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Emotional Intelligence

 By: Sarah Kahan, LCSW

 What Is Emotional Intelligence? 

Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others. Daniel Goleman, Ph.D is an internationally known psychologist and has written extensively about it. He elaborates the definition to include three skills: 

1. Emotional awareness, including the ability to identify your own emotions and those of others. 

2. The ability to harness emotions and apply them to tasks like thinking and problem solving. 

3. The ability to manage emotions, including the ability to regulate your own emotions, and the ability to cheer up or calm down another person. 

We probably all know people, either at work or in our personal lives, who are really good listeners. No matter what kind of situation we are in, they always seem to know just what to say, and how to say it, so that we are not offended or upset. They are caring and considerate, and even if we don't find a solution to our problem, we usually leave feeling more hopeful and optimistic. 

We probably also know people who are masters at managing their own emotions. They don't get angry in stressful situations. Instead, they have the ability to look at a problem and calmly find a solution. They are excellent decision makers, and they know when to trust their intuition. Regardless of their strengths, however, they are willing to look at themselves honestly. They take criticism well, and they know when to use it to improve their performance. 

People like this have a high degree of emotional intelligence (EI), or EQ, as it is sometimes referred to. They know themselves very well, and they are also able to sense the emotional needs of others. We all have different personalities, different wants and needs, and different ways of showing our emotions. Navigating through this all takes tact and cleverness. When we have the ability to recognize our emotions, understand what our emotions are telling us, and realize how our emotions affect people around us, this involves our perception of others.  When we understand how they feel, this allows us to manage relationships more effectively. 

Emotional Intelligence has also been embraced by educators, in the form of programs in “social and emotional learning (SEL). In some schools specific learning standards in SEL abilities have been established for every grade from kindergarten through the last year of high school. In the early elementary years students should learn to recognize and accurately label their emotions and how they lead them to act. By the late elementary years, lessons in empathy should make children able to identify the nonverbal clues to how someone else feels. They should also be able to analyze what creates stress for them or what motivates their best performance. In high school the SEL skills should include listening and talking in ways that resolve conflicts instead of escalating them, and then negotiating effective solutions. 

Studies have shown that SEL enhances children’s learning while preventing problems such as low self-esteem. SEL also helps children improve their self-awareness and confidence, manage their disturbing emotions and impulses, and increases their empathy. 

In the world of business EI also has a remarkable impact in the area of leadership and employee development.  The Harvard Business Review addressed emotional intelligence as “a ground-breaking, paradigm-shattering idea,” one of the most influential business ideas of the decade. 

Many companies will look through the lens of EI in hiring, promoting, and developing their employees. For instance, Johnson and Johnson found that in divisions around the world, those identified at mid-career as having high leadership potential were stronger in EI abilities than were their peers with lower levels of EI.

Another example in the business world is that a large cosmetics company recently revised their hiring process for salespeople to choose candidates based on their EI. The results were that people hired with the new system have had a higher record of sales than salespeople selected under the old system. There has also been a lower staff turnover among the people chosen for their EI. 

How to Improve Your Emotional Intelligence 

It has been proven that EI can be learned and developed. Outlined below are some ways to improve EI. 

·         Observe how you react to people. Do you rush to judgment before you know all of the facts? Do you stereotype? Look honestly at how you think and interact with other people. Try to put yourself in their place, and be more open and accepting of their perspectives and needs. 

·         Look at your work environment. Do you seek attention for your accomplishments? Humility can be a wonderful quality, and it doesn't mean that you are shy or lack self-confidence. When you practice humility, you say that you know what you did, and you can be quietly confident about it. Put your ego on the side and give others a chance to shine and don't worry about getting praise for yourself. 

·         Do a self-evaluation. What are your weaknesses? Are you willing to accept that you are not perfect and that you could work on some areas to make yourself a better person? Try to look at yourself honestly without using defenses.

·         Examine how you react to stressful situations. Do you become upset every time there is a delay or something doesn't happen the way you want? Do you blame others or become angry at them, even when it is not their fault? The ability to stay calm and in control in difficult situations is highly valued in the business world and outside it. Keep your emotions under control when things go wrong by recognizing what stress feels like. How does your body feel when you’re stressed? Are your muscles or stomach tight or sore? Are your hands clenched? Is your breath shallow? Being aware of your physical response to stress will help regulate tension when it occurs.

·         Take responsibility for your actions. If you hurt someone's feelings, apologize directly and don't ignore what you did or avoid the person. People are usually more willing to forgive and forget if you make an honest attempt to make things right.

·         Examine how your actions will affect others before you react. If your decision will impact others, put yourself in their place. How will they feel if you do this? Would you want that experience? If you must take the action, how can you help others deal with the effects?

 If you are the type of person who has difficulty being aware of your emotions or the emotions of others, don’t be discouraged. By having a better understanding of what EI is and the understanding of the benefits of having a high degree of EI, you may be more motivated to try the methods outlined above so find a partner to work with, or do the work solo but don’t wait too long to take action!

 Sarah Kahan, LCSW supervises access/Intake @ OHEL Children’s Home and Family Services. Individuals interested in the many programs that OHEL offers please contact OHEL at 1(800)603-OHEL. Like us on Facebook at OHEL Childrens Home and Family services and follow us on Instagram at Instagram.com/ohelfamily. 

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