Your relationships with people who always insist on being right can prove to be challenging, especially when you’ve got no escape from having to deal with them. Perhaps you have a relative who is constantly asserting his point of view, even when you know he’s dead wrong. He may either try to wear you down with his arguments, or just tell you know in front of everyone else how you should live your life. You’re thinking of changing your hairstyle, and he insists that you really need to go short even though you want to keep your long locks as part of your total look. He proceeds to explain to you, in the most minute and annoying of details that you really would be better off by getting rid of the 6 inches you’ve taken so long to grow. How can you handle this situation without losing your temper, but still maintain your own position?
New research on emotional intelligence and personality disorders suggests that people with certain types of traits are likely to lack the interpersonal awareness needed to control their overcontrolling impulses. Fairleigh Dickinson’s Marta Krajniak and colleagues (2018) conducted a questionnaire study on the relationship between personality disorder symptoms and emotional intelligence in a sample of first-year undergraduates with the intention of examining the personality factors that predict college adjustment. Although their research focused specifically on issues related to college adaptation, their findings provide intriguing suggestions about the ways in which people who try to dominate everyone else with their own views of the world can make life difficult for everyone, including themselves.
The Fairleigh Dickinson research team used standard measures to assess emotional intelligence as a trait, or enduring disposition. As such, they defined emotional intelligence as “an individual’s ability to experience, attend to, process, understand, regulate, and reason about affect-laden information in themselves and others” (p. 1161). In other words, people high in emotional intelligence should be able to adjust their own behaviors to those of the people they’re with rather than to insist on having their own way. Your opinionated relative would, in this framework, be someone low in emotional intelligence because he can’t recognize and respect your point of view.
College students high in emotional intelligence should, the authors proposed, be better able to adjust to college. However, they will be hampered in this process if they are also high on personality disorder pathology. Individuals with personality disorders, they note, would be “inflexible in their interpretation and responses to situations” (p. 1161). However, if people with personality disorders are high in emotional intelligence, they may be able to overcome the challenges presented by their own destructive personality traits. Although personality disordered individuals would, then, face college adjustment difficulties, these problems could be ameliorated if they also manage to maintain healthy levels of emotional intelligence.
You may be thinking that having a personality disorder would prevent a person from being high in interpersonal sensitivity altogether. However, think about the ability of an individual with antisocial personality disorder to sense what other people are thinking and feeling and then be able to manipulate them on that basis. Similarly, a person high in paranoid personality disorder traits could be highly attuned to the motivations and feelings of the people they believe will try to take advantage of them.
To test the model, Krajniak and her colleagues first examined the correlations among personality disorder scale scores and the trait measure of emotional intelligence. Recognizing that emotional intelligence isn’t a unitary construct, their scale evaluated participants on the 4 separate factors of emotional intelligence that tapped overall self-esteem, impulsiveness, relationship skills, and sociability.
The findings revealed that, among their 246 first-year undergraduates (74% female), almost all of the personality disorder scale scores were negatively related to emotional intelligence. Surprisingly, though, emotional intelligence played no role in affecting the relationship between personality disorder scores and the outcome measure of college adjustment. There were some variations within the data based on the specific personality disorder and the specific emotional intelligence factor. The overall picture that emerges, however, is that people high in personality disorder traits have poorer emotional intelligence. Even the antisocial type with his or her ability to read the emotions of others is likely to suffer the downfall of high levels of impulsivity.
Returning to the question of handling people who always think they’re right, and have no problems telling you this, the Fairleigh Dickson study’s results suggests that their low emotional intelligence could relate at least in part to one or another form of personality disorder. Therefore, to get embroiled in endless arguments with them is likely to prove frustrating if not counterproductive.
Here, then, are tips to help you regulate your own emotions when this off-putting behavior is making your life miserable:
1. Don’t try too hard to diagnose the person’s personality disorder. You may believe that only a narcissist would see life from his or her own perspective, so the argumentative individual must clearly have these egotistical and selfish traits. It’s just as likely, based on the Krajiniak et al. study, that the individual is high on other personality disorder traits, but since the relationships weren’t perfect, the person might have perhaps have no personality disorder at all.
2. Recognize that the individual’s behavior stems from low emotional intelligence. Understanding the role of emotional intelligence in interpersonal relationships is the first step toward dealing with people who lack this quality. With this recognition, you can see that you might need to be more overt than you prefer in letting the person know how you feel than you would with someone who’s higher on emotional sensitivity.
3. Don’t get rattled. It is certainly aggravating to have to defend your own viewpoints and preferences in the face of continued opposition. However, if you show that you can be emotionally intelligent by controlling your own reactions, you can be setting a good example for this other person to follow in the future.
4. Put the mirror to yourself before you conclude the other person is at fault. People who are constantly trying to show they’re right and you’re wrong will naturally make you feel defensive. It’s possible that there’s a germ of truth to what you’re hearing, so try to decide if perhaps you’re the one who indeed needs to change.
5. Keep the lines of communication open. It’s no fun to be with someone who makes you feel like you’re constantly inadequate, and you may decide just to stay away from that person completely. However, you might not have a choice. Try to find common ground with people in your life who are part of your extended family, your workplace, or your neighbors. It’s possible that you may find yourself agreeing more often than you realized you would.
People who think they’re right all the time, and who have no hesitation in showing this to you, can provide your biggest interpersonal challenges. In the process of learning to deal with them, your own emotional intelligence, and your fulfillment, will continue to grow and deepen.