Most virtue is a demand for greater seduction. —Natalie Clifford Barney
As salacious as today’s topic may seem, I’m going to start with a story that comes from growing up in church. No, seduction and church don’t exactly sound like they should go together, but you might be surprised at the many ways in which churches are home to some of the most dangerously seductive people on the planet.
Growing up as a pastor’s son, we moved around Kansas and Oklahoma a fair bit. We also visited a lot of churches. When we would first move to a new church Poppa would often warn: “Beware the person who is the first to greet you because they’re most likely to do you the most harm.” His warning proved true every time. The people who would be on the welcoming committee, those who were first in line to offer their help in getting settled in or acquainted with the community had ulterior motives. They wanted us to do things their way and mistakenly thought that they might be able to wield some influence by posing as friends. When we would eventually move, the same ones that seemed most happy to see us arrive were the most delighted to see us leave.
That lesson carried forward into my adulthood and I found it often true in business as well. There is a seduction that takes place when a company is trying to hire someone new; they want their company to appear appealing, friendly, like it would be the perfect place for you to spend the rest of your life. You take the job, though, and discover those “friendly” people are manipulative, back-stabbing, and vindictive. After a while, one begins to look upon this friendly form of seduction with caution. Who do we trust? Who do we believe? Is anyone actually sincere?
Turns out, there’s actual science behind what we’ve been experiencing our whole lives. While that information doesn’t make me feel any better about people we’ve met in the past, especially some of those I experienced when we were children, it does, at least, explain their motivation and gives us all the more reason to be cautious in the future. Friendly seduction is everywhere and is even cultivated by many business seminars. We have good reason to be careful. The question is, are you one of those dangerous people?
Look at your resumè. Do you have the term “people skills” anywhere on there? For years, businesses of every kind, from the fast food joint on the corner to the Fortune 500 company downtown, have been looking for employees with good “people skills.” What they’re looking for, using the appropriate jargon, are prospective employees with a high level of emotional intelligence. The term was first posited in a 1990 study by Peter Salovey at Yale and John D. Mayer at the University of New Hampshire. The findings of that study then became a 1995 best-selling book by Daniel Goldman, who was, at the time, a science reporter for The New Yorks Times. Where friendly seduction had occurred naturally in a few people before, the emotional intelligence movement began cultivating those with “people skills” and promoting them to positions of importance.
Now, let’s be extremely clear: having good people skills does not inherently make one a bad person. The whole premise of emotional intelligence is that being in touch with one’s own feelings and emotions helps make them empathetic to the feelings and emotions of other people and therefore, at least in theory, better able to understand their perspective and respond accordingly. Having a strong emotional intelligence is critical in any people-facing position and some of those qualities are important in developing our ability to get along with others. Emotional intelligence on its own is not inherently a bad thing.
However, since 1990, researchers have found that some of those with high emotional intelligence may not be the nice guys they pretend to be. Two separate studies in 2014, one by Ursa Nagler, et al., and another by Sarah Konrath, et al., built upon previous research to show that those with high emotional intelligence tend to be narcissistic, manipulative, malicious, and exploitative. On the lighter end of this friendly seduction, they are always looking to turn a situation to their advantage. They create and spread rumors, gossip, and misinformation. At its worse, these people use their ability to read others as a means of controlling them, persuading them to do things they otherwise would not, and working situations to the detriment of others. Before you know it, you’re “best friend” at work is behind you getting fired, or losing that promotion, or killing that great project you’re on.
And they do it all with a smile on their face.
While encountering these people at work is bad enough, they can be even more dangerous in social situation. Emotionally intelligent people come across as fun, engaging, often humorous, and charming, everything you might want in a potential mate. On the back side of this friendly seduction, though, they take advantage of that social appeal to rape and batter those who are least expecting such behavior. Highly emotionally intelligent people may cause us to drop our guard so that we’re not as aware of impending physical danger.
Again, not everyone with a high emotional intelligence is a bad person. In fact, they, themselves, are more likely to be duped or misled because of their overconfidence. They often think they have control of a situation when they don’t. Highly emotional intelligent people are just as likely to be the victims of seduction as they are the perpetrators.
Being attracted to friendly people is in our nature and a necessary part of building a workable society. The vast majority of friendly people you meet are sincere and their friendships are worth pursuing. Beware the person at the front of the line, though. The seduction they offer is not in your best interest.
Not even at church.