When Your Boss Lacks Emotional Intelligence


Liz Ryan, Contributor

June 26, 2015

Dear Liz,

Your ears may have been burning today! I went to an Emotional Intelligence workshop at my job and I was composing this letter to you in my mind during the workshop. They taught us all about Emotional Intelligence and how it is defined, and why it is so important at work.

We talked about the issues that crop up at work when people don’t have the emotional intelligence their jobs require, and we talked about how to grow your emotional intelligence. I wanted to ask a question about my boss “Jerry” all day but I didn’t feel comfortable, since half of us in the workshop report to Jerry.

Jerry is a smart guy but he has no emotional intelligence. He didn’t come to the workshop. I’m sure he figured that he’s a manager and he doesn’t need to learn anything about Emotional Intelligence. We had a Q  and A session at the end of the workshop but no one asked a question about Jerry or any of our bosses in the company.

I can see why they didn’t. This is not the kind of workplace where people speak up about difficult managers.

It was a useful workshop in many ways but I still have to deal with Jerry every day. That’s why I’m writing to you now.

Here’s what Jerry does: he barks at people. He doesn’t listen when you talk to him. He literally doesn’t think for one second before he speaks. He just grumbles and tells us things like “Get it done today!” He doesn’t ask what we think or pay attention to our feelings at all.

Jerry has made my pretty good job almost unbearable because he is such a lousy boss.

What can I do about Jerry, now that I know what his problem is (lack of Emotional Intelligence)?

Thanks in advance for your help,


Dear Michael,

I am flattered that you thought about me as you composed your letter to me in your mind, but I’m also horrified that the workshop itself didn’t give you the answers you need to deal with your day-to-day reality.

That’s the problem with so many business workshops: they teach definitions and theories. What good are those things without practical how-to advice?

Emotional Intelligence is not a real thing like an acorn or a cheese pizza. It’s a construct that someone made up. Now we are besieged with articles and workshops that tell us what Emotional Intelligence is and why it’s  important. Who cares about that, unless we can use the theory and the definitions to make our workplaces more open and more human?

We need to know what to do when we run into bosses like Jerry. What good does it to do you and your colleagues to sit in a room learning about Emotional Intelligence without speaking up about the elephant named Jerry, sitting in the room with you?

You guys were afraid to name the Jerry elephant in a big group setting, and that is the problem your workshop couldn’t solve. What is the point of a workshop that leaves elephants unnamed? How useful is a workshop about difficult relationships when a workshop attendee composes messages to me in his mind rather than broaching his sticky topic then and there?

The problem is that in the business world, we teach human topics like they’re species of bugs and fossils. We love to categorize and define things. We think that naming things and building constructs and theories around them is the bee’s knees.

That’s the equivalent of killing a butterfly and sticking a pin through its belly and saying “Now I understand the butterfly.”

Can a person who teaches a workshop on Emotional Intelligence speak their truth when it’s hard to speak up and might be economically disadvantageous to do so? That’s the question. I want you to grow muscles, not study human behavior in the abstract and delude yourself that you learned something useful.

Human interactions are alive. They are gooey and messy. I try to dispense dry matches to people who are wet and cold in the woods in their pup tents. That seems like a worthwhile endeavor to me. I believe in practical solutions to real issues that arise between people.

I don’t like to teach definitions and constructs and leave people wet and uncomfortable in the rainy forest. That’s my problem with the scholarly approach to Organizational Behavior and Organizational Development. I prefer to build real tools for the real situations that people confront every day — people like you and your teammates who must deal with Jerry.

Here’s what you’ll do about Jerry. You’ll stop taking his remarks personally. Jerry doesn’t hear how his words land on other people.

It doesn’t do you any good to let your feelings get bruised by Jerry’s callous remarks.

It doesn’t do you any good to define Jerry or put a box around him, including the box called “Jerry lacks Emotional Intelligence,” either. The last thing you want to do with Jerry is to ‘figure him out.’ Understanding, as many wise people have said, is the booby prize. Your ‘understanding’ of Jerry is useless unless it gives you clues and insight for working with him.

You will pay attention to Jerry in order to begin to align with him, at least for as long as you stay in his department.

If you want to launch a job search now, you could be done with Jerry by Labor Day, but if you want to stick around and learn how to deal with the Jerrys of the world, you can do that instead. You can look at Jerry’s pain points and your influence in alleviating Jerry’s pain.

What is Jerry most concerned about? What keeps him up at night? How is he evaluated by his manager?

How can you time and strategize your interactions with Jerry to synch up with him and his fears, rather than go toe-to-toe with him or suffer in silence?

It is tough to teach a manager how to be human as a member of his team. It is thankless, and there is no reason for you to undertake that project. You are on your own path! Jerry is on his.

It is easier to first consider and then answer the question “What do I want from his job?” and then make a plan to get that thing that you want — the reason you are in your job in the first place.

Maybe it’s spicy resume fodder, contacts or greater confidence. Whatever your goal in your current job is, you need to be focused on it! Don’t let Jerry and other barking dogs distract you.

You have to know what you are there in your job to acquire, just as a video gamer knows what he or she must find or unlock at each level in the game.

How will you succeed at this stage on your path (or this level of your game)? You’ll do it not by fighting with Jerry or frustrating yourself to pieces, but by looking at the system of which you and Jerry are both a part, and seeing your path from Point A (today) to Point B (mastery in your assignment — and readiness to move to the next one).

Jerry is not significant to you except as a person you happened to run into on your path. He is like a brick wall or a beaver dam in a stream you want to follow. Will you tunnel under his frostiness, work around his crustiness or sail over his obstreperousness? The muscles you are growing now are the very  muscles you are meant to learn this year.

Nothing happens by accident.

If Jerry lacks Emotional Intelligence, is Capricorn or wears a red tie on Thursdays, you and your path are still your single focus.

The muscles you grow learning to work with and for Jerry will serve you forever, unlike the facts about Emotional Intelligence you learned in your workshop today and will have forgotten a week from now.

All the best,


This article was written by Liz Ryan from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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