We have read about, learned about, and applied emotional intelligence in a variety of ways since Daniel Goleman first popularized it in 1995.
Wikipedia defines emotional intelligence as: “the capability of individuals to recognize their own and other people’s emotions, discern between different feelings and label them appropriately, use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior, and manage and/or adjust emotions to adapt to environments or achieve one’s goals.”
Regardless of the model (and there are several), when we think about emotional intelligence we see it as a positive combination of skills and characteristics.
But what if “the capability of individuals to recognize… other people’s emotions” can also have negative consequences?
Theresa Edwards, in an article titled: Empathy vs. Sympathy: What’s the Difference explains that “to empathize with someone is to assume their feelings upon yourself and allow yourself to feel what they feel.”
In the informal experiment I’m going to describe, you will see that empathy got in the way of the participants’ success.
In part one of the experiment, Luma Al Halah showed a brief video of a man who ends up sobbing. She then gave the participants a worksheet that had the numbers 1 through 20 placed randomly on the page. They were given one minute to find the numbers in order and complete the worksheet.
In part two of the experiment, Luma showed a brief video with a man who was hysterically funny. She gave the same assignment that she had given in part one. The participants had to complete a different worksheet with the numbers 1 through 20 placed randomly on the page. Again, they were given one minute to find the numbers in order.
Without a sense of empathy with the sobbing man, there would have been no difference in the success rates of the participants in both parts of the experiment.
However, there was a marked difference in the participants’ ability to complete the worksheets. After watching the sad video, the participants had a much harder time placing the numbers in order- so much so that many of them were unable to complete their worksheets in the time allowed.
After watching the funny video, the participants had a much easier time placing the numbers in order- and most of them were able to complete their worksheets in the time allowed.
The participants’ empathy for the sobbing man left them with sad feelings. The results of the experiment showed that we find tasks much harder to do when we are sad.
This does not mean that empathy is bad and should be avoided. This experiment simply illustrates that emotions, whether happy or sad, can definitely affect our performance (or situational intelligence).