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Why Some People Just Plain Fail on Social Media Pt 2 of 4

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by Kenneth Rudich

Once unleashed, all three of the tweets in Part 1 went viral with social media agility and speed. They appeared under scorching headlines in the news media, and they became fodder for the blogosphere.  They also spurred an avalanche of reader comments, posts and tweets.  All in all, it was the type of reception one would rather want to avoid.

None too surprisingly, the PR executive issued a carefully crafted apology, while her employer gave her the axe.  The State Representative made several attempts to repair his indiscretion with “spin,” but the initial impression proved too indelible for those diversions to work.  As for the Tea Party leader who quickly removed the tweet with the meme, her retreat into silence made it unclear if she felt any regret.

To be fair, these three hardly stand alone as the only ones to ever commit a fail on social media. Far from being isolated instances or rare outliers, they are, if you take away the high degree of visibility, little different from the tenor and tone so often seen in social media today.  The once cherished notion of netiquette – etiquette on the Internet – touted in the early days of online sharing now seems to have taken on the dullish tinge of something less admired.


Not everyone, of course, is wired in this way.  A generous number of people lean in the other direction. For them, the give-and-get of respect is a part of their natural rhythm and flow. These folks tend to be characterized as having people skills, and their largely positive demeanor comes across well both in life and on social media. They have what Dr. Daniel Goleman refers to as emotional intelligence.

What is Emotional Intelligence?

According to Dr. Goleman, emotional intelligence (EI) is composed of five factors. They are:

1. Self-awareness – the ability to know one’s emotions, strengths, weaknesses, drives, values and goals and recognize their impact on others while using gut feelings to guide decisions.

2. Self-regulation – involves controlling or redirecting one’s disruptive emotions and impulses and adapting to changing circumstances.

3. Social skill – managing relationships to move people in the desired direction.

4. Empathy – considering other people’s feelings especially when making decisions.

5. Motivation – being driven to achieve for the sake of achievement.

Though the concept of emotional intelligence has drawn mixed reviews in the scientific community (particularly as it pertains to being measurable in a manner similar to the Intellect or I.Q.), it has been fleshed out well enough to be regarded as plausible, relevant and mass appeal worthy (hence, a New York Times Best Selling Book).

For our purposes, let’s focus on three aspects in particular.

The first aspect is the general notion of emotional intelligence.  As the five factors indicate, it’s anchored in being mindful about one’s own emotions and the emotions of others — accurately perceiving them and dealing effectively with the implications they wrought.  To that end, it orients an individual to keep and promote a balanced approach in everyday life, one that’s conducive to achieving a positive human experience and beneficial course of events, not only for oneself but for others as well.  Simply put, it strives to summon the best from the best you can be, starting from where you presently sit.

Inasmuch as humans have the undying quality of being human, individuals can range from having a low EI to a high EI.  The traits of an individual at the higher end of the scale might include: civility, empathy (not mushiness but due consideration of others feelings), compassion, respectfulness, intellectual honesty, candid but tactful, integrity, character, self-esteem, self-awareness (neither overly critical nor unrealistically hopeful), good humored, level-headed and the like.  As you might guess, people at the low end tend to exhibit the opposite of these.

The middle-ground between high and low represents the dynamic range of possibilities that can occur within the two extremes – which is to say, seldom will someone be definitively high or definitively low in emotional intelligence.  This relates back to having the presence of mind for being aware of one’s strengths and weaknesses.


The behavioral difference between these two extremes could be the difference between someone who impulsively blurts, “You’re an absolute buffoon for believing that!  That’s all I’ve got to say!” and someone else who calmly responds, “I hear what you’re saying but don’t agree.  Let me explain why,” during a discussion involving a difference of opinion.  Where one is likely to be seen as having “people skills,” the other is sadly lacking.

The second aspect of emotional intelligence for our purpose involves controlling or redirecting one’s disruptive emotions and impulses.  Higher EI people have the capacity to filter their emotions and impulses, isolate the good from the bad, and then either keep the bad at bay or smartly modify it to prevent unwanted fallout, like having constructive input taken wrong due to the way it was presented.  It’s motivated by a “ready, aim, fire” approach, as opposed to “ready, fire, aim.”

In addition, higher EI people also use the context of a circumstance to help determine what’s appropriate.  For instance, appropriate behavior on a NFL football field will radically differ from what’s appropriate as an attendee at a theater production (or, for that matter, as a fan at a football game).

Moreover, higher EI people are adept at navigating these differences even when they are subtle or obtuse, or clouded by excitement or emotion.  They simply have a greater level of attunement for observing social intricacies others may inadvertently overlook or choose to ignore.  Seldom do they give birth to counterproductive distractions (a form of losing focus) by misinterpreting the relationship between appropriateness and context.  Similarly, they possess a skill for bringing groups back into focus after it’s been disrupted.

The third aspect of EI merits mention because it provides an encouraging message about it: no one is absolutely locked into, or stuck with, the same level of emotional intelligence for life. Because it entails mindfulness, it’s something that can be worked on, developed and refined.  This fluid aspect affords every individual the opportunity to make a conscious choice for channeling energy into nurturing their own EI (which explains why Dr. Goleman’s book was placed in the self-help category).

What Does EI Look Like?

If I was asked to point out one shining example of emotional intelligence, it would be the grace shown by Nelson Mandela upon his release from prison after 27 years.

In the days that immediately followed his eventual passing, people round the world marveled over media reports about his resolve to refrain from pursuing a kneejerk revenge against the white minority that held him captive, and instead adopt the counterintuitive approach of seeking their input and collaboration for negotiating a new order that would favor the integration of blacks with whites.  He had set his sights on a higher purpose, and he had the emotional ballast to see it through.

If you think about this behavior in terms of the content we just covered, and the outcome he was able to produce, it comes as close to being an immaculate version of emotional intelligence as you can humanly have.  Just as noteworthy, he didn’t start out in his younger days with this level of emotional intelligence; rather, he used his time in prison to cultivate it.

On the other side of the coin, Steve Jobs, well-known leader of Apple until his death, managed to earn a reputation for routinely treating people with all the contempt he could muster.  This scenario illustrates something else important about the relationship between a person’s emotional intelligence and their intellect (I.Q.) – it’s possible to be EI deficient, yet still be very smart and/or have a high Intelligence Quotient (I.Q.).  There’s no contradiction here; intellect and emotional intelligence are different in purpose as it pertains to the human condition.

Though things worked out okay for Mr. Jobs, Dr. Goleman would likely say his performance success came despite his disposition, and that this scenario is probably the rare exception to what’s generally required for being a successful leader today.  As he states in a much cited article based on his study of workplace performance, “In short, the numbers are beginning to tell us a persuasive story about the link between a company’s success and the emotional intelligence of its leaders.”  (For more details see “What Makes A Leader” by Daniel Goleman, best of Harvard Business Review 1998.)

Coming Next

With these basics of emotional intelligence at hand, we’re ready to drill deeper into the intricate connection that exists between it and social media.  In part 3, we’ll discuss how emotional intelligence plays out in social media; why social media may well be a haven for those that are prone to fail with their tweets, posts and comments; and how to assess whether you or someone you know is at risk of falling for the temptation to fail.

Part 3



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