Do You Have Enough Emotional Intelligence?
By Keith Miller, LICSW
THE SAME RULES APPLY…for learning from
feelings and learning to ride a bike:
Practice letting go without crashing. Repeat.
One of the hot topics in business management and psychology is something called emotional intelligence (EI). Daniel Goleman made the term famous with his book, Emotional Intelligence, where he made a compelling case for how this overlooked form of intelligence spider-webs into all areas of life.
How competent you are at decoding and directing emotions correlates with your success in every kind of endeavor. Purely rational intelligence (“book smarts,” for example) doesn’t unlock every door in life. You can have a standard IQ of 160 but spend your life working for someone with an IQ of 100. Why? Raw intellectual intelligence is like the engine in a car, but emotional intelligence is the transmission. Without a working transmission, even a souped-up racing engine will just make a lot of noise and go nowhere.
How Important is Emotional Intelligence?
Malcolm Gladwell, in his bestseller, Outliers, offers fascinating examples of how the success of individuals hinges equally on being in the right place at the right time and having the awareness to know that you are in the right place at the right time. Emotional intelligence is about self-awareness, self-control, and the ability to act on that awareness, with others, successfully.
To create real-world success–whether in business, sports, leadership, the arts, or intimate relationships–hinges on the elusive capacity to tap into and direct your emotions without being overtaken by them in the process.
Much is at stake when it comes to emotional competence. To not be aware of, or be an able leader of your emotions exposes you to the fate of lacking clarity, competence, and freedom in important areas of life. Without developing an active emotional intelligence you may tend to react to situations in one of three possible ways.
1) The first is to be driven by feelings (often with only partial awareness of it), leaving your most rational intelligence, and your most important values, out of the picture.
2) The second is to have too little or no feeling. Without a way to reliably access feelings for productive gains, you lose out on the raw vibrancy, joy, and creative energy that emotions bring to the most pedestrian areas of life.
3) A third possible outcome of under-developed emotional intelligence is to bounce unpredictably from feeling too much to feeling too little.
In all of these scenarios, the consequences are seen as under-reactions or over-reactions. In the long term, both issues cause us to work harder than needed to achieve the things we most value. This is barely noticed when we have energy to spare. But when we are stressed, the slightest under or over-expenditure of emotions feels like a heavy burden of frustration, anger, anxiety, or depression.
The five basic pillars of emotional intelligence are:
- To motivate oneself and persist in the face of frustrations
- To control impulse and delay gratification
- To regulate one’s mood and keep distress from swamping one’s ability to think
- To empathize with others and feel hope
- To influence the state of mind of other people-the ability to make others around you feel relaxed and interested, at minimum, or at best, make others feel inspired, creative and more respected.
Some of our capacity for emotional aptitude seems to be acquired from birth, perhaps encoded in our genes. But unmistakably, emotional intelligence can be stimulated and grown. It can be learned.
How do you learn emotional intelligence?
Three concepts guide the development of emotional intelligence and competent emotional leadership:
1) To learn emotions you have to experience them. You can’t just read about emotions or think about emotions. Just like learning to ride a bike, you have to take a small leap of faith. You put the instruction manual down and sit on the bike. Ideally, someone helps you steady the bike until you learn to keep it from swaying too far in one direction. But some emotions feel unstable or dangerous like a bicycle we don’t know how to ride. If we avoid these “bad” feelings this makes them feel more dangerous.
The path to feeling less fear and anxiety from emotions is to have the courage to gradually get to know them by allowing them more in a graduated, step-by-step manner.There may be initial fear that they will take us over and we will fall off the bike, but that only happens if you panic and stop pedaling. This is one reason it is worthwhile to invest in psychotherapy with a therapist trained in experiential (not just cognitive) psychotherapy. We are trained to help you work with, not just talk about or analize, emotions happening in the moment.
2) Emotions behave like a complex system. We might think “I’m anxious about work tomorrow,” but the anxious feeling is often the net result of various parts of you that are intertwined and blended together. There may be a part of you feels distracted, another that feels energetic and another that feels afraid of failure. Learning to unblend each feeling into separate parts, appreciating the value of each one, lets you orchestrate your thoughts and actions with greater precision.
Without having to focus directly on how to stay calm (this itself can increase anxiety), unblending has an automatic, relaxing effect. Once you learn the steps and practice it a number of times, most people can learn to identify and unblend with most feelings in only seconds. Unblending is more than just mental gymnastics. There is often a corresponding physiological relaxing that is felt deeply in the body.
3) You can’t get rid of any parts of your inner emotional system. We all have parts of us that we might want to surgically remove because of their history of being unproductive, unpopular, or even dangerous to ourselves or others. When you push these “bad” parts out of your conscious awareness they don’t actually disappear. Instead, they tend to have more influence over you because you aren’t paying attention to them. You can learn another, more productive, way to relate to emotions that neither ignores them or lets them take over, but transforms unwanted parts into productive, desirable parts.
Internal Family Systems (IFS) coaching and psychotherapy is a powerful, experiential way to increase your emotional intelligence, build your decision making capacity and boost your confidence. It is gentle, yet directive when needed (think of the hand someone held behind you when you first rode your bike without training wheels). Read more about it here.