Conflicts are emotional. They arise out of emotionally loaded issues and fuel strong emotion. Getting along well requires skill in handling emotions, but there hasn’t been much educational emphasis put on emotional proficiency. Many fields of study still actually shun any consideration of emotion, deeming it a distraction from important work, or worse, intellectual weakness.
A few decades ago, however, two social scientists described a type of knowing that was complementary to the more familiar IQ, and called it Emotional Intelligence (EI). Rather than the purely nuts and bolts intelligence of IQ, emotional intelligence can be described as a form of social acumen involving the ability to monitor our own and others’ feelings, and to use this information to guide our thoughts and actions.
Many studies since then have indicated that people who know and manage their own feelings well, and who comprehend and deal effectively with other people’s feelings are at an advantage in any sphere of life. Those with high levels of EI tend to be more successful in relationships both at home and in the workplace, regardless of the type of work. And unlike IQ, EI can be improved – there are specific skills that can be learned and practiced.
So how do we improve our EI? It starts, as is so often the case, with self-awareness. The foundation of becoming emotionally adept is to become familiar with our own emotions and be able to recognize and identify what we’re feeling, while we’re feeling it. This involves monitoring our thoughts and body for reactions. For example, if I notice my jaw is clenching, blood is flowing to my face, and I’m thinking how stupid that person is, I know I am getting angry. Or, if my thoughts are cloudy, my throat feels constricted, and my eyes are prickling with tears, I recognize I’m feeling sad.
Part of this fundamental cornerstone of emotional intelligence is the ability to have part of our attention aware of what we’re feeling even as emotion floods our mind and body. Being unable to notice our true feelings in the moment leaves us at their mercy and we’re pulled this way and that as our emotions shift. We can all remember times when unbridled emotions swamped our ability to think rationally or creatively until we calmed down – that’s what goes on when we think of the perfect thing we wish we had said during the heated argument that happened an hour ago!
Managing feelings so our response is appropriate to the situation is a skill that builds on our awareness of our emotions. First we notice how we are feeling, and then we can choose our expression of that feeling. We may be feeling strong frustration with a supervisor’s decision, for example, but it is important to our careers to be able to resist throwing a tantrum in her office.
In addition to knowing and controlling our own feelings, we need to be able to gauge how other people are feeling, based on a variety of readily observable or subtle clues. Empathy, the ability to attune emotionally or know how another feels, is critical to successful interactions with others.
When we can interact successfully with others, we are able to establish and nurture relationships, build alliances, influence others, problem-solve, and collaborate. This is an essential skill for finding and maintaining our place in the social network.
Knowing our own emotions, regulating them, recognizing emotions in others, and handling relationships are key aspects of emotional intelligence. We can improve our skill levels and thus build our emotional intelligence. This, in turn will allow us to have greater success in getting along with others.