We often talk about people’s intelligence in terms of how clever they are, the number of qualifications, the knowledge they have or just a general sense of their mental standing. But that is just one form of our intelligence. Emotional intelligence is the skill to understand your own, and other peoples, emotional reactions and behaviour and to be able to reflect and consider options.
An example to illustrate…
Imagine we are walking down the local high street. We see a friend across the road and we shout their name to them. They seem to turn slightly towards us but then move on up a side street.
How do we read that situation and, crucially, how does it make us feel?
There are many explanations for the friend’s behaviour and many possible reactions within us.
Our emotional intelligence is what we will use and it will shape that interpretation and reaction.
Strong emotional intelligence allows us to carefully reflect on the situation, consider the possible reasons for the friend’s behaviour, analyse the probability of each option and ultimately react in the most helpful/functional way. Whereas if we simply react and judge the situation it is probable we will think our friend is shunning us and we will feel hurt and annoyed.
How can emotional intelligence help us?
The slower consideration that emotional intelligence gives us allows us to consider that they may of been distracted, in a hurry, had ear phones in, hard of hearing or probably lots of other reasons. Those explanations will leave us feeling easier and less upset.
It is also about being able to reflect when we feel angry, tearful, frustrated and consider, as before, the possible reasons for our emotional feeling - rather than just quickly assume one explanation.
Another example … one day a work colleague says something and we feel very angry and upset. Is it the colleagues “fault”, are they to “blame”? Or are we maybe misreading what they said, reacting to it because of other issues in our life at present or simply making more of it than it deserves?
And, crucially, is our reaction helpful?
Again our ability to reflect on the situation, consider the options and be willing to look at our own reasons for our reaction is all part of emotional intelligence.
So is emotional intelligence something we are just born with, or not? Can we “improve it”, “learn it”?
It seems that our “level” of emotional intelligence does indeed begin in our upbringing. But is more to do with watching others (parents, friends, peers etc) deal with situations and handle their emotions than our genetic makeup. And yes, we can learn to improve it. Such skills as mindfulness, other meditative skills and some aspects of cognitive behavioural theory skills can all help.
Next time you find yourself caught in a similar situation, try to check-in with yourself and consider the following:
- Step back from the situation and reflect on what upset you and why?
- Try to understand your colleagues views/position – put yourself in their shoes so to speak
- Identify a positive way of dealing with similar situations in the future – to learn from what has happened.
That’s the first step to building resilience and becoming more emotionally intelligent.