EI good – Impulsivity bad? Not always

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Most people will think that being emotionally intelligent is a good thing and being impulsive is not.

A study reported last year from Illinois State University found almost the opposite.

Impulsivity was linked to more  examples of organisational citizenship behaviour (OCB), discretionary acts that promote the organisation, across a range of industries. Impulsive colleagues are more likely to help out colleagues even at the expense of their own work assignments than more cautious diligent employees.

This reflected what the researchers called a “can do” attitude. In this study they didn’t find any evidence that impulsivity led to more deviant behaviours. Other studies have shown that impulsivity but also optimism and cognitive ability can predict deviant behaviours so recruiters beware!

A far as emotional intelligence (EI) is concerned they didn’t find it linked to OCBs but more linked to deviant behaviours. People with high EI can easily figure out how to influence others and get away with self-interested behaviour such as fiddling receipts (does this remind you of the dark side?).

Other recent research at the University of Leuven in Belgium found that self-serving leaders could still be effective even if they weren’t emotionally intelligent? (It was assume that the more narcissistic self-serving leaders would have lower levels of EI).

It seems it depends on the level of distributive justice (e.g. are employees getting what they deserve?)

When distributive justice was perceived as low, then self-serving leaders were seen in a negative light. But when these  leaders keep their staff happy e.g. by promotions and other rewards, the staff saw them in a more favourable light (perhaps unsurprisingly).

If anything this kind of research shows that we need to be careful not to make broad assumptions about the positive value of these personal attributes. Don’t forget narcissists and psychopaths can be charming (and manipulative).


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