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Importance of Emotional Intelligence

Those who are  high in emotional intelligence* are in touch, on a real time basis, with their emotional triggers and have the capacity to choose responses to events which deliver optimal results. They are highly motivated to succeed and have a ‘functional’ relationship with themselves (self awareness, self regulation ) and others (empathy, social skills). They also have the capacity to ‘read situations’ and other’s perspectives and intentions. They face up to challenges, are open, flexible but will test assumptions before acting.

* The use of the word ‘intelligence’ in relation to emotions, while generally accepted as a descriptor, is potentially misleading. While our level of emotional intelligence is to a certain extent innate it is more of a skill set that can be learned than ‘an intelligence’. 

Emotional intelligence is a large part of what we call  ‘common sense’, which is arguably not that common! It is not a soft ‘nice to have’ but a key set of life skills, which we all have to a greater or lessor extent, and which is critical to achieving material success and happiness.  It is very different from IQ (intelligence quotient) – the ability to analyze facts, and apply learned rules to come to useful conclusions. Those with high IQ will tend to have specific innate talents and aptitudes. Of course, emotional intelligence is required in order to be motivated to make full use of our IQ !

While research shows that emotional intelligence is equally important (at least) for success in any field as IQ the focus of most formal education is on developing our cognitive abilities, knowledge accumulation and technical skills. This is regrettable because it tends to under play the importance of emotional intelligence and we all have capacity to expand our emotional intelligence. This could not be said to the same extent of IQ, which is largely predetermined at birth. For example, it is not possible to excel in physics unless you are endowed with the natural talent for mathematics.

Emotional intelligence is not about aptitude, interests or personality, but is a set of skills that can be learned through experience, coaching or personal examination to improve the way we respond to events, motivate ourselves and interact with others.

So how do you enhance your emotional intelligence?

The all important starting point in developing your emotional intelligence is emotional self awareness. This is the ability to recognize, observe and understand your feelings and the impact they have on your behaviors, and by extension on your interactions with other people. This self awareness will position you to change behavior that is not serving you well.

Example – suppose that you are upset because somebody breaks a promise. Without awareness you may become angry and without further reflection express this anger in strong accusatory terms, risking negative consequences. With awareness, you will be aware of and be able to name the emotion that has arisen, anger, rejection or whatever, associated with the trigger event. This naming creates distance between you and the emotion and puts you (rather than the emotion) in charge of your behavioral response. You are then more likely to test your beliefs about the situation e.g. what are the possible acceptable explanations for the ‘broken promise’?, are my assumptions correct ?, is this ‘my stuff’, have I had this reaction in similar situations before? How would I advise someone else to deal with this situation if it was happening to them?. This challenging will shift your understanding about the situation and position you to make a more considered response.

One tool for assessing Emotional Intelligence is EQi, a self assessment questionnaire to help you identify your strengths and areas for development. The EQi framework looks at emotional intelligence under the following interrelated headings :

Intra personal – self awareness, assertiveness, independence, self regard and self actualization

Interpersonal – empathy, social responsibility, and interpersonal relationships

Adaptability – problem solving, reality testing, flexibility

Stress management – stress tolerance, impulse control

General mood – happiness, optimism

From a career perspective certain aspects of emotional intelligence will be more important than others depending on your job. For example :

  • Independence and Reality testing are particularly  important for Journalists
  • Airline pilots and surgeons should be strong in Stress tolerance
  • Engineers need to be strong in Problem Solving
  • Salesmen need to be strong in Empathy, Interpersonal relationships and Optimism
  • We need to be mindful that what we would regard as strengths in our suite of emotional skills have flip sides. For example, someone who has a strength in Empathy may find it difficult to implement a redundancy program.

    The development of our emotional intelligence is not an exact ‘science’ and is a very personal exploration of our emotional drivers and responses. There are lots of subtle interrelationships between the different aspects  of our emotional make up, which can change over time. So maintaining self awareness of our emotional responses is a lifelong task – ‘old’ issues have a habit of remerging and there is nearly always room for improvement.

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