What is Emotional Intelligence – and How Do We Get It? by Jeanne Segal, Ph.D.
Posted Jun 26 2010 11:00pm
What is emotional intelligence?
Emotional Intelligence is the ability to appropriately manage and use your emotions in positive and constructive ways that make you more forceful and successful. It’s about engaging with others in a ways that draw people to you.
Emotional Intelligence is also about recognizing your own emotional state and the emotional states of others and having choices in how you relate to all the important people in your life. Managers and leaders have a big advantage
Emotional intelligence consists of four fundamental capabilities:
Self-awareness the ability to be aware of your emotions and recognize their impact while using gut feelings to guide your decisions. Self-management the ability to control your emotions and behavior and adapt to changing circumstances. Social awareness the ability to sense, understand, and react to other’s emotions and feel comfortable socially. Relationship management the ability to inspire, influence, and connect to others while managing conflict.
Emotional Intelligence Is Not Something You’re Born WithIt’s Learned
Social and emotional experience starts in infancy with the child’s attachment relationship to his or her mother, or primary caretaker. If you are lucky, and had caretakers who recognized, understood, and responded to your emotional needs as a baby, you integrated the emotional and intellectual parts of your brain and absorbed a skill set that formed the basis of Emotional Intelligence.
If the attachment relationship isn’t secure, the emotional parts of the brain do not become well integrated with the intellectual parts. The personal and interpersonal skills needed to sustain great relationships will be weak or flawed. But because these skills are learned, they can also be acquired later in lifeif absorbed in social and emotional contexts that attract the brain’s attention!
Emotional intelligence skill 1: Rapidly reduce stress in the moment
The first skill is essential for your resilience to stress, enabling you to bring a stretched nervous system back into alignment by knowing how to very rapidly calm and focus yourself. Then you won’t lose control of yourself –no matter what challenges you face
Thinking won’t work when stress hits our nervous system Out of control stress triggers knee jerk fight or flight responses that make us feel like running or fighting –but not much of anything else. When this happens, and it commonly does, our emotions and the emotions of others can seem threatening and overwhelming. No time here for a long, soothing bath or meditation.
Emotional intelligence skill 2: Connect to your emotions and those of others
The second skill and centerpiece of emotional intelligence is moment-to-moment emotional awareness that shares consciousness with the rational, thinking, problem solving parts of your brain. Moment-to- moment awareness of primary biological emotions, anger, sadness, fear and joy motivate you to act and point you in the direction of what you really need.
Core emotions have physical elements that can be felt somewhere in our bodies –usually below the bridge of the nose. People who experience traumas of loss, abuse and isolation, especially in early childhood, may not be emotionally aware. You can distort and numb emotions but you can’t eliminate them. Attempts to do this will only drain you of energy and focus. Raw core emotions can and must be reclaimed in order to be emotionally healthy and practice emotional intelligenceand can be!
Emotional intelligence skill 3: Navigate the give and take of nonverbal communication
Nonverbal communication is emotionally-driven communication that answers the questions: “Are you listening?” and “Do you understand and care?” Answers to these questions are expressed in the way we talk, listen, look, move and react. These elements will produce a sense of interest, trust, excitement and desire for connection – or they will generate fear, confusion, distrust and disinterest.
Typical nonverbal messages and cues
“I don’t understand” or “I don’t fully understand,” as evidenced by subtle changes in the expressive lines around the eyes and mouth and perhaps the entire head leaning slightly to one side.
“What you are communicating is upsetting me,” as evidenced by the subtle way the shoulders have hunched up, a look in the eyes, and a rise in voice pitch.
“I love being here with you,” as evidenced by the congruency between a smile on the lips and an expression in the eyes, as well as the slight (or not so slight) lean forward.
“Something is wrong here!” as evidenced when the words you hear don’t correspond to the nonverbal cues you are receiving; your emotional intelligence is at work!
Part of improving our non-verbal communicant involves paying attention to:
Eye contact: Does it seem missing, too intense, or just right.
Facial expression: Is it masklike and unexpressive, or emotionally present and filled with interest?
Tone of voice: Does the voice project warmth, confidence, and delight, or is it strained and blocked?
Posture and gesture: Does your body feel still and immobile, or relaxed? Sense the degree of tension in your shoulders and jaw. What do you observe about the tension in the body of the person you are speaking to?
Touch: How do you like to be touched? Who do you like to have touching you?
Emotional intelligence skill 4: Use humor to rise above life’s challenges
Humor, laughter and play lighten our burdens and help us to keep things in perspective. A good hearty laugh reduces stress, elevates mood, and improves brain functioning.
Using playful communication broadens your emotional intelligence and allows us to:
Take hardships in stride. By allowing us to view our frustrations and disappointments from new perspectives, laughter and play enable us to survive annoyances, hard times, and setbacks.
Smooth over differences. Using gentle humor often helps us say things that might be difficult without creating a flap.
Simultaneously relax and energize ourselves. Play delights the nervous system, relieves fatigue and relaxes our bodies, which allows us to accomplish more.
Become more creative. When we loosen our control, it releases rigid ways of being and encourages us to get creative.
A note of caution: Interactive play is not a competitive game; we’re not trying to win or lose. Instead, the play we engage in has to be interesting and equally fun for both people. Something isn’t funny unless it is funny to both partiesand this includes teasing.
Emotional intelligence skill 5: Face conflict in ways that strengthen relationships
Conflict in relationships can be a deal breaker and a heart breaker. Two people can’t possibly always have the same needs, opinions and expectationsand that needn’t be a bad thing!
Painful upset is an unavoidable part of life. But conflict resolved can be a cornerstone for trust between people. When conflict isn’t perceived as threatening or punishing, it fosters freedom, creativity, trust and safety in relationships.
Stay focused in the present – When we are emotionally present and not holding on to old hurts and resentments, we can recognize the reality of a current situation and view it as a new opportunity for resolving old feelings about conflicts.
Choose your arguments consider what is worth arguing about and what is not.
Forgive; if you continue to be harmed protect yourself. But if not conflict resolution involves releasing the urge to punish.
End conflicts that can’t be resolved. It takes two people to keep an argument going.
Once you know how to remain emotionally present, and manage stress, you can avoid overreacting or under-reacting in emotionally charged situations. And with the aid of nonverbal communication and humor you can catch and defuse many issues before they escalate into conflict.
Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., is a psychologist, sociologist, popular speaker, internationally recognized author, and managing editor of the premier health and relationship website, www.helpguide.org . You can purchase her book, The Language of Emotional Intelligence, at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.