Unfortunately, in life, we aren’t always destined to meet mature, emotionally aware human beings.
Even more unfortunate is the realization that sometimes, we’re forced to deal with these emotionally inept fellow passengers to the grave because they’re related to us, work with us, happen to be our next door neighbors, or our roommates.
What Exactly is Emotional Intelligence?
Better the Devil you know, right? It’s best to understand what we’re dealing with when we say “emotional intelligence” or “EQ”.
The term is often erroneously thrown around to indicate a set of personality traits, but that’s not quite what it is. It’s not simply a series of negative characteristics, because everyone has a few of those.
Who hasn’t done something awful or been insensitive at some point in their life?
Or, to a lesser degree, while having a mother-in-law who talks non-stop is painful, it doesn’t mean she is emotionally unintelligent; it just means she’s excessively chatty. She can still be a deeply caring, sensitive, albeit highly annoying, individual.
The difference between having and lacking emotional intelligence is that these missteps are outliers, occasional slips. When someone completely lacks emotional intelligence, they’re missing the fundamental building blocks of social awareness, so those unpleasant moments become daily occurrences.
What does low emotional intelligence really look like? Well, people with low EQ can’t deal with stress, and are easily agitated. They blame others for the way they feel, hold grudges because they don’t have the capacity to take responsibility for their feelings, or for the role their actions played in creating those situations.
They believe the world is against them, and that it’s never their fault. They can’t deal with frustration or manage their emotions, so they are prone to combative, aggressive, and at times, manipulative behavior in order to bully others into getting what they want.
They are typically self-centered, doing things in order to further their agenda, no matter who they step on to get there. Back down from an argument? NEVER. These people could be on the Titanic and still argue that the ship isn’t going down. They dig their heels in and defend their point to the bitter end because they can’t bear to lose face.
Lack of emotional intelligence touches every aspect of that person’s life, and ultimately yours because you are forced to come into contact with them. Because they lack the basic social skills required to deal with other people’s emotions, as well as their own, it can lead to problems such as: trouble holding down jobs, low self-esteem, difficulties maintaining friendships, creating intimacy, and sustaining long-term relationships.
In light of all this, how do we make life less painful for ourselves when dealing with emotionally insensitive and unintelligent people? While avoidance would clearly be the best course of action, when we don’t have that luxury, we can take the following steps.
How To Deal With An Emotionally Unintelligent Colleague At Work
We all know the type: the loud mouth who hijacks every conversation, gets combative when people disagree with their viewpoint, and then doesn’t understand why the room empties when they appear.
How about the co-worker who claims everyone’s ideas as their own, and thinks everyone in the office is out to get them, but then wonders why nobody wants to “go for drinks” after five.
Or the office gossip, the emotional vampire who is extremely negative, and who loves to regale you with lurid stories about your co-workers while you’re trying to meet a deadline. This same person then acts incredibly offended when you finally snap after the tenth interruption.
In addition to all this, there is a very good chance that these people have never once asked you about your day, what you’re working on, or how they can help. I’m also willing to bet they know next to nothing about you (because they spend most of the time talking about themselves), but you, unfortunately, know way too much about them.
In typical high-stress work situations, with upset clients, or tight deadlines, these are the last people you want on your team, or want to manage. They are ruiners of productive teamwork, and destroyers of a happy, efficient work environment because they can’t be happy for anyone achieving what they haven’t achieved.
Instead, they often sabotage and disrupt others in order to make themselves look good and get ahead. They don’t care about the team; they care only about themselves, and until they quit or get fired, you have to deal with their insufferable behavior.
Since you’re forced to spend eight glorious hours of your day with them, it’s best to limit the damage like so:
Set boundaries if you have to sit next to them; put in headphones and ignore them when at all possible. Keep stating: I’m sorry, but I can’t talk right now. Headphones back in, volume up. Way up. Head down. Repeat.
Document, document, document their behavior. I can’t stress this point enough. Don’t allow them to derail your hard work, damage your reputation, or take you down with them. It might seem like a pain in the backside, and extra work on your end, but remember: if they’re on your team and drop the ball, you can bet your next paycheck they will point the finger at you, or a co-worker. So have a back-up detailing what was agreed upon, and what actually happened, to protect yourself and your team.
Take it higher up. Don’t be afraid to speak to your manager, or failing that, HR. It’s not your job to manage a low EQ’s unacceptable behavior. They are toxic, and can easily bring an entire office down with their drama and negativity. Remember: this is not your grandma. Hell, this isn’t even a friend; you don’t like this person (it’s OK, the rest of the office doesn’t either). Civility and professional behavior are all that is required of you. Keep all interaction short, sweet, and succinct. Wash, rinse, and repeat.
How To Approach Difficult Family, Friends, And Neighbors
You’ll recognize that aunt who turns every family meal into an altercation. She smiles sweetly at everyone, and then says horrible things once they’re out of earshot. This “family treasure” wears judgement like a badge of honor.
Or the brother whose life is a constant mess and keeps asking you, and your parents, for money. When you finally stand your ground, he explodes, blaming everyone for his problems. He feels entitled to help “because he’s family,” but doesn’t care one iota that you have obligations to your husband/wife/partner/kids or bills, or that your parents are depleting their retirement savings to bail him out yet again. Because, he should always come first, right?
How about that so-called “friend” who, when you mention your recent promotion, dismisses or downplays your news, and changes the subject back to her. The “BFF” who won’t take responsibility for her feelings of insecurity and low self-worth, so she lashes out by making snide comments about your weight, or by revealing something you told her in confidence to make you look bad. She sees you as a competitor in life, not as a lifelong friend.
Or the next door neighbor who is always trying to one-up you; every compliment a backhanded insult, and her default set permanently to passive aggressive. She makes sure you know her car is more expensive, her house is bigger, her husband more handsome, and her kids are in a better school. She pretends to be nice to you, but well and truly hates your guts.
Unfortunately, we can’t put in headphones at the dinner table, or ask to be teleported into another family. We also can’t always afford to move away from every nasty neighbor, so these scenarios are a little trickier than with your insensitive clod of a co-worker.
If escape is not an immediate option, you can take the following steps to protect yourself from the low EQ family, friends and neighbors in your life.
Don’t engage. When it comes to family, or neighbors, while you can’t completely ignore them, you can certainly disengage. They can only continue their hurtful behavior if they’re getting a response. If you act disinterested, or stop responding, they will realize they’re having a conversation with themselves and go where they’re sure to get a reaction. People with low EQ are selfish, so if the conversation no longer revolves around them, and they are no longer getting the attention they crave, they will disappear and get it elsewhere.
Talk it out, act on it. Alternatively, when you can’t run, or the stakes are too high, it may be best to stand your ground and talk it out. This is especially the case in close family situations where it’s a parent or sibling who is being hurtful. Point out when they are overstepping your boundaries, how they make you feel, and what you will do if they continue this behavior. Then follow through every time the behavior rears its ugly head. People with low EQ don’t tend to have great listening skills, so sometimes the best way to get through to them, and protect yourself, is by establishing firm consequences for bad behavior.
Cut ties. While this isn’t easy when it comes to family, sometimes, for the sake of your mental wellbeing and self-preservation, you need to take this final step. Blood may be thicker than water, but people have limits. If you’ve tried it all, and there is no change, you may have to cut that family member out of your life.
When it comes to neighbors and friends, there is no reason to hang in there. Ditch people who impact your life negatively, are constantly hurtful, or toxic. Having a friend is a privilege, not a right, and if that person can’t treat you well, and isn’t willing to take responsibility for their behavior and emotions, then move on and surround yourself with people who genuinely care for, and respect you.
Neighbors may live next door, but you don’t have to have anything more than a “hi-bye” relationship with them. So long as they aren’t setting fire to your lawn, you can keep the contact to a bare minimum.
So there you have it. When confronted with an emotionally unintelligent person, you have a number of options. Depending on who it is and what your relationships is with them, the course of action you take will vary. Just remember that nobody, regardless of whether they are family or a friend, has the right to make you feel bad. The occasional slip-up is almost inevitable, but if it becomes the norm, you have to take action.