There’s a joke circling the Internet right now about a priest, a drunk and an engineer who are facing the guillotine. Each one is asked in turn how he wants to die, face up or face down. The priest is first, and he says “face up” so he can be looking at heaven. Down comes the blade, there’s a hitch and it stops 6″ from his neck. Considering it divine intervention, they free him.
Same thing happens with the drunk, who decides to go with a winner and choose what the priest chose. Six inches from his neck it stops, and he’s allowed to go free as well.
Then it’s the engineer’s turn. He’s smart enough to go with a winning strategy as well. As he lies there watching the blade descend, he gets an “ah hah” moment. “I think I know what’s wrong with it,” he cries out in delight. “The cable’s binding right here…”
This joke happens to be a classic illustration of the kind of self-sabotaging we do when we have high IQ, but low EQ (emotional intelligence). EQ, you see, isn’t just about emotions, it’s the interface between emotions and thinking. It’s the kind of skills we have that allow us to make good decisions, have good relationships, and succeed. It may well matter more in life than IQ, as this joke points out so graphically. Here is this brilliant engineer, used to problem-solving mechanical things, who proceeds to use his intellect without really thinking, and gets himself killed … you know, shoots himself in the foot.
Self-sabotage is what we do when we aren’t able to manage the emotions around a situation, or don’t stop and think about the possible consequences of our actions (and actions include words). Like the person who gets reprimanded by the boss and forgets himself and takes a punch.
Who else sabotages themselves?
· The employee who gets lulled around the water cooler at the job and forgets that self-deprecating remarks can and will be used against her.
· The salesman who has the order in his pocket, but can’t quit talking, and proceeds to grab defeat from the jaws of victory.
· The man who’s so nervous on the job interview he giggles, babbles, and spills his coffee all over the interviewer’s desk.
· The impulsive married man who is sexually attracted to someone at work and has an affair with them, and then, to make himself feel better, confesses to his spouse and boss.
· The athlete who lets his temper get the best of him on the court.
· The manager who has the knack of intimidating the employee who needs sensitivity, and placating the employee who needs firmness.
· The student who learns all the material and then clutches when it’s exam time.
· The individual who lets setbacks, rejections and losses send them into a downward spiral of negativity, depression and pessimism.
· The actress who gets stage fright and freezes in fear in front of an audience.
· The worker who sets goals but is too scattered, emotional, and disorganized to carry them out.
· The coach who misreads his athletes, expects too much or too little of them, and tries to motivate by intellect or intimidation alone
Success in all the important things in life requires a high degree of emotional intelligence. The person who knows how to get along, can plan ahead, manage their emotions and those of others, generate options, act with intent, maintain the appropriate degree of sensitivity to their environment, and remain optimistic enough to persevere, will always have the edge. Whether it’s leadership, a better marriage, a promotion, or respect you’re after, the key can be developing your EQ.
The good news is that it can be learned. Just as you continually increase your expertise and academic learning, you can work with a coach or mentor who can explain the competencies to you, help you gain the necessary self-awareness, and give you exercises and feedback. Many people I’ve coached in EQ call it “the missing piece.” However, it’s not something you can just read about. It’s not like memorizing the chemical elements, or listening to a beautiful piece of music and appreciating it, or taking notes at a one-day seminar. It requires identifying the skills, understanding what they look like in use, and then practicing them in real-life situations, with constructive feedback, and practice.
Becoming mindful, and have many choices in your mental, physical, mental and behavioral repertoire will give you the edge. If you find you often turn left when you should’ve turned right, or feel or have been called “clueless,” or you seem stuck and are unable to move forward, why not give it a try? It’s a lot better to be a self-enhancer than a self-saboteur.