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Understanding & Embracing Emotional Intelligence (Part 1)

Many people think that the key to success lies in how much education, knowledge, intellectual prowess or experience one has. There are many incredibly brilliant, well-educated and experienced people who still struggle in their schools, relationships, and workplaces, while others with seemingly less intellectual ability or fewer skills may flourish. Why? I’m glad you asked! The answer points directly to their emotional intelligence or EQ rather than their intellectual ability or IQ.

Our brains are hard-wired to give emotions the upper hand by using our 5 senses of sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch--all of which travel through our body in the form of electric signals passing from cell to cell until they reach our brain. Once they enter at the base of our brain near the spinal cord, they must travel to our frontal lobe behind our forehead before reaching the place where rational, logical thinking takes place. The problem we face is this: they pass through the limbic system along the way where emotions are produced, meaning that we experience emotions before our reasoning center can do its job. The front of our brain (or the rational area) can’t stop the emotion felt by our limbic system, but the two areas do influence each other and maintain constant communication. This pathway of communication between the emotional and rational sections of our brain is known as EQ.

All emotions are derived from five core feelings: happiness, sadness, anger, fear, and shame. We have emotional reactions to almost everything that happens in our lives, whether we notice them or not. The more intense our emotion, the greater the likelihood that it will dictate our actions. Because of the way our brains are wired, we have no control over the fact that the first reaction to an event is an emotional one. However, we can control the thoughts that follow an emotion and decide how we will react, or rather, respond to it--but we must first become aware of the emotion. Prolonged emotional reactions are called “trigger events.” Our reaction to trigger events is shaped by our personal history and experience with similar situations.

EQ is our ability to recognize and understand emotions in ourselves and others, and our ability to use this awareness to manage our behavior and relationships. IQ, EQ, and personality are distinct qualities we all have to determine how we think and act. We cannot predict one based upon the others. Some are intelligent, but not emotionally intelligent and vice versa. Of the three, EQ is the only quality that is flexible and therefore, able to change and evolve.

There are four EQ skills that pair up under two primary competencies: personal competence, and social competence. Personal competence has to do with self-awareness and self-management skills, particularly as it relates to understanding and managing our own emotions and behavior. Social competence is defined by social awareness and relationship management skills relative to the understanding of other people’s moods, behavior and motives to improve the quality of our relationships. Here’s a portrait of the first two EQ skills and strategies addressed in the book, Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradberry, Ph. D. & Jean Greaves, Ph. D. (TalentSmart, 2009):

Self-Awareness Strategies

  • Quit treating your feelings as good or bad.

  • Observe the ripple effect from your emotions.

  • Lean into your discomfort.

  • Feel your emotions physically. 

  • Know who and what pushes your buttons.

  • Watch yourself like a hawk.

  • Keep a journal about your emotions.

  • Don’t be fooled by a bad mood.

  • Don’t be fooled by a good mood either.

  • Stop and ask yourself why you do the things you do.

  • Visit your values.

  • Check yourself.

  • Spot your emotions in books, movies and music.

  • Seek feedback.

  • Get to know yourself under stress.

Self-Management Strategies

  • Breathe right.

  • Create an emotion vs. reason list.

  • Make your goals public.

  • Count to ten.

  • Sleep on it.

  • Talk to a skilled self-manager.

  • Smile and laugh more.

  • Set aside some time in your day for problem solving.

  • Take control of your self-talk.

  • Visualize yourself succeeding.

  • Clean up your sleep hygiene.

  • Focus your attention on your freedoms, rather than your limitations.

  • Stay synchronized.

  • Speak to someone who is not emotionally invested in your problem.

  • Learn a valuable lesson from everyone you encounter.

  • Put a mental recharge into your schedule.

  • Accept that change is just around the corner.

In Part 2 of Understanding and Embracing Emotional Intelligence, we will discover in detail the strategies related to social awareness and relationship management skills.

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