The Emotional Intelligence of Bluntness: Based on a Three-Way View

  Emotional intelligence (EI) is one of the most important factors influencing professional success and has received widespread attention in the fields of psychology and management. Dr. Daniel Goleman, who is regarded as the first researcher of emotional intelligence, pointed out that only 20% of a person’s success can be attributed to intelligence and 80% to other factors, especially emotional intelligence. High performers in organizations have 80-90% of their exceptional abilities in the category of emotional intelligence. The concept of Emotional Intelligence was developed by Western scholars, and its core connotation is sensitivity to one’s own emotions and those of others, as well as the ability to control one’s own emotions and influence those of others. However, based on realistic observations and the almost instinctive Chinese way of thinking about yin and yang, one can easily conclude that the existing theories of emotional intelligence are biased at one end – sensitivity – and missing its opposite – bluntness. In view of this, this paper proposes the other side of emotional intelligence – blunt emotional intelligence – and discusses its connotation, structure and principles of practice.
Emotional intelligence of persistence: sensitivity

  The concept of emotional intelligence was introduced by American psychologists Mayer (Mayer) and Salovey (Salovey) in 1990. It is essentially an individual’s ability to process emotional information, based on a keen perception of one’s own emotions and those of others. Once the concept was introduced, it generated widespread interest and enthusiasm. Many managers have applied emotional intelligence theory to their management practices. A director of Bell Laboratories in New Jersey, USA, used emotional intelligence theory to analyze his staff and found that employees who performed well at work were those who were able to understand others’ emotions acutely and were good at controlling their own emotions.
  In 1995, Goleman published the book “Emotional Intelligence”, which made the term “emotional intelligence” widely spread around the world. As a measure of an individual’s emotional competence, Goleman believes that emotional intelligence consists of five competencies: identifying one’s own emotions, identifying the emotions of others, controlling one’s own emotions, self-motivation, and relationship management. Among them, the ability to recognize one’s own emotions, control one’s emotions, and motivate oneself requires individuals to be sensitive to their own emotions. The ability to recognize the emotions of others and to manage relationships requires individuals to be sensitive to the emotions of others, which is commonly referred to as “having a good eye”.
  Psychologists also generally agree that people with high emotional intelligence are more popular because they are sensitive to their own and others’ emotional changes and empathize with others’ emotions. In 2014, Satya Nadella became CEO of Microsoft and led the company back to the top of the market by surpassing Amazon and Apple, earning him the title of “Best CEO in America” in 2018. Nadella said publicly that sensitivity and empathy made him and Microsoft today, and that if he could not do this, Microsoft would be a company with no future.
  In recent years, many scholars have explored the importance of sensitive emotional intelligence in organizational management and leadership. For example, a study by Farh and other scholars in 2016 found that an individual’s emotional sensitivity helps him or her to more accurately grasp the emotional cues of team members, enhancing the efficiency of team members’ cooperation and enabling the team to achieve good performance. a study by Riggio and Reichard in 2008 also concluded that leaders’ emotional sensitivity helps to better understand the emotional needs of subordinates and build good subordinate and superior relationship. As a result, trainers in organizational management and leadership, as well as in education and health care, are obsessed with developing and enhancing individual sensitive emotional intelligence.
  However, too much is not enough. A person who is overly sensitive to his or her own emotions or those of others may also get stuck in an emotional rut as a result. The great American billiard player Louis Fox held several titles. In a world billiards championship match on September 7, 1965, a fly landed on the main ball three times, causing laughter from the audience, and after several iterations, Louis lost his cool and went straight for the fly with his cue, resulting in the cue hitting the main ball, violating the rules of the game, and he lost the match. More tragically, the next morning, someone found Luis, who had drowned himself, in the river. Being overly sensitive to a fly caused him to lose the match, and being overly sensitive to the outcome of the match caused him to give up his life.
Phenomenal observation of obtuseness

  When former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi left office, he instructed his successor Shinzo Abe: “A good leader cannot care about everything; bluntness is very important.” The Japanese writer Junichi Watanabe emphasized in his book “Blunt Force” that success cannot be achieved without blunt force. The “blunt force” here is explained by Junichi Watanabe as “the power of sluggishness”.
  How can “dullness”, which usually gives people a negative impression, be related to success? Junichi Watanabe, a medical student, tells the story of a senior who grew up with a sense of obtuseness. At Sapporo University Hospital, there was a professor who was highly skilled in medicine, but he would often reprimand his surgical assistants. Many students, including Junichi Watanabe, were afraid to serve as his assistant, except for one senior, who seemed so slow to sense the professor’s reprimands at all. During the operation, he focused on observing and grasping the main points of the professor’s operation, and only replied “yes, yes, yes” to the professor’s reprimand. This senior was always in a good mood to work after the reprimand. Many years later, this dull and reprimanded senior became the most skilled surgeon in the medical department.
  As you can see, although bluntness can give the stereotype of being slow and mute compared to sensitivity, it can help people not to be bothered or discouraged in difficult situations. In the TV series “Soldier Assault”, Xu Sanduo was called “Xu Mumu” by his comrades, but he was not only not annoyed, he was also happy to agree. The usual way of doing things, others’ mutterings and complaints do not have any impact on him, others say unpleasant things, he also immediately put behind him. It is through this blunt force that the dull and mute Xu Sanduo successfully entered the Steel Seventh Company, and it is also through this blunt force that Xu Sanduo became China’s “New Talent of the Year” in 2007, which is the first time in the history of the New Talent list to include fictional characters.
  This powerful bluntness, which is not bothered by external noise, is also present in managers. One of the post-90s entrepreneurs we interviewed mentioned about his entrepreneurial experience that he was cheated out of a large sum of money at the beginning of his business due to his lack of experience and gullibility. But he said, “This brain of mine may be programmed by me that a lot of bad things will be automatically deleted. I call this beautifully ‘a bigger heart’.” Currently, this post-90s entrepreneur has successfully started six companies as he navigates his way through the business.
  Another post-85 entrepreneurs about his business experience, said his company partners had gambling private embezzlement of the company more than 1 million accounts, to the company’s operation brought great difficulties. But he alone withstood the huge financial pressure, one did not by the public treatment, two did not make the company up and down the sound, three did not just blame and ask the partner to pay back the money, but quickly improve the company’s financial system, will focus on the company’s main business. Soon, the partner’s private accounts were made up and the company was running normally again.
  The biggest characteristic of entrepreneurship is fragility, too many accidents can lead to sudden death of a business project at any time. That’s why entrepreneurs need a stronger ability of bluntness to fight against the ubiquitous difficulties and setbacks. Entrepreneurs who lack this ability find it hard to persevere. It is reported that in the five years since the establishment of Beijing Qingchuang Incubator, two to three hundred startup projects have faded away. In this regard, a post-80s entrepreneur commented, “I think the most important thing is that (entrepreneurs) are dead at heart. Too many wounds in the process of entrepreneurship, these people have been stabbed to withstand more frustration and pressure.” Simply put, these entrepreneurs lack blunt force.

  Faced with pressure, difficulties, setbacks and even crises, the blunt ones can respond calmly and dispassionately and defuse them. When we interviewed a post-85 entrepreneur in the advertising design and display industry, he talked about how negotiations with clients are often tense and tit-for-tat. At this time, both sides will try to fight for the interests of the company, so it is easy to make the negotiations into a deadlock, it is difficult to continue. He will press the pause button at the point where emotions on both sides are running high. In the words of the entrepreneur, “give both sides a buffer period”, so that the cooperation can continue.
  The entrepreneur also said that the advertising design industry is special, customers are often very anxious about the design copy, the situation is very common to rush orders. If you can’t come up with a design that satisfies the client as soon as possible in the limited time, the company’s loss will be great. In this case, he said, “Even if things are anxious, I will not be anxious and irritable, and I will not be overwhelmed. I will slow myself down and try to seek resource integration and multiple paths to increase the possibility of reaching the client’s requirements.”
  Since its inception in 2013, the entrepreneur has spent just a few years to make the company one of the top five in the advertising and design industry in Shanxi Province, and has established long-term partnerships with companies such as Vanke, Evergrande and All Seasons Hotel of the Huazhu Group.
  Sometimes, negative events inevitably bring emotional damage, and having the ability to quickly recover from negative emotional experiences with bluntness makes it possible to not be enslaved by emotions. Junichi Watanabe once talked about how, when he was a novice writer, he was often rejected by his editor, at which point he would also go to a bar and drink alone and sulk, but after sobering up he would tell himself to revive and rekindle his creative passion. Eventually, Junichi Watanabe became a world-famous writer. A post-70s entrepreneur said about his experience of running business: “I am running business, can I quit because people refuse? Because of the face to quit? No! I am the ‘little strong’, the ‘little strong’ that can not die. As long as I can’t die, I will stand up again.” An insurance agent also said, “Even if I have very few orders the night before, I will still start again with great vigor the next morning. That’s not to say that my mood won’t be affected, but I’m like the ‘strong one’ who can’t die and will bounce back from the bottom.” This emotional self-healing ability has given Junichi Watanabe, post-70s entrepreneurs and insurance agents the energy of “wildfire and spring breeze”.
  Although obtuseness may give a negative impression of being slow, it can be seen from the above examples that obtuseness is an indispensable personal talent. As Junichi Watanabe said in “Bluntness”, bluntness is a power that allows one’s talents to flourish and blossom. “Only with bluntness will flexibility and acumen become real talents that will allow you to make a big impact.”
Dialectical thinking of bluntness: great wisdom and long and dun-sensitive

  Based on the traditional way of thinking about yin and yang, the Chinese have traditionally had their own unique view of intelligence and emotional intelligence. The terms “great wisdom has foolishness” and “long and sensitive” are concise expressions of this view.

  In the Analects of Confucius, Confucius said of Ning Wu Zi: “His wisdom is attainable, but his foolishness is not attainable. The current interpretation of “inaccessible” as foolishness is actually far from the original meaning, and “inaccessible” is juxtaposed with “accessible”. Confucius meant to say that Ning Wu Zi was a man whose wisdom could be learned by others, but whose foolishness could not be learned by others. As you can see, it is not easy to be smart, but it is even more difficult to be smart and stupid, and this stupidity is not pretend. Of course, it is not easy to be smart and pretend to be stupid, which is what we call “great wisdom”, but after pretending for a long time, it will inevitably show up, and even if it does not show up, it may be divided inside. Therefore, the true wisdom is “great wisdom and foolishness”, and both wisdom and foolishness are true and natural.
  Similarly, in the Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine, there is a summation of the Yellow Emperor: “Born with a divine spirit, weak and able to speak, young and favorable, long and dense, becoming and ascending to heaven.” For example, from the perspective of Chinese medicine, “Dunmin” is a state of health in which the heart and kidneys are intertwined, i.e., the center of the heart is empty and the center of the heart is full. We think that perhaps it is more appropriate to understand Dunmin from the perspective of emotional intelligence. Dun, meaning thick and simple, corresponds to bluntness; Min, meaning quick and fast, corresponds to sensitivity. Human health and IQ actually decreases with age, but emotional intelligence is mainly involved in interpersonal situations, and is likely to grow with age and social experience, which is also known as “long and dunmin”.
  Both “great wisdom and foolishness” and “long and sensitive” reflect the traditional Chinese idea of yin and yang. In Chinese culture, yin and yang were initially elevated from natural phenomena (such as male and female) and social norms (such as superiority and inferiority) to a universal cosmic pattern (Taiyi gives rise to the two yi, and the two yi give rise to yin and yang), and eventually, the concept of yin and yang became the philosophical view of the Chinese people in understanding the world. As the core of the Chinese cultural tradition, the yin-yang concept views all things in a holistic, changing, and unified manner. The holistic approach means that everything is divided into yin and yang, which are opposed to each other in nature; change means that the strength of yin and yang changes over time until the nature of things changes; and unity of opposites means that the two are in an interactive and balanced whole.
  Dialectic began in Chinese medicine, meaning to identify the disease (evidence) and treat the symptom, which itself does not have the meaning of unity of opposites. However, the principle of dialectical evidence in TCM is the eight principles of dialectical evidence – yin and yang, table and lane, deficiency and reality, cold and heat, and the eight principles are actually one core – yin and yang, because table and lane, deficiency and reality, cold and heat can all be regarded as yin and yang. Thus, the word dialectic can be basically equated with yin and yang, and also has the connotation of unity of opposites.
  In view of the fact that many people misunderstand the concept of yin and yang and dialectical thinking as one divided into two, Mr. Pang Pu put forward the expression “one divided into three” to describe the concept of yin and yang, which means the same as Laozi’s “Tao gives birth to one, one to two, two to three, and three to all things”. This is the same meaning as Laozi’s “Tao gives birth to one, one to two, two to three, and three to everything. Mr. Pang Park considers the division of one into three as the correct interpretation of the concept of yin and yang, and the core of Chinese cultural tradition. One divided into three means the two opposing sides of yin and yang, and the way of yin and yang change. This paper also borrows the term one divided into three, or trichotomy for short, to express the yin and yang view or dialectical way of thinking.
  When we look at the world in terms of trichotomy, everything always contains two opposing sides, i.e., yin and yang. By nature, the trichotomy holds that things are difficult to be characterized as monolithic, but are also this (A) and that (B), and not this (A) and not that (B). In Mr. Pang’s view, “also A and also B” is a mutual complement or inclusion of the two opposing sides, retaining the advantages of both sides, such as “one for one, one for all, the way of literature and martial arts”. The “non-A and non-B” is the transcendence of the two opposing sides, without excesses or shortcomings, as Xunzi said, “without proximity, without distance,” “without expansiveness, without superficiality,” and in this way, “to present all things and to be in balance. The “all things are presented and the balance is suspended”.

  Specifically with regard to emotional intelligence, sensitivity can be seen as the “good category A”. But it is still limited and inadequate in nature, and needs to absorb the “negator B” to make up for its inadequacy, which is “bluntness”, that is, both A and B. Bluntness is to sensitivity, just like the value of foolishness to wisdom, and the value of softness to rigidity. At the same time, there is also the possibility of overreaction, which needs to be suppressed or emitted. As it is said in the Book of Rites – Rites of Passage, “Use the knowledge of man to remove his fraud, the courage of man to remove his anger, and the benevolence of man to remove his greed.” A is sensitive, then “non-A” can be understood as not being too sensitive, and “non-A non-B” means neither paranoid about sensitivity nor paranoid about Bluntness.

  Therefore, a complete emotional intelligence structure should include both sensitivity and bluntness. Sensitivity and bluntness, as shown in Figure 1, represent emotional intelligence that retains the strengths of sensitivity and bluntness (both) while discarding the weaknesses of sensitivity and bluntness (neither).
The theoretical structure of bluntness: the five forces model

  In the Shuowen Jiezi, the original meaning of “sensitive” is “fast” and the original meaning of “obtuse” is “slow”. In the theory of emotional intelligence, sensitivity is the ability to quickly perceive one’s own or others’ emotions and respond quickly to them. The current paranoia about sensitivity has led to a structure of emotional intelligence that is basically equivalent to the structure of sensitivity, i.e., awareness of one’s own emotions, control of one’s own emotions, self-motivation, awareness of the emotions of others, and handling of interpersonal relationships. The concept of bluntness is proposed in opposition to sensitivity, so what is the connotation of bluntness?
  Based on the process of emotion generation, we have theoretically derived the structure of bluntness and compiled the “Five Forces Model” of bluntness. The “five forces” refer to the power of filtering, tolerance, calmness, resolution and resilience. The “Five Forces Model” means that when a person is emotionally dull and faces negative information, the first thing is to filter it, which is equivalent to turning a blind eye; if you can’t filter it, you have to tolerate it; if you can’t tolerate it, you have to find a way to resolve it; if you can’t resolve it and it has caused emotional damage, you have to recover as soon as possible. In this, each step requires calmness and composure.
  Filtering power
  Filtering power is the ability to filter and process emotional information. As the old saying goes, there is nothing wrong with the world, but the mediocre people disturb themselves. The reason why people have all kinds of negative emotions is that many of them lack the ability to distinguish and filter information. Writer Mudd once said: “The pain of life, from living too clearly. The eye is aesthetic, the result is entangled in the ugly, and finally all the ugly; the heart is the collection of happy, the result is trapped in the calculation, and finally all Sheng pain. It is not how much life is, how much you have to be clear. The ability to be happy is actually the ability to take and filter.”
  Saints are always happy because they are open-minded and can discard too much meaningless information. Just like Su Dongpo, despite his unhappy career and ill fortune, he was able to write the poem, “Don’t listen to the sound of beating leaves in the forest, why not whistle and walk slowly”. Therefore, the human heart is limited, and if it is filled with too many things, there is no room for pleasure. The power of filtering allows people to be free from negative emotions, thus truly relieving stress and reducing anxiety.
  Tolerance is the endurance and tolerance of emotional information. The World Health Organization has proposed three criteria for mental health, one of which is the ability to withstand life’s frustrations and adjust to your emotions in a timely manner. Life and work are not always flowers and smiles. When you encounter dissatisfaction, discontent, conflicts with others, and insults and violations by others, do you let the anger swell and let the angry horse run wild, or do you extinguish the anger and endure a moment of calm?
  Tolerance and intolerance often lead to a very different situation in life. Goujian was willing to be the king of Wu’s horseman and finally won Wu, and Han Xin was able to endure the humiliation of the crotch and finally succeeded, which shows his wisdom and ability to withstand heavy pressure and restrain anger without impulsiveness. As the Arabian proverb: “For the sake of the rose, also water the thorns.” In order to produce beautiful roses in life, one must tolerate the “thorns” that are stuck in one’s heart, and not be provoked by them.
  Calmness is the ability to act calmly and carefully in the face of emotional information. Mencius said, “A brave man is not frightened when he is suddenly confronted with it, and does not complain when it is added for no reason.” A true warrior has the wisdom of still waters, which is backed by the power of composure.
  In the face of stress, frustration and other negative information, everyone will have irritability, depression, pain and other negative emotions. To be the master of emotions, and not be enslaved by emotions, then, when encountering all kinds of negative information, you need to learn to calm, restraint. As the saying goes, “the tarzan collapses in front of the color does not change, the elk Xing in the left but the eyes do not transient”, only in this way, it is possible to “support a hundred courage, a quiet system a hundred movement”.
  Resolving power
  The ability to resolve is the ability to effectively deal with emotional information and turn the problems and difficulties faced into invisible. As the saying goes, you are not the only one who is distressed, everyone has distress, but in different forms. Therefore, when facing negative emotions, what should be improved is the ability to resolve the problems and difficulties that cause negative emotions.
  There are two levels of resolution. One is to apply the law of “Tao” and act in accordance with the situation. In the face of problems and difficulties beyond one’s ability, there is no point in confrontation, and there is no need to confront, but to allow oneself to continue to grow and to act in accordance with the situation. Second, face the challenge, think about the direction of the breakthrough. To get out of the emotional circle, face the problems and difficulties, and find the resources and path to solve the dilemma.
  Resilience is the ability to adapt well to adverse emotional information and to recover quickly from negative emotional experiences. In this era of uncertainty, in the face of the flying black swans, how can one hit bottom after experiencing trauma, shock and anxiety? Resilience is the code that allows people to regain confidence and have resilience.

  If you have resilience, you can often hit the bottom and bounce back to the sun; if you lack resilience, even a minor blow can be fatal. Therefore, resilience is the last barrier that each person leaves to himself to overcome difficulties and not be enslaved by emotions. As Sheryl Sandberg, known as the first lady of Facebook, said, “I am more vulnerable than I think I am, but stronger than I think I am.” Having a strong resilience will, as Nietzsche said, “Those that cannot kill me will make me stronger.” Combined with the cognitive theory school of emotion, we propose that the five abilities behind bluntness – filtering, tolerance, composure, resolution, and resilience – do not function independently, but are intertwined and indispensable (see Figure 2). With the combined effect of these five abilities, individuals are able to delay the emergence of their emotional responses. Thus, bluntness, which is the slow awareness of one’s own or others’ emotions and the lagging of emotional responses, is the antithesis and useful complement of sensitivity, but there is also too much of it. These provide the basis for the practice of emotional intelligence with bluntness.
Principles for the practice of bluntness: two is not two

  Based on our understanding of the concept and theoretical structure of bluntness and our dialectical thinking about bluntness, we propose the principle of “both/neither” for the practice of bluntness.
  The term “neither/neither” is a Buddhist term, which can be understood from the three times and three waters of Zen Buddhism. At the beginning of Zen meditation, to see the mountain as a mountain and the water as water is to be in the presence of the appearance. In the second realm, seeing the mountain is not a mountain, and seeing the water is not water, is to hold on to emptiness. The realm of enlightenment is to see the mountain as the mountain and the water as the water, and not to be attached to the appearance nor to the emptiness, which is not two, but at the same time not to leave the appearance nor to abandon the emptiness, which is two.

  The current theory of emotional intelligence, which focuses on sensitivity, is to be attached to the phase, and to overemphasize bluntness in the practice of emotional intelligence is to be attached to emptiness. In this era of uncertainty, a reasonable principle for practicing blunt emotional intelligence is “both/neither”. In other words, in working life, a person with high emotional intelligence is neither simply sensitive nor simply obtuse, but should be both sensitive and obtuse. At the same time, neither over-sensitive nor over-blunt, a person with high emotional intelligence should be sensitive with blunt, blunt with sensitive, sensitive when needed, blunt when needed. This is the practice of obtuse emotional intelligence “two not two methods”. Of course, this is not easy, and requires practice, or a thorough understanding.

  In the era of VUCA, when opportunities and challenges coexist, when suffering and happiness coexist, we need to shape ourselves with high emotional intelligence, so that bluntness can afford challenges and sufferings, and sensitivity can grasp opportunities and happiness. Emotional intelligence that is both sensitive and blunt will enable us to have a deeper link with this era.

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