There is a dark side to emotional intelligence; therefore, there are risks that once people know how to understand and influence the emotions of others and themselves, they will use these skills to manipulate others. This is particularly dangerous with dark triad individuals (dark triad refers to Machiavellianism, Narcissism and Psychopathy). These individuals are less likely to feel guilt or have a ‘guiding conscience’ so to speak (Hodson et al., 2018; Jakobwitz & Egan, 2006; Jones & Paulhus, 2017; Kashy & DePaulo, 1996; Muris et al., 2017; Paulhus, & Williams, 2002).
This may explain why some books on influence are banned from prison libraries, e.g., the book The 48 Laws of Power by Greene and Elffers.
Because one of the major elements of psychopathic neuroanatomy is a lack of truly experienced emotions, psychopaths frequently have to fake their emotional responses in order to comply and exist productively in society. This can give psychopaths a unique type of ability, as they can control and fake emotions very well. This demonstrates how emotional expression and emotion-based communication are so common and fundamental in our world (and relationships). These emotional competencies need to be simulated and constructed when they are not felt so that someone can operate successfully (if at all) in society.
Emotional intelligence can be used for criminal activity, and it often is. For example, emotional intelligence is one of the key skill sets needed and used frequently by con artists. The term con is short for confidence, someone who has confidence and the ability to connect and make people feel comfortable and safe… so much so, that people trust them more than they should. This creates an opportunity for the con/confidence artist to take advantage of others. Emotional intelligence is also used by gang and cult leaders to draw people in, persuade and establish a sense of community and loyalty.
Although psychopaths can fake emotions well, they can have a disadvantage when it comes to the self-awareness and self-understanding aspects of emotional intelligence. Some people have a limited ability to develop an understanding of themselves. Dark triad individuals usually have difficulty being self-aware, so their ability to develop great emotional intelligence in regard to themselves and their self-understanding would likely be less developed and less accurate than most people.
However, these points can apply to everyone. Anyone can use emotional intelligence to manipulate others to reach a personal goal, e.g., to be promoted or make a sale. Lines here are somewhat blurred because, in many ways, we all present an ideal version of ourselves. For example, we put our best self forward at a job interview. We put on a performance to make a good impression, this is called impression management and self-presentation.
It is also important to consider how our own biases and beliefs and even self-deception can influence our ability to be self-aware, understand ourselves and influence ourselves. Our biases, beliefs and self-deception can also impact our ability to understand or be truly aware of others.
It’s very easy to see what we want to see when reading others, or to come up with an idea of what we want the truth to be… or who we think someone is and then only seeing things that fit that idea. This is called confirmation bias and it can blind us from seeing the truth. These things significantly impact how effective we can be when trying to implement the skills and strategies that emotional intelligence can offer.
It can be hard to even notice, never mind breakdown, these biases, beliefs, and self-deceptions, however, it is possible. The first steps are through intentionally practicing and developing our emotional intelligence (our self-awareness, self-understanding, and self-influence) and then noticing what ideas, expectations, and thoughts come up when interacting with others i.e., what we are thinking about others. These are hints to help us see our biases and beliefs. Through noticing these, and then challenging them by actively seeking out information, people, and ideas that conflict with our biases, we can then start to breakdown our biases and condition ourselves to be more receptive to the whole truth… even if it makes us uncomfortable, or it’s something that we don’t necessarily want to hear.