EQ Tactics from Six Books

I’ve recently been seeking to develop my EQ, communication skills, and social influence skill by reading six books. This article aggregates my main notes from those books, with a focus on specific applied tactics and actions learned. I read all of these books as audiobooks through Audible.

  1. Radical Candor: Fully Revised & Updated Edition, Kim Scott, 2019
    1. Rated 4.5/5. The book contains three groups of tactics:
      1. Be radically candid. This has a somewhat complicated meaning but it is a well-defined tactic, or perhaps a series of tactics.
        1. Radical candor means being direct, transparent, honest, and caring. Being caring here means to use empathy to try to understand the other person, desire a positive outcome for them, and to craft language in a way that is still honest but is tailored to respect and empathize with them.
        2. Radical candor provides a four-quadrant framework for classifying behaviors, and gives tactics around how to move from one quadrant to another, with radical candor being the name of the ideal behavior quadrant.
        3. Example tactics with respect to other quadrants include:
          1. If you are being ruinously empathetic, increase your willingness to challenge directly to obtain radical candor.
          2. If you are being obnoxiously aggressive, increase your level of care for the other person to arrive at radical candor. Learning more about the other person and more heavily valuing their success relative to your own are two approaches to improving your level of care for them.
          3. If you are in the manipulatively insincere quadrant you should be both more direct and also more caring.
        4. I appreciated that all quadrants were clearly ranked for business value. Radical candor is best, but it’s better for business success and personal success to be obnoxiously aggressive rather than ruinously empathetic. In some ways even manipulative insincerity is better than ruinous empathy. This is because manipulative insincerity is an effective survival tool in a toxic culture, although it tends to continue propagation of that culture.
      2. Tactics on how to introduce radical candor across a team to create a culture of radical candor.
        1. I appreciated the blunt advice to the effect that if a team is resisting radical candor and insisting on a toxic work environment, the solution is to leave the company.
      3. Tactics around effective performance review and providing feedback.
  2. Emotional Intelligence 2.0, Bradberry and Greaves, 2010
    1. Rated 3/5. General tactic is to embrace your emotions, notice them quickly, then adapt behavior to your environment to maximize individual and social success. While the intent of this book is a bullseye for my desired area of EQ training, it falls short of effectiveness in many ways.
    2. It was nice that this book didn’t advocate for silencing classic emotions like anger. Instead, it suggested that they have a proper place and time.
    3. The book stood out to me because it comes with an EQ test which will actually measure change before and after practicing the book’s recommendations.
    4. It also provides specific training recommendations across four skill groups. I have yet to take the posttest, but I unfortunately have some technical concerns with their approach to measuring EQ:
      1. They use a linear scale of 1-100 instead of the usual IQ-like approach going up to 160, with 100 being average and following a normal curve outward. This mathematically different treatment means we can’t commute most numeric claims between the book and the academic literature. Fortunately, most of the directional claims still stand.
      2. I’ve previously taken several EQ assessments including one at the link above, and I generally ranked above average, but in the EQ 2.0 assessment I ranked below average.It’s possible the assessment is accurate, but that would ironically mean that my EQ has declined as a result of recent reading and training. It’s a red flag in my book because the difference is directional, not just quantitative.
      3. In fact I just re-took another one to check the theory of whether my EQ has declined, but it indicated my EQ had improved slightly. I’m not very confident my EQ has changed at all, but an increase seems more plausible than a decrease, in particular if I am to accept recent compliments given to me by my current manager.
      4. The EQ test itself is constructed differently than IQ tests and other EQ tests. It uses a scale of 1-5 which is more like a personality test, although the book attempts to differentiate EQ and personality. The scales are highly concerning because:
        1. The extremes are implausibly labeled “always” and “never,” where the questions are such that virtually no one should ever pick them in order to be factually correct.
        2. People tend to choose extremes on such scales. That is, the test is constructed in a way that statistically would tend to cause people to give untrue answers.
        3. Using scales opens the test to gaming by choosing extreme answers. A more common approach is to provide qualitative, sentence answers and have the the test taker select among them. IQ tests also do not use scales, but work off of pattern recognition.
    5. Another general problem in the book seems to be this assumption that all people are necessary emotional, and they are equally emotional. As a result, someone who considers themself rather unemotional is simply emotionally unintelligent and lacks self-awareness. Unfortunately, this is factually incorrect:
      1. Some people genuinely do not feel emotions, or feel them very weakly. It doesn’t follow that they don’t know the emotional state of other people.
      2. Emotions can be consciously or unconsciously up-regulated and down-regulated. Empathizers can experience emotions stronger or weaker than the original target of empathy.
      3. A common tactic of manipulative insincerity is to fake emotion or empathy, or to claim the lack of sufficient empathy when there is none. This tactic doesn’t seem effective in a world where everyone feels similar emotion with only varying awareness.
      4. Being able to up-regulate or down-regulate can be a skill, and choosing to down-regulate emotion can benefit productivity. In software, while trying to write code, being emotional is essentially a distraction. Choosing to down-regulate emotion frees mental bandwidth for considering logic operations which can be translated into code. Down-regulation here is a skill, and the choice to leverage down-regulation should be considered an act of high EQ, not a lack thereof. Considering down-regulation a lack of EQ essentially conflates skillful emotional regulation with a general lack of EQ.
    1. Here are some specific tactics I found helpful in the book:
      1. 2 Emotional awareness tactics
        1. Watch yourself like a hawk. Literally picture yourself as a third party watching down on yourself. This thinking may cause you to think more objectively about the situation.
        2. If you find yourself relating to music in a new or different way, pause and think about why. Sometimes connecting to music is a result of mood or emotion, so you may be able to uncover your mood or emotion by thinking about that.
      2. 3 Self-management tactics
        1. Make goals public. It boosts accountability when you make your goals public, and it may work as a forcing function to make you re-think your goals into more realistic, specific, and better goals.
        2. Sleep on it. If you are faced with a difficult situation, don’t feel rushed or forced to respond immediately. Take some time, and perhaps even a whole night and day, to think about it.
        3. Smile and laugh more. This simple activity will make others feel at ease and it also has a way of improving your own mood.
  3. Get out of Your Own Way: Overcoming Self-Defeating Behavior, Goulston and Goldberg, 2018
    1. Rated 3/5. 40 chapters with a so-called usable insight in every chapter, but I would say only about half of them are actually usable, and many of them are only useable in some situations. At the end, there is real concrete value here, but you may have to sift.
    2. Some example techniques include:
      1. Be prepared to explain anything even moderately complex in a few ways. If someone has trouble understanding what you say or how you feel, it’s extremely powerful to explain by analogy, particularly if you can use an analogy from their own life.
      2. Assume people want something in return. We see this all the time in the corporate world, and it affects developers too. I think this is a low view of people so I admit I have neglected it. I tend to assume people want to do the right thing, but assuming they want something in return may be more often correct and it would at least prepare oneself for worse potential outcomes.
      3. Don’t refuse to play the game (within reason…Like don’t murder people or anything). This relates to point 2 above, and it’s something which I admittedly have done from time to time. Concrete examples of playing the game include:
        1. Tit for tat on pull requests. If someone goes easy on you they are expecting you go easy on them. If they goes easy on you and you shred their code with change requests, even if you are diplomatic about it, they may feel irritated or betrayed. The trick here is to use your judgement. If they are introducing an annoying but safe pattern, maybe you should let it slide. If they are introducing a technical bug, that’s not the time to let it slide.
        2. Go heavy on the compliments. This is an example of playing the social game and it’s a tip in common with virtually every book on this list. Do make sure the compliments are authentic. Don’t tell someone their idea was great when you didn’t really hear or understand it.
        3. Aligning work to your performance review process. I like to do what’s best for the customer and the business, and this often results in doing things that aren’t well valued according to technical performance review standards at various companies. Part of playing the game is balancing between doing real work and doing work that will look good at performance review time.h
  4. How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie, 2004
    1. Rated 4/5. The book contains tried-and-true, if simplistic, advice.
    1. The central tactic is to never insult anyone and to use compliments to motivate and influence. The book recommends winning arguments by never having them. The book is perfectly concordant with the old adage that if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.
    2. I agree this will absolutely win friends and influence people in some sense, but it also contrasts with the literature indicating disagreeableness for success and innovation.
    3. In general, I still appreciate the tactic, although I don’t expect to always use it. I think his tactics are a great way to graciously end a disagreeable social interaction.
    4. More specifically, if I find someone who is being emotionally or intellectually weak, stubborn, or unreasonable, I plan to leverage Carnegie’s advice, but if I encounter someone who maturely tolerates, or even seeks disagreement, revision, feedback, refinement, and so on, has a bit of thick skin, and is more concerned with finding the truth than with receiving compliments, I think Carnegie’s polite methods are a mutually damaging opportunity cost, a sloth for progress, insincere, and socially expensive. Admittedly the latter kind of person seems to be exceedingly rare.
  5. How to Analyze People: Analyze and Influence Anyone, Eric Skinner, 2019
    1. Rated 3.9/5. This book contains numerous, concrete examples of ticks and tricks that people commit consciously or unconsciously through body language and actual language. The book proceeds to indicate potential motivations or hidden meaning in various cases. This is hugely valuable, but the author appears to be a non-native English speaker and the writing simply doesn’t flow well in many places.
      1. Physical or lingual mirroring is an activity that occurs when someone wants to build rapport. You can use mirror testing to check whether another individual is interested in building rapport with you. One way to test this while sitting at a desk would be to put your elbows on the table, continue conversation as normal, and see whether the other party also puts their elbows on the table over the next 10 seconds or so.
      2. Feet pointing in some direction indicate focus or desire to go some place. If they are pointed at you, you have their sincere attention. If they are pointed at the door, they may want to leave. If they are pointed at another party during a multiparty conversation, they are primarily interested in the other person.
      3. Some tells are obvious and well known. A clenched jaw or fidgeting may indicate stress. Heightened eyebrows indicate surprise.
      4. One of my favorite tips is to tell an innocuous joke. Nothing objectionable. Then observe the response. Receptiveness to humor is considered a prerequisite to the desire for a social relationship.
      5. Modulating directness according to how it’s received is important. There’s a good tactic in the book. The reason modulation is important is because direct action is high-productivity, but can irritate, while indirect action is the reciprocal, so neither strictly wins. One technique to reduce irritation from directness is to simply talk slower. Here are some other examples of indirect action, which can also be considered directness-reducing tactics:
        1. Careful word choice. For example, using bias-free, gender-neutral, or otherwise politically correct speech.
        2. Talking around a subject. This can be used to bait a listener into bringing up the subject of interest.
        3. Asking a question, then filtering on answers for a pre-selected answer. This can make the listener feel like it was their idea, increasing buy-in and reducing irritation.
  6. The Manager’s Path, Fournier, 2019
    1. Rated 4.3/5. The first few chapters were rather devoid of value in my opinion, much like an extended introduction that kept implying the later part of the book would be useful. It turned out to be true! In chapters 4-5+ this book really begins shining, although it doesn’t end up contributing to emotional intelligence in my view.
    2. The book adds to a programming and technology-focused sub-literature of the business management literature, seeming to follow after Radical Candor. This book does a great job of laying out specific technology roles in great detail, and beautifully articulates how to manage a very awkward transition from software developer to tech lead to engineering manager to senior manager plus through the executive level. I’m personally someone who eventually intends to be Director level or above in tech, so this was an extremely good referral from my manager to me.


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