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« 16. Why "I don't tolerate fools" is not emotionally intelligent

Written by Rachel Green, Director, The Emotional Intelligence Institute. Author of "How to develop emotional resilience and manage your emotions".

I have heard the phrase "I don’t tolerate fools gladly" from clients, colleagues and friends. It's a fascinating concept because the people who say it often say it with pride as though it is a good thing to do.

I understand that there are advantages in being able to pick out which people might be trying to con you, who’s lying to you and who doesn’t understand you. However, the concept of not tolerating fools gladly is often used in a more dismissive way and I don’t think it is emotionally intelligent. Here is why:

1. Tolerance – an emotional intelligence indicator

People who have high levels of emotional intelligence often also have high levels of tolerance. The phrase itself "I don't tolerate fools gladly" suggests that the person is intolerant. This is in complete contradiction to high levels of emotional intelligence.

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2. Irritation – a wasteful emotion

It also suggests that the person may have high levels of irritation. This means that when they meet other people, they give their power away to that person and become irritated by their behaviour. This is not a high level of emotional intelligence.

Rather, if people have high levels of emotional intelligence and emotional self-management, I'd expect them to maintain a level of calm when faced with other people and not be so influenced emotionally by other people’s behaviour.

I’d want them to be able to separate out their emotions from the emotions of others. If they can’t do this, they are going to be irritated often and have higher levels of frustration that may be emotionally unhealthy for them.

3. Trivialising other people's strengths

The phrase suggests that people are segregated into those who are fools and those who are not. Is this emotionally intelligent? No. It is a very narrow way of considering other people and is likely to lead to a lack of empathy, compassion, or kindness.

It suggests a dimension of superiority versus inferiority too. This can lead the person to put-down so called "fools" simply because they are not as "smart" as them. They may also dismiss and trivialise other people’s strengths or contributions. For example, the "fool" may be more innovative, more creative, more empathic, more collaborative, and a better people manager than the person who labels them as a fool.

Sadly, the person "not tolerating fools" may miss the value the other person brings to the workplace because they have so quickly categorised them simply by their levels of IQ. Just presuming that someone who is not as intellectually smart as you is inferior to you, is not at a high level of emotional intelligence.

In summary, when people use this phrase to guide their evaluations of people, they are in danger of becoming stressed unnecessarily, and on missing out on much that is good about another person.

It also suggests that whilst they may have very high levels of cognitive intelligence, their emotional intelligence could benefit from being developed further.

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