Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify, understand, and constructively manage emotions.
The positive results emotional intelligence can bring to our relationships are a sense of connection, mutual understanding, solutions to problems, reduced rows, and more empathy, benevolence and forgiveness. Emotional intelligence is also a great asset to possess in any job that involves communicating to people, presenting ideas, and influencing decision-making.
No wonder some of the most famous world leaders have been masters in emotionally intelligent communication – it ensured that people would choose to trust them and aspire to them because they somehow got to the collective heart of the crowd. By choosing the right words. The right heart-breaking words.
There is something so homey and, on the other hand, unearthly in a person who knows how to speak to the soul instead of the mind. There is this feeling of connection and being in sync with them. The way emotionally intelligent people reach out to us always confident, candid, powerful, convincing, igniting. Or at least it feels so.
Emotionally intelligent speakers skillfully immerse the audience into the thick and mighty climate of their deepest sentiments – passion, desire, the strive for self-actualization and respect, the drive to achieve, the need to love and cry, the dream to be seen, and found and understood. When these emotions come into play, the audience is usually much less likely to scrutinize the message and actually remember only small bits of the content while being convinced that they remember almost everything.
It is exactly that warped sense of awe that makes the listener vulnerable to the dark side of emotional intelligence that is used to manipulate people, to brainwash, to disguise the truth and offer other “truths” instead – smartly infused with the intoxicating juice of powerful emotions.
Sadness – to melt the heart. Passion – to set it on fire. Humility – to get the message across. Pain – to attract attention. Ridicule – to demonize an opponent. Hate – to release the anger. Flattery – to appeal to the ego. And so on. In the hands of an adept and charismatic manipulator, emotional savviness is a very dangerous weapon for achieving personal gain.
The historian Roger Moorhouse describes not someone else but Adolf Hitler as “an absolutely spellbinding public speaker”. He was a master of touching the souls of his listeners and making them embrace his ideas as their own. Some authors call this the awestruck effect, which can actually be also referred to as the dumbstruck effect. When the right words touch your heart, you are likely to follow through what is asked of you (even if it’s an indirect demand), thinking that you want to do it voluntarily as a natural result from the feelings you experience.
In his book The Prince Machiavelli described the evil side of being a charismatic influencer and a shrewd connoisseur of the human soul. The gift to see into human nature can be the perfect tool for fraud, manipulation and duplicity. Today a Machiavellian is called someone who is egocentric and dishonest – but also fascinating, educated, cunning, and seemingly appropriate. In order to manipulate others one needs to first gain their trust and then use it to their own advantage and often to detriment of others.
The aim of Machiavellianism is to ensure its practitioner acquires power, benefits, or some special access. For getting those perks successfully, Machiavelli advised his followers to always be confident to the point of cockiness, convinced to the point of self-righteousness, self-assertive to the point of violence, and manly to the point of brutality.
Nevertheless, these features must be combined with an aura of being candid and open, transparent and real – which simultaneously attracts people and establishes a sense of superiority, in favor of the manipulator. When arrogance is combined with the ability to create a climate of emotional openness and vulnerability, people feel seduced by the seeming truthfulness of the machiavellian but also filled with respect for and fear of their power and confidence.
When awe and anxiety combine in our perception of someone, we are very likely to obediently introject their statements and leave our own opinions aside. Firstly, we feel they understand us and see our unspoken wishes and hidden peculiarities – which misleads us to believe they have taken the time and consideration to observe us, to get to know us, to nail us, to offer something specifically crafted for us.
Secondly, we fear we are less of – compared to that charismatic and resolute spin doctor we look up to with admiration and concern. So we listen and follow. Deep down we want to be part of that powerful aura of virility, candour, and might. We want to belong. And we don’t want to disappoint or clash cause we believe there is an imbalance in the resources we have and the resources the master manipulator appears to have.
That is why when whole societies and groups fell under the spell of a charismatic but often abusive leader, they absorbed the same tone of voice, adopted and practices the same values, and hated the same enemies. It is so very easy to make people introject huge amounts of concepts and act on them – when you know how to choose the right words and touch the soul of the listener.
That is how emotional intelligence can be actually used for destruction and manipulation, for vile brainwashing that pursues hazardous goals and needs assistance from the masses to achieve them.
So whenever you feel someone’s way of speaking is giving you shivers and you feel strangely connected and understood, be careful. Be careful and squint-eyed. Because, as the saying goes, sometimes glass glitters more than gold just because it has so much more to prove.