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Tech’s Dirty Secret: The Emotional Intelligence Deficit That No One Talks About

If you have ever worked in or collaborated with an Information Technology (IT) department, there’s a not-so-little secret: their emotional intelligence (EI) is shockingly low. This isn’t some minor flaw. It’s threatening the core of the tech industry’s productivity, creativity, sanity, and ultimately, their usage and employment. Yet, bizarrely, managers keep turning a blind eye to this festering issue. It’s time to drag this problem into the spotlight and dissect why this negligence is irresponsible and downright dangerous.

The Emotional Intelligence Deficit
Let’s get real: many tech professionals are masters of logical thinking, problem-solving, and technical wizardry but are hopelessly inept when it comes to emotional intelligence. EI, which includes self-awareness, empathy, and people skills, is crucial for any healthy work environment. But these “soft skills” are often considered superfluous in the tech world, where code and data are supreme.

Why EI is Low in Tech Departments

  1. The Nature of the Work: IT and software development demands intense focus and long stretches of solitary work. This environment breeds emotional disconnect. When your day is consumed by debugging code instead of interacting with humans, developing emotional intelligence becomes an afterthought.
  2. Educational Emphasis: Computer science and engineering programs churn out graduates who are coding ninjas but emotional amateurs. The focus on technical skills at the expense of soft skills leaves new entrants to the tech world ill-prepared to handle the emotional complexities of the workplace.
  3. Cultural Stereotypes: The tech industry loves the ‘brilliant but antisocial’ programmer trope. This harmful stereotype not only discourages the development of emotional intelligence but also excuses and even glorifies poor social behavior. It’s a narrative that needs to die, fast.

The Liability of Low Emotional Intelligence
Don’t fool yourself—low emotional intelligence in tech departments is a serious liability. Here’s why:

  1. Team Dysfunction: Teams thrive on collaboration and respect. When team members lack empathy and self-awareness, you get misunderstandings, conflicts, and a toxic work environment. This dysfunction kills productivity and drives away top talent.
  2. Innovation Stagnation: Innovation thrives on diverse perspectives and open communication. Without emotional intelligence, the psychological safety needed for sharing bold ideas and taking risks evaporates. This stifles innovation and caps a company’s potential.
  3. Customer Relations: Technical expertise alone won’t cut it with business partners, clients, and users. Emotional intelligence is crucial for understanding and addressing customer needs. Poor EI leads to miscommunications, unhappy customers, and lost business.

Case Studies: The Impact of Emotional Intelligence 

Low EI: The Dysfunctional Dev Team

Consider a case from a mid-sized software development firm. The team, led by a technically brilliant but emotionally clueless manager, was plagued by high turnover rates and frequent conflicts. One remarkably talented developer, known for his expertise in complex algorithms, was a nightmare to work with. He frequently belittled colleagues, dismissed others’ ideas, and refused to collaborate. His lack of emotional intelligence created a toxic environment where team members were reluctant to share ideas or ask for help, fearing ridicule.

The result? Projects were often delayed, innovation stalled, and morale was at an all-time low. The company’s HR department noted that exit interviews frequently cited poor team dynamics and lack of support as reasons for leaving. Despite the manager’s technical skills, the team’s overall performance suffered, proving that low emotional intelligence can severely handicap even the most talented teams.

High EI: The Innovative IT Department

In contrast, let’s look at a leading tech company emphasizing emotional intelligence. This company invested heavily in EI training for all employees, including workshops on empathy, effective communication, and conflict resolution. The results were transformative.

One project team developing a new software product exemplified the power of high emotional intelligence. The team leader was not only technically proficient but also highly emotionally intelligent. She fostered an environment where team members felt safe to express their ideas and concerns. When conflicts arose, they were addressed openly and constructively.

The outcome? The team delivered their project ahead of schedule with innovative features that set a new standard in the industry. Employee satisfaction surveys showed high engagement and job satisfaction levels, and the company saw a significant decrease in turnover rates. This case demonstrates how high emotional intelligence can enhance collaboration, boost innovation, and drive exceptional performance.

Why Managers Turn a Blind Eye
So why do managers let this mess slide? Here’s the uncomfortable truth:

  1. Short-Term Focus: Managers often prioritize immediate project deliverables and technical prowess over long-term team health. If a technically skilled employee gets the job done, their emotional shortcomings are conveniently ignored.
  2. Lack of Awareness: Some managers just don’t get it. They fail to see the importance of emotional intelligence or how it impacts team dynamics and overall success. They view EI as a luxury rather than a necessity.
  3. Difficulty in Measurement: Unlike technical skills, emotional intelligence is hard to quantify. This makes it easier for managers to stick to what they can measure and ignore the rest.
  4. Low EI in Managers Themselves: Here’s the kicker—many managers themselves have low emotional intelligence. They don’t value what they themselves lack. These managers are often technically brilliant but emotionally tone-deaf. They fail to foster a supportive and empathetic work environment because they don’t recognize its importance. This creates a vicious cycle where emotionally unintelligent managers hire and promote similarly deficient employees, perpetuating the problem.

If we don’t address this behavior, we essentially choose, accept, and unknowingly promote this toxic cycle. As Laurie Buchanan says, “Whatever you are not changing, you are choosing.” Unfortunately, the decision to do nothing will continue undermining our teams’ and organizations’ health and success.

The Way Forward

The tech industry needs a wake-up call. Here’s how we can start:

  1. Incorporate EI in Training: Emotional intelligence should be a core part of professional development in tech. Training programs, workshops, and continuous learning opportunities focused on soft skills are essential. Dr. Travis Bradberry’s book, **“Emotional Intelligence Habits,”** is an excellent resource for developing these skills. Bradberry outlines practical strategies for improving EI, which can be integrated into training programs to help tech professionals enhance their emotional and interpersonal abilities.
  2. Revamp Hiring Practices: Recruiters need to assess emotional intelligence alongside technical skills. Behavioral interviews and personality assessments can help identify candidates with high EI. Bradberry’s insights on identifying and nurturing EI traits can guide hiring processes to ensure a balanced skill set in new hires.
  3. Promote a Culture of Empathy: Leaders should model emotionally intelligent behavior and create a culture that values empathy, collaboration, and open communication. This shift can transform team dynamics and drive better outcomes. Implementing the practices from Dr. Travis Bradberry’s “Emotional Intelligence Habits” book can help establish a more empathetic and collaborative workplace culture.


The tech industry is at a critical juncture. Ignoring the importance of emotional intelligence in IT and software development is no longer an option. By recognizing and addressing this issue, we can build healthier, more innovative, and ultimately more successful teams. It’s time to kill the outdated stereotype of the emotionally stunted tech genius and embrace a future where emotional intelligence is as prized as technical skill. Only then can we truly unlock the full potential of our technical teams and their solutions.

For those looking to dive deeper into the importance and development of emotional intelligence, I highly recommend reading Dr. Travis Bradberry’s book, “Emotional Intelligence Habits.” This resource provides invaluable insights and practical steps to elevate EI, making it an essential read for anyone in the tech industry.


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