Emotional intelligence: How to develop it?
For several centuries now, the notion of intelligence has been opposed to emotions. According to Descartes, emotions disturb logical reasoning and it is important to keep them under permanent control. Even today, being “professional” implies behaving coldly and stoically towards others.
Yet studies by neurologist Antonio Damasio prove that emotions play a major role in our decision-making. They allow us to look for similar experiences in our memory to validate or invalidate our choices. Without them, our reason is disoriented, as illustrated by the neurological case of Phineas Gage.
On the other hand, it is easy to be overwhelmed by our emotions. Joy, frustration, disappointment can play tricks on us (optimism bias, risk aversion…). But, when we become more aware of our emotions, we can use this information to make more coherent decisions, guide our thoughts and live happier. To do this, it is necessary to develop our emotional intelligence.
What is emotional intelligence?
The concept of emotional intelligence was proposed by the psychologists Salovey and Mayer in the 1990s and then popularized by Daniel Goleman. Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize our own emotions as well as those of others, and to be able to use them to better manage our relationships. It also allows us to better understand others and what motivates them in order to work more effectively.
According to Goleman, our emotional intelligence is composed of 5 elements in the following order:
- Social skills
Self-awareness is the ability to recognize and understand our own emotions as soon as they appear. It is the cement of our emotional intelligence, since self-control, empathy, social skills and motivation depend on our ability to identify and understand our emotions. It also means being aware of our strengths and weaknesses, understanding what triggers our emotions and thus anticipating the situations that generate them.
Self-control is the next step. Once we have recognized our emotions, it is important to express them, adjust their intensity and manage them appropriately according to the context. This is what allows us to build a positive relationship with others, and not to let our emotions speak for us. It gives us the ability to take a step back from what we are going through, and to avoid acting impulsively with sometimes disastrous consequences.
Motivation, and more precisely intrinsic motivation, is very present in people with high emotional intelligence. These people are not interested in external rewards such as wealth, respect or fame. Their motivation comes from the goals they have set for themselves and the values that drive them. This gives them the energy they need to move forward on their tasks and allows them to perceive difficulties as challenges rather than obstacles.
Empathy is the ability to understand and recognize the other person’s emotions, without letting them overwhelm us. It allows us to anticipate and satisfy the needs of others through active listening. Empathy also allows us to reflect on the other person’s situation in order to help them with appropriate advice.
Finally, social skills allow us to interact with others while communicating our point of view. This requires the use of appropriate verbal and non-verbal language depending on the context. They are important for building rapport with others, building strong relationships and managing conflict.
Why is it important to develop emotional intelligence?
Being able to understand your emotions is essential to being fulfilled and more effective in life. As human beings, we are emotional and social creatures. By using emotional intelligence, it is easier to connect with others, to improve our work performance, our communication skills, to become more resilient, and so on. A high level of emotional intelligence will thus help us succeed in almost every aspect of our lives.
Emotional intelligence is also important for making sound decisions. By understanding ourselves and others, it is easier to consider all options by keeping an open mind and detaching ourselves from emotions that are not relevant to decision making (such as anxiety or anger). It also avoids going through the “burnout” box by accumulating frustrations.
In relationships, emotional intelligence avoids accumulating negative emotions until they explode, by calmly expressing what we feel. It is an important capacity to live stable and fulfilled relationships, whether with colleagues, our entourage or our half. The Gordon Method is a good example of a tool that uses this emotional intelligence to prevent and resolve conflicts.
There are different scales to measure emotional intelligence, here is a questionnaire inspired by the Work Group Emotional Intelligence Profile(WEIP-S) ; composed of 4 parts (Awareness of your emotions / Management of your emotions / Awareness of other people’s emotions / Management of other people’s emotions).
How to develop your emotional intelligence?
1. Learning to manage your emotions
The first step to being aware of your emotions is to recognize them: What emotion do you feel when you wake up or before you go to bed? You can also at the end of the day write down the emotions you felt, no matter how insignificant they may be. If you have trouble with this, just write down your mood at the time, it will help you be more aware of what you are feeling on a daily basis.
Of course, being aware of your emotions also means not allowing yourself to be controlled by them. It means no longer acting impulsively out of anger or frustration. It means seeing the situation in a better light and putting it into perspective. If you’re upset because you’ve been criticized at work, you can say to yourself, “It’s just a criticism, it’s not the end of the world. I can only get better.”
Take the time to listen to the physical manifestations of your emotions, your body and mind are constantly communicating. Perhaps the stress in you is manifesting itself through a knotted stomach, tightness in the chest, or rapid breathing. Sadness can make you feel heavy and make your movements slow. Joy can be a feeling of warmth, or a boost that re-energizes you.
In difficult times, you can also use breathing exercises such as cardiac coherence to regain your calm, or simply take a break. Watch your reactions. If you have a fight with someone and you feel the anger rising, move away for a few moments to regain your calm.
Don’t try to judge your emotions either, all of them have their place in your mind, even the “negative” ones. They are useful information that connects you to what is happening in your world. Without these emotions, we wouldn’t know what we like or don’t like, what is important to us. Sometimes you will notice that the same emotions come back in quite similar situations. Remember how you handled the situation and ask yourself which emotion would be most appropriate.
2. Actively listen to what the other person is saying
Actively listen while you converse with people. The other major part of emotional intelligence is the ability to become aware of and understand other people’s emotions. If you are often distracted while talking, you are not listening to what others are saying or feeling.
Don’t try to anticipate what the other person is going to say, or what you are going to say next. Turn off distractions such as the phone, computer or television. Only then will you be able to focus on what the person in front of you is saying. Stay open to what the other person is saying, even if you don’t like what is being said. You will discover another point of view on the subject and perhaps understand things that you may have overlooked until now.
Take the time to hear beyond the words. What tone does the person use? Did he or she tell you something trivial but angry? What is the person’s body language saying? Is he or she tense or agitated?
Talking about what you see and hear can help the person confide in you about how he or she is feeling. You can say, “I’m feeling anxious. Can I help you?”
Empathy is very much related to active listening. It allows you to better perceive what others are feeling. Imagine the other person’s situation at your level. What decisions would you have made in his or her place? What reactions would you have had? This will give you clues to resolve any problems the person may be experiencing.
3. Improve your social skills
Developing social intelligence also means being able to connect with others. To be able to negotiate, influence, advise or manage conflicts. Of course, all this cannot be mastered in a day. It is important to work on your skills by participating in more meetings, social events, which will require you to interact with others.
If you are good at active listening, you will also need to communicate clearly by being direct and precise. This will help you develop a positive attitude and attract others to you. Instead of saying “I like X or Y,” you can develop by explaining what made you think well of X or Y, perhaps even comparing it to other similar experiences you have had. This is to allow others to bounce back on what you say, and make the conversation more fluid.
Similarly, it is essential to use open-ended questions in your conversations, which cannot be answered with “yes” or “no”. This will facilitate the exchange and give others the opportunity to explain in more detail some of their experiences. Observe the effect you have on others. Do you tend to make people nervous, happy or angry? What happens when other people talk and you walk into the room?
4. Learn to be more open
If the people around you tend to close up when you approach them, your attitude is probably not the right one. Ask people who know you well what you could improve. Being more honest will help you communicate better. Saying that “you’re fine” with a funeral face doesn’t do you any favors. It’s important to share your emotions with others, if you’re doing well you can say it, if you’re doing badly you can say it too.
Don’t try to be right all the time. It’s hard to hear that we are wrong, yet we must learn to let go. No matter who has the last word, ask yourself if being right at all costs is worth destroying the relationship you have with that person. We can’t agree on everything, and that’s perfectly normal. You wouldn’t want to argue with parrots.
Be responsible for your actions. Being emotionally intelligent also means not blaming others or victimizing yourself when things don’t go as planned. It’s about taking responsibility for your actions, looking at what you did or neglected to do and apologizing to others if necessary. No matter what happens, remember that you always have a choice.
The final word
Emotional intelligence is essential in today’s world. It is what allows us to overcome difficult situations, live fulfilled relationships and make better decisions every day. Becoming emotionally mature involves recognizing our shortcomings and accepting responsibility for our failures, while keeping an open mind with others.
As our attitude changes, so does that of others. It becomes possible to support and be supported. To understand and be understood. Expressing emotions is like speaking a new language, at first we only know a few words (emotions), then as practice goes on we learn to expand our vocabulary and express ourselves with richness.