That’s Men: Emotional intelligence not the preserve of one sex

It’s wrong to assume men are some sort of inferior robotic beings who lack empathy, says Padraig O’Morain

 

One recent Saturday morning on my way out of the kitchen with a cup of tea for my wife, I heard a woman remark on the radio that men were not known for their emotional intelligence. She stated this as a fact.

When the interviewer demurred, she allowed that men could, over time, be trained into being as emotionally intelligent as women. But without training they were, she implied, lost souls.

My wife, like most other normal human beings, prefers her tea not to be cold first thing in the morning so I abandoned the interview. What does that say about my emotional intelligence? I don’t know.

The radio item stayed with me, though, because the idea that men are somehow less emotionally literate than women is fairly commonplace. But this was the first time that I heard it expressed in terms that almost suggested that men are some sort of inferior, robotic beings.

I think we will all get along a lot better if we can simply acknowledge that the genders display emotional intelligence differently.

My father’s generation

But to say he was not emotionally intelligent would be ridiculous. Every day, for the 35 years of their marriage, at dinner time he would move my mother’s chair from beside the fire to her place at the table. A small thing, you might say, but small actions say a lot. She was perfectly well able to move the chair herself; but as far as he was concerned she shouldn’t have to.

Another example: Although he was a shy man, he stood up to the local, prestigious hunt and refused to allow them to pass through our land to hunt foxes because he had an empathy with the terror of animals and did not want to see them pursued on his land for sport.

Daniel Goleman, who literally wrote the book on emotional intelligence, suggests that women are better at some kinds of empathy: for example, they are better at staying with another person’s distress and providing emotional support in that way. Men also spot the distress – and empathy is about the ability to understand and appreciate what another person is feeling – but we turn quickly to trying to find a solution for the problem that has been causing the distress.

These are two different uses of emotional intelligence, and each has its place and its value. Goleman, in an article in Psychology Today, refers to research suggesting that among the top 10 per cent of leaders, men and women are equal in how they use empathy and emotional intelligence.

We can’t all be in the top 10 per cent, of course, but this all suggests to me that blanket statements implying or even stating that men are somehow emotionally inferior to women are just plain wrong.

Some women in business can be just as bloody-minded as some men. There is no shortage of female bullies in the workplace. Women join armies and kill other people. Women engage in domestic violence. Women strap on explosives and walk into crowded public places and blow innocent people to bits.

I suspect that what we really need is mutual understanding of differences. Women, in staying with and discussing emotions, are acting out of their own cultural and psychological make-up and not just “going on” about it. Men, in spotting another person’s distress and then immediately trying to figure out what to do about it, other than talking about it, are also acting out of our own cultural and psychological make-up: we are not being cold.

And putting these different tendencies together, either between men and women, between men and men, or between women and women (because you will find these differences within as well as between genders) can make for a powerful and valuable combination. Daniel Goleman’s article is at bit.ly/timesei pomorain@yahoo.com Padraig O’Morain is a counsellor accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His latest book is Mindfulness on the Go. His mindfulness newsletter is free by email.

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