In the 21st century, our icons of success are geeks. From Mark Zuckberberg to Bill Gates and Elon Musk, our popular conception of success is guilded in a cold, rational computer whiz. In academy award winning The Social Network, the most famous scene involves a sardonic Zuck in an almost autistic display of rudeness to power. A popular video of Bill Gates on youtube is of him jumping over a chair during an interview, and everyone knows by now that Elon Musk is secretly a James Bond villain.
It even invades popular culture. Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory, Sherlock and Star Trek’s Spock have become role models in their own right, precisely for their lack of social skills.
Before becoming an actor-entrepreneur, I was a Computer Science major at Brown Univeristy, an environment steeped in this glorification of the unemotional. Now as an improv teacher, most of my battle is working with people to embrace their emotions, and even scarier, to display their emotions. There are many misconceptions about the importance of emotions and emotional intelligence and here are 4 lies we tell ourselves about emotional intelligence.
Emotions are to be understood but not felt – I can talk through my emotions
Emotions are not meant to be rationalized or intellectualized. We must feel them. Dig deep and really accept them to make them melt away. Power is the flipside of anger. Anger is an ungrounded, uncontrolled state. Those that accept and utilize the anger are rewarded with power – the grounded equivalent. Likewise, to find our love we need to accept our fear and to find compassion we accept our sadness. This is the core of cathartic therapy that we use as part of the theater in the form of Bioenergetics.
2. Leader’s shouldn’t have emotions
The rise of political TV shows, including House of Cards and Game of Thrones have enshrined the image of a cold-ruthless leader who squashes his emotions in favor of power. However when we look at reality, this lie precisely cost Michael Dukakis an election to George Bush when he responded to a hypothetical question about the murder of his wife with a standard speech about the evils of the death penalty.
Compare this with Bill Clinton’s powerful use of emotion when confronted about his transgressions.
Dukakis lost to Bush. Clinton beat Bush.
3. EQ is about politeness - saying “please” and “thank you”
What do Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckberg and Jeff Bezos have in common besides billions of dollars and history-changing companies? Emotional intelligence. You see, EQ isn’t all about having social graces, and that’s where people get it wrong. We know Zuck is no prince charming, but he did beat the competition by understand people, coworkers and venture capitalists. Walter Isaacson’s biography on Jobs portrays anecdotes of Steve uncomfortably staring people down until they follow his vision. This isn’t autism: this is knowing how to motivate others.
If you’re going to take a risk and go all out for your dream, you need a handle on your emotions and others in order to get what you want. It doesn’t mean acting like the Queen of England, it means pushing for what you want without destroying yourself.
4. I’m a math guy – I can’t learn EQ.
EQ is natural. The first exercise I do in improv 101 is mirroring a partner (like in the classic Marx Brothers scene). Why? On the surface, it’s fun and easy and breaks the ice nicely. 5 minutes of eye contact bonds you with the partner and leaves you with one friend and good memory from the first class. But there’s a deeper level. Usually after observing people in the mirror exercise I know what they need from me. Some people need encouragement to take risks, some need to listen to their partner and a lot need to accept their sexual energy. But everyone can do the mirror exercise with a little encouragement. Everyone can make their partner laugh, smile and hug them after. It’s human nature. I studied math and computer science before turning the card table over and becoming an actor/teacher/coach in social skills. If I can learn EQ, so can you.