Don’t Eat Those Carrots! Emotional Intelligence and Ethics

boy eating carrots“You can eat anything but those carrots—don’t eat those carrots!”  Long ago, I attempted this sort of “reverse psychology” on a rather obstinate two-year old, trying to get her to eat more nutritiously.  I can’t even remember if it worked!  More recently, I came across an article that described ten “tricks” for using “psychology” to win friends and influence people, and I was reminded of those reverse psychology tricks.

But this article was for adults and provided tips such as smiling and making eye contact with someone as you talk, or asking a favor of someone to get closer to them.  Now, I’m not saying it’s wrong to smile at that grumpy clerk—you may help bring up his mood, and he may be more helpful to you if you pay some sincere attention to him.  And I’m not saying that you shouldn’t ask a neighbor to lend a hand in getting your car out of a ditch—or to help you out with that proverbial cup of sugar.  People often do respond well to a smile, and they may indeed feel like a trusted friend when you ask for a favor.

But how far can we take these “tricks” even if we call them “techniques” or “skills”?  What are the ethics here?

In enhancing Emotional Intelligence, we teach people to become more aware of others—through their voice tone, body language, and other non-verbal communication as well as what they actually say.  Employing various techniques for improving interpersonal relationships is also an area of emphasis—giving people credit for a job well done for example, or showing concern for their needs.  A number of skills can be learned and successfully put into practice for building satisfying relationships, teams, and organizations.

But where is the line between using techniques for mutual good and manipulating others for personal gain?  History has many lessons to teach us about leaders who have employed manipulative skills to gain the trust and loyalty of others—often to the detriment of those others.  If you are a keen reader of others’ emotions, if you are skilled in gaining the trust of others, if you can easily influence others to be on “your side” in a given situation, what are your responsibilities as an emotionally intelligent being?

We are no longer talking about getting a two-year old to eat carrots.  Rather, we are talking about adults who are working in offices, hospitals, government, law enforcement, education, social services, churches and temples and mosques, prisons—and in a myriad of places in which people interact with other people—in the home, in the workplace, in the community, and in the world community as well.  What are the guidelines for using  any number of “techniques” based on our knowledge of how people think and how they behave?

Dr. Paul Ekman, named one of the most influential psychologists of the 20th century (see his website:  paulekman.com), provides some guidance for behaving ethically when armed with the powerful insights of psychology.  These principles seem to me to be enormously important as we go forth to assess emotional intelligence and then teach people how to enhance their skills.  Ekman suggests four straightforward concepts for behaving with emotional intelligence and doing so in an ethical manner:

  1. Become more consciously aware of when you are becoming emotional, even before you speak or act
  2. Choose how you behave when you are emotional so you achieve your goals without damaging other people
  3. Become more sensitive to how others are feeling
  4. Carefully use the information you acquire about how others are feeling

These principles can guide us as we work to develop our emotional intelligence skills and provide training to others.  They imply a basic respect for other people and for their feelings.  Wouldn’t the world be better if we kept these principles in mind?

I’d love to hear what you have to say on this topic. Please comment below or shoot me an email (kerr@bainbridge.net).