A New Emotional Intelligence Skill: Intellectual Humility

By Ed Kang - Cofounder of YouEQ

I recently stumbled across some interesting details about Benjamin Franklin. He really knew his emotional intelligence, especially the self-awareness that, although he was smart, was humble enough to know he wasn’t the smartest about everything.

Franklin & The Word But

In our game Conversational EQ Level II: Collaborative Empathy, there is a lesson on the appropriate and inappropriate ways to use the word “but” for collaboration. “But” is like an eraser and we teach people to use it to erase a negative and present a positive (instead of the opposite way around which is what we are most used to). It turns out Franklin used it in a different way.

Whenever Franklin was about to make an argument, he would start by saying, “I could be wrong but…”

There’s a reason Franklin is on the $100 dollar bill, he was a genius!

Using the word “but” this way put people at ease and invited them into collaborative dialog where it was OK to disagree. Even better is that it primed Franklin’s brain to be open to new ideas by demonstrating what is called “intellectual humility.”

Intellectual Humility

According to philosophy, intellectual humility is the virtue that balances a willingness to change and the wisdom to know when not to change. Intellectual humility requires creativity, cognitive flexibility and, of course, the willingness to check our egos at the door. And when used in the context of self-awareness and social skills, intellectual humility is a marvelous addition to the emotional intelligence toolkit.

According to Pepperdine University, there are four dimensions to intellectual humility:

  1. Having respect for other viewpoints

  2. Not being intellectually overconfident

  3. Separating one’s ego from one’s intellect

  4. Willingness to revise one’s own viewpoint

To me, this list perfectly describes what is necessary to achieve something we teach in our games called Collaborative Change. The opposite of Collaborative Change being Corrective Complex where we give unsolicited advice to fix/heal/convert/teach/direct. Intellectual humility seems like a pretty good antidote for Corrective Complex.

One argument that I would make is that empathy boosts intellectual humility. Empathy allows us to be in the other person’s shoes so we have respect and can appreciate their viewpoints, while being flexible in our own intellectual capacity.

Overall, I find this highly encouraging and that we at YouEQ are on the right track. For all of you enrolled in our Conversational EQ Level II: Collaborative Empathy course, I have taken the liberty of adding this little tidbit thanks to Benjamin Franklin.