0239 – keep working on your EQ

Currently going through a phase where I write about all the things I wrote in my “to write” list in my old notebooks.

# EQ

Emotional intelligence, social intelligence, whatever you wanna call it. I had very little of it as a child, and I think I still have less of it than most people. (Or rather, I think it’s healthier for me to assume that I have a lower than average EQ. The moment you think you’re better than most people, you’re kinda putting yourself in a situation where you’re settting yourself up for failure.

I wrote then that it’s the most important skill. I think it’s one of the most important skills, along with fundamental meatbag management, resource management, context management. We are all social creatures, it’s very inescapable. Even if you’re a quiet introvert who doesn’t like to talk to people, you’re still going to have to talk to some people sometimes. Even if you’re a gregarous extrovert who loves talking to people, you might unwittingly be an annoying person that nobody actually likes. And “being liked” is not just a simplistic matter of gossip and high school pecking orders– it’s about how much people respect you,

I really liked this quote I read in a Miss Manners book– the idea that we are all born uncivillized, or selfish. Babies cry without any concern for how it affects others. We all start clueless, and we clue up in our own time. There doesn’t seem to be a single clear syllabus for this (maybe somebody put one together– I’m sure Balthazar Gracian and many thinkers and courtly folks have done this over and over again over the centuries, but there doesn’t seem to be a single canonical thing that persists in the medium of everyday education in schools, the way we learn about algebra and trigonometry and geography and history.

How do you know when you’re being a dick? How do you know not to be a dick? Oddly enough, nobody teaches these things, and these things aren’t things that we have broad consensus(es?) about. It feels like something that we end up discussing on reddit, in magazine and other such spaces. Which seems a little silly to me. This should be in the public domain, in the commons.

Oh well. Until that happens, the most I can do for myself is do my own reading, do my own reflection, and think about my own conduct- and how I can improve it, how I can further serve others. I think there was a period of time where I looked at EQ as means to an end– as something I had to teach myself so I could get what I wanted. I think that’s still completely valid, but I also think there’s a lot of joy in creating experiences for other people that are comfortable and pleasant. And the most important thing might be knowing and learning how to manage the difficult times. How to manage conflict without shying away from it. How to first do what is best, and second do it in the best possible manner that is respectful and appreciative of all the parties involved.

Heh, which reminds me of a Hacker News discussion that happened. Somebody said something kinda silly, somebody responded with something nasty, and then it was all aboard the mean-and-nasty train. (Have I already written about this a few vomits ago? No mind, I’ll write it again.) I was bothered by how the discussion had ended there, and I asked one of the guys– why did you choose to be so mean and nasty? Was it a conscious choice, or is that just how you think people ought to respond to the ignorant? Why not use the opportunity to educate?

Interestingly, they (and/or somebody else) sidestepped my point altogether to say that I was being too sensitive (technically I never took offense, or claimed that I was offended– so this is an interesting bit of projection and defensive maneuvering worth studying), and that if I was afraid of the heat I should stay out of the kitchen.

I then replied with my honest belief– that the only thing I want to be sensitive to is the quality of the discussion, and that for some strange reason, whenever people start taking sides and calling each other names, the discussion tends to die. And ultimately that’s a lot more boring than being politically correct. Being PC is a very small price to pay to keep a conversation going, to hear all sides of a story, to collect as much information as possible.

Which in turn I think explains why a lot of CEOs and high-level public authorities (Prime Ministers, etc) end up seeming so “boring”– because they don’t want to offend anybody needlessly. It’s not because they’re dying for everybody’s approval (although that’s quite possible), but it’s because picking unnecessary fights and disagreements would hinder them from getting their job done. The more people you have under your stewardship, the fewer things you can really be a huge fan of. This isn’t always the case (it seems to be less important if you’re the founder-CEO of an innovative new change-the-world company/product, like say Tesla Motors, but if you’re running a much larger company that’s more “stable”, like say McDonalds or P&G, you can’t really go around taking risks, picking fights, having strong opinions one way or another.)

Well, at least that’s what it seems to be, from my ground-level view. I could be totally wrong, and I would defer to anybody who has any actual experience at being a CEO or working closely with one. (See what I did there? And I’m not bullshitting ya- it’s the truth.)

I was just writing about this for a Quora answer too– how do you reconcile honesty with EQ? What if telling the truth means being hurtful? You take great pains to emphasize all the ways in which your knowledge is broken and imperfect, and celebrate all the good things the person has done. When you do that, they’re usually dying to hear the actual criticism. And then you apologize for your own failures (BECAUSE THEY EXIST!).

Not to say I’ve got any of this stuff figured out. But I’m definitely better at this than I was 5-10 years ago. Might have been nice if I didn’t have to learn it in such a tedious, painful way. But maybe this is for the best. We’ll see.

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