“People skills” are almost always assumed to be a good thing. Search employment ads and you will find them listed as a qualification for a startling array of jobs, including Applebee’s host, weight-loss specialist, CEO, shoe salesperson, and (no joke) animal-care coordinator. The notion that people smarts might help you succeed got a boost a quarter century ago, when the phrase emotional intelligence, or EI, entered the mainstream. Coined in a 1990 study , the term was popularized by Daniel Goleman’s 1995 book . Since then, scores of researchers have shown how being in touch with feelings—both your own and other people’s—gives you an edge: compared with people who have average EI, those with high EI do better at work , have fewer health problems , and report greater life satisfaction .
There’s a catch, though: other researchers have recently examined what they call “the dark side” of EI, and their findings suggest an unnerving link between understanding people and using them. Last year, a group of Austrian psychologists reported a correlation between EI and narcissism, raising the possibility that narcissists with high EI might use their “charming, interesting, and even seductive” qualities for “malicious purposes,” such as deceiving others . Similarly, a 2014 study linked “narcissistic exploitativeness” with “emotion recognition”—those who were prone to manipulating others were better at reading them .