Understanding emotional intelligence

For me, the learning process that led me here started on leadership program where we looked at emotional intelligence, about 4 years ago now. I’d heard of it, and on the basis of my vague understanding, thought that I was pretty good at it. I can read others’ emotions well, and in many scenarios I can use my insights into others’ emotions to inform my response to them. What the course taught me is that I was wrong, both in my understanding, and in my assessment of my own abilities!

Emotional intelligence is better understood as the ability to recognise and regulate your own emotions, and the emotions of others. Daniel Goleman, one of the leading researchers on the topic, says it has 4 dimensions: self awareness, self management, social awareness and relationship management. He’s found that high EQ is a greater predictor of success than high IQ.

We’re generally not socialised to think to much about emotions, and in the workplace they are often regarded as a Bad Thing. Calling someone “emotional” is usually derogatory, and there’s a gender bias that comes along with that: a man who vents anger in the workplace will suffer fewer consequences than a woman, even though both may have lost emotional control. As a result, we tend not to talk about emotions at work…which some researchers believe enables sociopaths to gain power. And, because emotion has this negative perception in the workplace, we can even feel negative emotions like shame and guilt about the fact we are having emotional reactions. Anyone who has ever cried at work will know the awful cocktail of emotions that leaves you with. But if we pretend emotions aren’t affecting us, we’re kidding ourselves. All day, very day, we are responding emotionally to what is happening around us, even if we’ve numbed ourselves to our own reactions.

Brené Brown, another researcher who looks at the role of emotional intelligence, discovered that we need to be able to recognise at least 30 emotions. She also found that most adults can only identify three: angry, happy, sad. I don’t mean just listing words for emotions: we can all do that. I mean recognising how they affect you mentally and physiologically.

How many of these can you recognise in yourself? 

The first step to cultivating emotional intelligence is developing self-awareness around your emotions, and that means spending time alone with them. It means taking time to breathe when your body is reacting to a stressor, and being curious about what is happening, and digging beneath the surface to understand what’s really going on. Speaking from personal experience, it can be deeply uncomfortable!

Harnessing positive emotions is just as important as managing negative ones: that’s what enables high performance. To really succeed at work, and elsewhere, we need to develop our EQ, along with our other skills. And we start that process by using mindful breathing practice like the Daily Breath to start investigating and understanding our own emotional reactions.




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