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Is Email Making You Stupid?


Mon Feb 09 2015

Is Email Making You Stupid?

Do you think that if you were doing something that was lowering your intelligence you would stop doing it? 

Good Common Sense 


Hmm, well the evidence suggests that we don’t necessarily follow that common sense thinking. We really need to ask ourselves questions like, “Do warning labels increase common sense?” 

To start, it’s probably a good idea to review the definition of stupid. Stupid is defined as “lacking intelligence or common sense.” But the 18th Century French writer François-Marie Arouet, known by his nom de plume Voltaire, wrote the very famous, “Common sense is not so common.” So does that mean we all exercise moments of stupidity; since that would be what is common? 

Understanding Intelligence 

Next, there are different types of intelligence. Most people are familiar with IQ (intelligence quotient), which was created by another Frenchman, Alfred Binet, in the early 1900s, after the French government passed laws that all French children must attend school. Binet was asked to develop a tool that would help to identify students that were most likely to experience difficulty in schools so they could receive special assistance. 

Shortly thereafter, the test was brought to the United States. Stanford University psychologist Lewis Terman standardized Binet’s test and administered it to American participants. The adapted test was published in 1916 and was called the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale and became the standard intelligence test used in the United States. 


But Binet stressed the limitations of the test, stating that intelligence is more broad a concept to quantify. 

A recent article by Chief Learning Officer Associate Editor Kate Everson analyzes a different aspect of intelligence in the Sony Pictures Entertainment hacking scandal. Everson states that the world now has proof that even senior executives are in desperate need of a lesson on how to appropriately use online communication. Are the Sony Execs stupid? I think there is more to this. 

Enter Emotional Intelligence 

I think Everson is really talking about the emotional intelligence (EQ) of Sony’s executives. In the article, she mentions several EQ Competencies that are not only lacking in the online communications of senior executives at Sony, but also in society as a whole. She writes: “The internet makes it easier to talk faster and more frequently, but all of us become socially stupider with every click of the “send” button. Speed and quantity has replaced empathy and quality—and that’s after less than two decades of using email.” 

Everson poses the question as to if we can teach us and employees how to be smarter and more thoughtful. The answer to that is: Yes, and the way is EQ. Fortunately, EQ can be developed. Just as many have unlearned proper behavior, they can re-learn (even first learn) better emotionally intelligent behaviors. 


Everybody needs help improving their emotional intelligence, including me. Psychologist Frieda Birnbaum said, “The problem affects everyone, from Gens Y and Z to people in their 50s…” And over the past 10 years, a number of researchers have cataloged the way online communication is diminishing our basic human skills, from developing interpersonal relationships to reading social situations correctly. 

What You Need to Do 

There are 54 emotional intelligence competencies. Here are 5 of those EQ competencies that the Sony Pictures Entertainment executives—and you—can focus on right now to stop the stupid common sense that is occurring with our with our online (and offline) communications. 

  1. Compassion: understanding, caring about, and responding to the needs of others.

  2. Impulse Control: recognizing emotional triggers as a signal to slow down, think before acting and choose a constructive response.

  3. Insightfulness: seeing beyond the obvious and discerning the true nature of the situation or the hidden nature of things.

  4. Mindfulness: focusing on the present moment and suspending both internal chatter and external distractions to allow clarity and composure.

  5. Perspective-taking: considering various points of view or assumptions about a situation; seeking alternative options and choices.

While this list is not all inclusive of every interaction you have, it is a good place to begin getting smarter with your emails (and other communications). Don’t be common, be the welcomed difference.

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