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Donald Trump’s Emotional Intelligence 

CC Gage Skidmore by Attribution

Donald Trump’s Emotional Intelligence 

I was interested to see Kelly Meerboot's guest column in the Philadelphia Business Journal entitled, Does Trump need a dose of “emotional intelligence?”

In it, she outlines the Donald's politically incorrect comments and concludes with the following: "Polls seem to indicate voters like the idea of a successful executive vs. a career politician leading America, but can Trump be a business leader without evidence of any emotional intelligence?"

As someone who is mystified by his appeal to so many, I like her take on this King Kong of a political situation. However, I would argue that Donald Trump indeed HAS emotional intelligence (EI) even though his brand of EI and leadership is of the type that I find distasteful even though it satisfies the emotional needs of others.

Donald Trump taps into the deep emotional needs of the many people in the U. S. who feel defeated and powerless to stop the changing demographics of the country, the gridlock in Washington, and the ever-growing economic divide.

That shows in him an understanding of emotions and the ability to put that understanding to use.  That understanding and ability to use it make up part of emotional intelligence.

Let's go back and look at EI to see what I mean.

Just as there are different forms of intellect (Gardner, 2011), there are different components of emotional intelligence.

Goleman's Four EI Components

                       Four Components of Emotional Intelligence

According to Daniel Goleman (1995), a recognized authority on the topic, Emotional Intelligence combines ability in each of four areas: Self-Awareness, Self-Management, Social-Awareness and Relationship Management as seen in the image to the right.

Each person fits onto a continuum in each of those four areas. In addition, within those areas are underlying skills. For example, Self-Management includes self-control, adaptability, achievement drive and initiative.

I contend that Trump has mastered EI components such as achievement drive, influence and initiative. However, I believe he is lacking in certain areas of Self-Awareness and Other-Awareness.

His comments about Mexicans and women indicate a limited amount of empathy, and his continuing statements that these same people “love” him indicates little self-assessment. His comments about women in general are quite enlightening.

We usually think of Emotional Intelligence as a positive, but EI has its dark side. Sociopaths have the ability to disguise their true feelings and use their understanding of others for their own personal gain.

That is not to question Mr. Trump’s intention or his patriotism. I do not know his heart or his motivation.

He is said to be a loving father and a generous friend. Apparently, his children love him, and I consider that to be an important indicator of success.

However, I question his commitment and integrity in relationships with at least two of his three wives (Savignano and, and media reports cause me to question his veracity on topics related to his wealth and his philanthropy.

He claims he is worth $10 billion, but Bloomberg estimates his wealth at $2.9 billion. Even $2.9 billion is a substantial figure, but if Bloomberg is correct, his numbers are outrageously inflated.

He claims he is an ardent philanthropist, but it appears that his gifts are less generous when compared to other billionaires, and most of his gifts have served primarily to benefit him financially (McCambridge, Davis and Associated Press). Mr. Trump is free to do with his money what he wishes, but when he represents himself as an “ardent philanthropist,” his record deserves some scrutiny. In this case, it appears that he also inflates his beneficence.

When discussing political situations, his facts do not necessarily reflect the evidence-based world. Politifact researched 41 comments Donald Trump made to support his positions. Of those, nine were rated Pants on Fire and 20 were rated False.

Zero comments were found to be true, and only two of the comments were listed as Mostly True: “Much more than 50% of parents out there are spankers,” and “Iraq has the second largest oilfields in the world (behind) Saudi Arabia.” All his other comments (39) fell into the Half-True, Mostly Untrue, False or Pants on Fire categories.

Too many of us believe politicians lie, and unfortunately, it seems that in order to be elected, they say things that do not comport with their own beliefs. However, Donald Trump’s followers frequently cite his ability to “tell it like it is” as the reason they support him. If this many of his statements are not true, is he really telling it like it is?

Mr. Trump has been a very successful businessman. He knows how to make money. He has the ability to read others and to read situations for his personal and professional gain. He also understands how to tap into the emotions of his audiences and to say with great feeling what they are already thinking.

Donald Trump has the ability to generate strong emotions in other people. That is a trait of emotionally intelligent people.

My questions are: How is he using his ability and for what purpose? How will he use that ability in the future? How will his candidacy affect the country?

I suspect that we will find out in the next few months.


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Image by Gage Skidmore, CC with attribution.


Comments (2)

  1. Mike Lehr

    I commend you, Lyn, on tackling the concept of Donald Trump. He challenges not only our perceptions of emotional intelligence but leadership, authenticity and confidence.

    You’re right. His comments can be disturbing to many. To many they are inspirational too. You’re right too that his comments have inaccuracies. Let’s return to the four components of emotional intelligence though. It does not matter whether his comments are disturbing or truthful. Emotional intelligence is about intelligence of emotions, not honesty, not compassion, not sensitivity, not bullying, not politeness.

    In short, Donald Trump is VERY emotionally intelligent. His comments about Mexicans and women are designed to target the emotions of those whose support he wants. There is nothing in EI that says our intelligence of emotions can’t be used to frame a group negatively to tap the emotions of another group, gain their support and move them to action.

    This is pure, raw unabashed relationship management at the expense of others whose support he is willing to risk to gain the support of others. There is nothing in EI that says such trade offs are signs of poor EI. In fact, they are concrete signs that EI is very high.

    Just look at how Trump has been able to attack the emotional vulnerabilities of his opponents. He is not only tapping into their emotions but the emotions of their supporters. Is this showing lack of empathy for his opponents?

    Not at all. Empathy is about understanding others emotions, positive and negative ones. He understands their emotions. He knows what they will and will not respond to. In their supporters, he is tapping their unconscious, unspoken concerns about their candidates. This is empathy. By surfacing them, he is able to attract support. That is why his poll numbers rise and those he attacks falls. Moreover, the unfavorability ratings of these opponents rise too, it’s not just loss of support. He is attacking and using the right emotions.

    This is not a one off either. It is part of a very conscious, very calculated strategy. There is consistency in his strategy and tactics. He has done this several times, many times. This can’t be luck. His luck should have run out long ago. He is a master at using confidence to trigger the emotions in people that he desires.

    Similarly, as with his attacks on opponents, his attacks on groups show tremendous empathy. He knows how people feel. I will say that he does not have much emotional empathy though. But, let’s remember. EI is only about UNDERSTANDING others emotions, not feeling them.

    High emotional empathy would have him feel some hurt or possibly shame for saying the things he says about others. If he does have high emotional empathy, he is managing it well, another positive sign of high EI. He is managing it to use the emotions in him and others to achieve goals.

    These hurtful comments are part of an entire emotional risk management plan. EI is about having the intelligence to make such risk assessments about people’s emotions especially when trade offs must be made. This is common in politics.

    When seen in this light, it is hard to conclude anything but that he has high EI, especially when so many have predicted his fall shortly after some of these comments. Apparently, he is reading the emotional landscape and using his emotions better than any of his opponents right now.

    1. Lyn Boyer

      Thank you for your very thoughtful and insightful comments. I am particularly taken with your discussion about empathy. I tend to think of empathy as both understanding and tending to experience similar emotions. We take that as a good thing. However, your comments led me to look at additional definitions of the term. An article about psychologist Paul Ekman described three kinds of empathy he has researched- emotional empathy, cognitive empathy and compassionate empathy. As mentioned in this article, those with cognitive empathy alone can use that understanding to hurt rather than to help. You have done an outstanding job of discussing how this person is using high EI for his own advantage. My personal hope is that someone else will come along who can tap into these emotional channels more effectively.

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