A good friend of mine who has been successful in both business and as a father and husband highly values what is commonly referred to as EQ or emotional quotient, which many experts agree is even more important for success than your IQ, or intelligence quotient.
I told him his conversations about EQ had inspired me to do a little research on the subject. One EQ website even offered a test to evaluate our capacity for empathy, getting along with people and resolving crisis which are all vital components of the EQ equation. I scored high. Results you will soon question given subsequent events.
My friend and I are very different people so my assumption was that he would also score differently. Score low, that is.
Not because he isn’t very smart (he is) or couldn’t manage legions of underlings (he had) but because an epic “sensitivity to others” was not a trait I, at first glance, would have associated with him. Being tough, definitive and insightful. Yes. But sensitive? No.
How wrong can a girl be?
“I’m not going to argue with you,” he said. “I could not have been as successful as I am without having a high EQ.”
What was I thinking? I saw my candor as a gateway to conversation when in fact it simply shattered any belief in the results of a test that had yielded an allegedly elevated EQ. For both of us.
The episode has provided interesting food for thought though. Being frank, unless you are a masterful diplomat, is very dangerous territory.
While working as a part of a duo on a radio talk show we were certain of the two issues that were always sure to ignite a firestorm on the air.
Religion and Politics.
Both required absolute candor from us because that is what we wanted in return from our audience. But I have found it best to avoid those subjects all together at the dinner table as at least one friendship ended after an intelligent political dialogue disintegrated into disparaging remarks the most common of which sounded something like, “I have worked in this area so I know what I am talking about.” Which translated into “and you do not.” A conversation ender, to put it mildly.
There is a difference between being insulting and simply being frank, the latter of which is under appreciated these days I think. We’re all so emotionally jumpy and defensive.
Once a hard to please friend of mine once remarked about how “easy” she was to get along with.
I did not respond.
“Don’t you agree? she pressed.
“You’re not easy, honey,” I said with a warm smile.
There was no follow-up.
Straightforwardness loses again.
Wouldn’t you have thought some clarification was called for? If the roles had been reversed and I had had enough time to steel myself against potential pain, I might have been curious about why she felt that way. Maybe when I heard the answer I might have tried to be better in the future.
We have all probably said at one time or another, “Hey, I know I’m not perfect, but….
The braver statement is “I know I am not perfect.” Full stop. Which opens the door to self evaluation and perhaps, personal improvement. I am fully aware that I have a big mouth that does not recognize that sometimes the well intentioned question suggests a pre-judgement, which on its face, can be demeaning or inflammatory .
Consider your effort to help slim down an ever increasing spouse. “Do you really think that cake is a healthy choice, darling ?” you might say. Your message may be truthful and your motivation, caring, but all the recipient gleans from it is, “She thinks I’m fat.”
Honesty can be harsh. It is not for the weak and is reserved only for those who have the courage to speak it and the confidence to hope the relationship can withstand it.
It’s risky in any circumstance. But in defense of openness or criticism, it is a rare that we ever learn anything revelatory from flattery.
My Mom comes from a generation that believed that answering a question directly was somehow rude.
In a changing room at any number of boutiques I would say, “Mom how do you like this dress?”
“It’s a lovely color,” she would answer. Or,
“It’s more a summer outfit, don’t you think?”
“Mommmm,” I would moan, “how do you like this dress on me????”
I would have appreciated a direct answer. It would have been more helpful and expeditious. But perhaps I wasn’t listening closely enough. Perhaps what is unsaid is more powerful than what you hear. Maybe she was just too polite to say “you look awful, okay?”
Being straightforward is a habit of a lifetime. It is part of my nature. And one I think has its merits. But one which we might all agree needs some diplomatic finesse. In other words: EQ learning- a work in progress.