Emotional Intelligence – Why this kind of smart matters

There is a reason why, during mummification, ancient Egyptians removed the brain completely but left the heart in the body. They felt that the heart, not the brain, was the center of emotions as well as intelligence. “Emotional intelligence” in post-mummy times refers to the ability to deal with your own and other people’s emotions.

You’ll recognize an emotionally intelligent person as someone who always manages to say the right thing at the right time. Someone who is respectful of other people’s feelings, has good self-control, oozes a strong yet humble self-confidence, and who has knack for making friends. Such a person can disagree with you, and yet, you will feel good about the conversation. Sounds familiar? If not, you’ll probably recognize the characteristics and behaviors of someone on the opposite end of the spectrum. People who are not strong in emotional intelligence are less likely to be comfortable talking about their feelings, dealing with emotional people/situations, or getting close to others. They are also less likely to monitor what comes out of their mouth and then end up surprised when people are offended by what they’ve said.

Let’s clarify something here: having low EIQ does not mean you can’t be successful per se. However, on an interpersonal level, Queendom’s research on emotional intelligence shows that people with a low EIQ are more likely to find themselves in conflict situations with others, are less satisfied with their personal relationships, and are less happy with their life in general. 31% of the test-takers we analyzed are very uncomfortable around emotional people; 30% have trouble expressing what they feel, and 25% totally ignore negative emotions. When we compared genders, the women in our sample score higher than the men on almost all of the 30 traits linked to emotional intelligence. Cultural differences aside, men are still made to believe that expressing their emotions – other than in the form of anger, perhaps – is not appropriate. It’s a sadly prevailing belief that works against both men and women. Other tidbits from our research:

  • 11% of people become very uncomfortable when a topic of conversation switches to feelings.
  • 18% don’t have an outlet for their emotions.
  • 20% feel uncomfortable when expected to console others.
  • 22% admit that they don’t know what to do when someone gets upset around them.
  • 24% are uncomfortable in situations where they are expected to display affection or appreciation.
  • 43% say that they will do whatever they can to keep themselves from crying.

Suddenly, being book-smart doesn’t seem so important anymore, does it? You can be the most well-educated person, but if you can’t handle your emotions or other people’s, then you limit your ability to be truly successful, at least on an interpersonal level. On the upside, unlike the controversy that surrounds other types of intelligence (i.e. whether an IQ score is “fixed” or can be improved), emotional intelligence and the skills that encompass it (empathy, social insight, conflict resolution) can be developed. Here are some tips:

  • Be aware of your audience. Adjust not only the content of what you say but the style and manner you express yourself to accommodate the background, experience and temperament of those you are interacting with. Adapt the tone or way you express yourself. For instance, the familiar and joking manner you employ with friends may not be appropriate when trying to sell your company’s services to potential clients.
  • Hear people out. Refrain from making hasty or self-righteous judgments. Once we make a judgment about someone’s behavior or feelings, we are less inclined to truly listen or understand what motivated or triggered them.
  • Don’t fall victim to “The Fundamental Attribution Error”. We as humans are forever trying to figure out the causes of other’s actions. All too often, we attribute misfortunate behavior on the part of others to dispositional rather than situational factors. An example would be writing others off as jerks for snapping at you rather than looking for external causes such as being sick or having had a bad day at work. As a result, we are less forgiving than many situations call for. Try to understand that others are under just as much pressure and stress as you are and as a result, their behavior may not always represent who they are as people.
  • Take small steps if you’re not used to expressing emotions. Start with those that are the least intimidating. On the positive end of the emotional spectrum, begin with genuine compliments and then take it further to an expression of appreciation. When you need to communicate a negative feeling, try writing it if you feel too intimidated to say it. Like learning any new skill, it will get easier with practice.
  • Put things in perspective. Emotions exist in context of everyday life. There is something that triggers them; others’ reactions can fuel them. Try to understand the context and how it interacts with your feelings. If you’re prone to losing control of your emotions, try taking a step back from heated situations. Give yourself some time to regain control rather than reacting immediately.
  • Know the consequences of suppression. Like a soda can that has been shaken one too many times, the buildup of negative emotions can either result in one messy explosion, or a whole lot of fussing and fuming on the inside. This isn’t a matter of choosing the lesser of two evils – both are equally unhealthy for you. Bottled-up emotions can result in physical ailments, not to mention the damage it does to your peace of mind and your relationships. The build-up of frustration can start seeping out through passive aggression, snappiness, lack of tolerance or bitter remarks. Find a healthy emotional outlet that works for you – writing your feelings out, talking to someone, exercise, creative art, etc.
  • Avoid becoming defensive, especially during conflict. Our opinions, ideas, and feelings are an extension of who we are, so naturally, there is a tendency to feel under attack when they are criticized. When we become defensive, we tend to lose focus on the matter at hand and can become counter-aggressive or merely withdrawn. Do your best to remove your ego from conflict and be solution-oriented. Even if you are dealing with individuals who are insulting or offensive in some way, you can take satisfaction in knowing you took the high road rather than stooping to their level.
  • Time heals all. When we find ourselves in stressful situations, or have just experienced a heart- wrenching disappointment, we are overwhelmed with emotions. We are practically swimming in sadness, consumed by anger, or knocked to our knees by despair. And should someone come along and say, “Things will get better,” you have to resist the urge to strangle them. The idea of feeling better seems like a distant and impossible goal. The truth is, things do get better with time. Emotions progress – they become less intense, less painful, less overwhelming. It does take time, but most negative emotions do subside after a while. Keep that in mind when facing your own disappointments or helping someone get through one.

Join me for next week’s discussion on flirting!

Insightfully yours,

Queen D

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