I was working with a client recently and she was telling me about an “emotional meltdown” she had experienced. She said that she was surprised because she believed herself to be “emotionally intelligent”. This got me thinking about the concept of Emotional Intelligence and how, as it has entered general language, its meaning has been somewhat diluted.
You’ve probably heard of Emotional Intelligence (also known as EI, Emotional Quotient [EQ] or Emotional Intelligence Quotient [EIQ]). It is the ability to be aware of, to control and to express your emotions and to handle relationships with other people sensitively. It does not mean that you won’t feel emotions – rather that you will take a moment to recognise them and then respond thoughtfully rather than simply react.
Real Emotional Intelligence operates across four main areas (domains) and researchers in the field consider that there are twelve competencies or skills that we need to learn to be considered to have a high EIQ.
The first domain is self-awareness. The skill here is simply the ability to notice what you are feeling and to notice how strongly you are feeling it. It helps to develop a broader emotional vocabulary so that you can tell yourself (and others) exactly how you feel. Clients will often tell me that they feel “bad” or “good” about something but, when we pick that vague description apart, it turns out that bad might mean guilty or embarrassed or sad or perhaps all three. These are emotions we can work with.
Having identified your emotion you now need to manage it.
Developing emotional self-control does not mean denying your emotions, it just means that you might pause and choose to state what you are feeling rather than act on it (e.g. saying “I feel angry about that” rather than shouting at someone).
It helps to learn some adaptability too. If you learn to be realistic about change you will find that you react less when things don’t quite go according to plan.
Being able to focus on what you are trying to achieve (work goals, a personal project, trying to be understood in a relationship) requires you to stay balanced – a “meltdown” is rarely the best way to get what you need.
Maintaining a positive outlook is also going to help with your self-management.
The development of Emotional Intelligence is not all about you and how you feel, it is also about your awareness of others. The key skill here is empathy, the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and to consider how they are feeling.
At work this extends out to organisational awareness, an understanding of the needs and goals of everyone else in the organisation.
Social awareness distils down into the way in which you manage your relationships with other people. This involves developing the ability to influence others; to coach or mentor people (to build them up, not knock them down); to manage conflict (by addressing it head on and giving people clear, direct feedback); being a great team-worker and being able to inspire others.
So where does all of that leave my client?
Well, she is a positive, empathetic and generally self-aware person so I can see why she believes that she is Emotionally Intelligent. But, whilst she is good at noticing how she feels, she is less good at telling other people how she feels, she is less good at giving people feedback when they have upset her, and she is not very skilled at managing conflict so she tends to avoid it. In this avoidance she allows her emotions to build up resulting in an occasional “meltdown”. Somewhere in her communication with others there is a lack of honesty.
So, is it a bad thing to have a meltdown from time to time? No, not really. We all have days when we feel overwhelmed by life, when demands are high but our resources are low. None of us are perfect and perfection is not something we should be aiming for – but personal growth is. So if you find yourself reacting in an overly emotional way the important thing is to avoid the guilt and to simply learn from it.
Emotional Intelligence comes more naturally to some but the really good thing about it is that it can be learned by everyone. So, if you want to be better able to achieve your goals in life, have better relationships at work and home and to feel that you have more control over your mood (even on a bad day), you might want to consider learning some new skills.