The reason a high degree of emotional intelligence is increasingly valued and sought-after by employers and individuals is that it has such a deep impact on everything a person does. It’s a way of thinking and acting that allows one to be more aware and understanding of all those around him or her, leading to better and more beneficial actions and interactions.
Whatever your field, station in life or situation, there is no one that heightened emotional intelligence cannot help. In business, academia and our personal lives, an improved EI can have a profound effect. For those looking to create ongoing changes in life and business, dedicated work on emotional intelligence is a key element in transformation, not only for themselves but for those around them as well.
What are emotions?
Before going on to a discussion of how we improve our emotional intelligence, let’s talk about emotions.
Emotions are processes. They are functions of the brain having three separate components: awareness, experience and response. The basic characteristics of emotions include:•
• Often caused by external or internal stimuli, such as receiving good or bad news, or internally, such as recalling something from the past.
• Production of physical changes — either energizing or draining — in the body.
• Facilitators of communication as visible cues signal what a person is feeling which helps others to understand what is going on.
When we begin to experience an emotion, physical changes in our bodies take place. Those changes are typically physical responses to an opportunity or threat. My favorite example — and potentially experienced by everyone in business — is sweaty palms in response to delivering a speech or meeting some important person.
Our responses — like sweaty palms or even pupil dilation — are independent of our conscious control. We can’t manage them. It is only after the results of those involuntary responses manifest themselves as feelings that we become aware of them, e.g., feeling frightened as a result of experiencing the emotion of fear, etc.
Physical responses and our reactions to them enable us to respond to stimuli in whatever fashion might be appropriate under the circumstances. This is all governed by our individual experiences, cultures, education, genetics and other factors. It should go without saying that because we are all products of different experiences, not only is it common for individuals to experience the same stimuli with different intensities, but also to respond differently to the same stimulus.
Small animals and other less sentient beings who respond to stimuli only in a visceral manner can survive and thrive in a perfectly satisfactory manner without making the leap from emotions to feelings. For humans, however, our emotions, feelings and memories all affect how we see the world, how we live — and work — as well as how we plan for the future. Thus we need to use all the tools at our disposal to become aware, monitor and regulate our emotions and feelings. This means that emotional intelligence training is obligatory for the person seeking to enjoy a fully-lived, well-planned and managed life.
The History Of Emotional Intelligence
Emotional intelligence, to a greater or lesser degree, has, of course, existed as long as there have been people. However, awareness of what defines emotional intelligence is of fairly recent origin. Exploration of the idea began as a part of trying to determine how emotions can help us think and make decisions. Thus instead of separating emotions from cognition, the relationship between the two was recognized and emotional intelligence began to be seen as an integral part of problem resolution and decision making. With the advent of MRIs, we can actually see these changes taking place in the brain as it receives and responds to stimuli.
Early on, researchers realized that emotions and cognition had to be viewed holistically so as to achieve a balance between the two. One of those researchers, Daniel Goleman, introduced the term emotional intelligence in his book Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. Not only was Goleman a pioneer in popularizing the term, but he also promulgated the now widely accepted view that emotional intelligence, although based on hard science, is a soft skill that with practice can be measured and improved. As a result, untold multitudes of people have studied emotional intelligence in order to better understand their own feelings as well as those of others, improve awareness generally, and acquire better and more reliable information. The application of the practice extends to the business world.
This practice requires the power of our minds and a great demonstration of that power can be found in Tahitian culture. In this culture, the emotion of sadness does not exist. Tahitians of course experience all the same feelings as the rest of us. However, for whatever reason, but undoubtedly associated with their culture, when they experience the emotion of sadness, it does not result in feelings of sadness. Instead, the feeling they experience is akin to the kind of fatigue the rest of us associate with having the flu. They have trained themselves not to experience the feeling of sadness, even though they certainly do experience the emotion of sadness. They simply translate it differently.
What all this shows us is that feelings are constructed and thus can be manipulated and managed. However, without emotional intelligence training, few of us consciously do this. What little bit of it that occurs is either learned or not learned in a hit or miss fashion from our parents and other influential individuals as we’re growing up and going through life.
Understanding how emotions are constructed widens your horizon of control. By understanding your own emotions as well as those of others, you empower yourself to act in a proactive manner rather than a passive one in order to select among several different responses to stimuli. This can help you in your career as well as your life overall. When you realize that your brain is using your past to construct your present, you can invest energy in the present to cultivate new experiences and thus have a dynamic impact on your future.
This article was originally published in Forbes.
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