in which you deal with folks, how would you’re feeling?” He was shook. Nobody had ever put it fairly like that. Decided to vary, he requested, “What do I do now?” “Think about that your daughter is the canary in a coal mine,” I mentioned. “Everytime you act like a bully, she’ll start to lose oxygen. Get it?” As we speak, this govt has utterly remodeled right into a collaborative, upbeat supervisor who’s unanimously well-liked. 

Correctly deployed, EQ ought to function a device for discernment and, when applicable, provocation (as within the anecdote shared above). It ought to provide help to determine who’s worthy of effort and kindness, and who’s an incurably poisonous particular person. Passionately put money into the previous, and summarily isolate and hearth the latter. The larger good is worthy of and guarded by ruthless intolerance for the insupportable.

David M. M. Taffet is a cofounder and a enterprise builder at JukeStrat, a purpose-driven consulting group targeted on enterprise transformation, positioning, and social influence. He serves as a fractional C-level advisor and govt coach for a number of of its shoppers, drawing on his 30-plus years of expertise constructing firms, orchestrating turnarounds, main profitable groups, elevating capital, and growing cross-sector partnerships for business and public acquire.