How to Improve Emotional Intelligence
Why You Are The Greatest Gift
How to Improve Emotional Intelligence
Emotional Intelligence is often the most important (and most often overlooked) “x-factor” when it comes to creating the life you want in many different domains. If you've been feeling stuck lately, though it may not seem directly related, focusing on improving emotional intelligence can lead to dramatic changes.
As an online marriage counselor, I know that the success of a relationship or marriage, for example, often depends on the emotional intelligence of both partners more than just about anything else. Any of the online career counselors on our team would tell you that how easy or difficult you find it to get ahead in your career often has roots in emotional intelligence.
Similarly, any of our life coaches or therapists highlight the fact that your sense of happiness and satisfaction with your life typically has much more to do with your emotional intelligence than it does your specific circumstances.
Similarly, we know that your emotional resilience, ability to solve problems, or persevere in the face of obstacles is directly related to your emotional intelligence skills. If you can understand yourself, manage your feelings, and be sensitive to those of others, all things are possible.
The Importance of Emotional Intelligence
Since emotional intelligence is such a crucially important factor in, basically, everything related to creating love, happiness and success, it's something we often talk about in our therapy and coaching sessions here at Growing Self. We often find that, by focusing on emotional intelligence training, the things our clients hope to achieve begin to happen.
Good, evidence-based marriage counseling or relationship coaching nearly always includes an emotional intelligence training component. When couples learn how to manage their feelings and be sensitive to those of their partners, their relationships feel less fraught. Focusing on emotional intelligence skills training in therapy or life coaching helps our clients feel better able to stay even-keeled, no matter what life throws at them.
Our career counselors nearly always incorporate at lease some emotional intelligence training in order to help their clients navigate challenging professional situations confidently. And, most importantly, no matter what situation you're in, when you work on increasing your emotional intelligence skills you will feel better able to make progress towards your most precious personal goals — in literally any life domain.
This is powerful, important stuff! So, today, on this episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast I'm going to be teaching you some simple strategies to increase your emotional intelligence too.
Strategies to Improve Emotional Intelligence
In this episode, I talk about the foundations of emotional intelligence and offer some simple (not easy, but simple) ideas for how to increase it ASAP. Tune in to the full episode to learn actionable strategies in building your emotional intelligence, including:
- Find out why fostering emotional intelligence starts with you.
- Discover how you can fit the four components of emotional intelligence together.
- Learn how you can figure out your feelings.
- Understand the importance of gaining outside feedback in identifying emotional blindspots.
- Learn different forms of emotional intelligence assessments.
- Recognize the importance of insights of other people in your emotions, such as an online emotional intelligence coach.
- Become aware of the importance of self-regulation in different aspects of life.
By the end of this episode I hope you have some clear takeaways to help you grow in this all-important area. You can listen to “How to Increase Emotional Intelligence” on Spotify, or on Apple Podcasts. (Don't forget to subscribe the the show while you're there!)
If you're more of a reader you can scroll down to find some of the key takeaways, and access the full transcript of this emotional intelligence podcast. There's a player at the bottom too.
Thank you for exploring the all important topic of how to improve emotional intelligence with me today!
How to Improve Emotional Intelligence: Episode Highlights
The Role of Emotional Intelligence
Emotional self-awareness is the foundation of emotional intelligence. You can't improve emotional intelligence without having a good relationship with yourself first. It all starts with you.
What are the characteristics of a person with high emotional intelligence?
- They feel happier and more optimistic.
- They can effectively navigate moments when they don't feel okay.
- They take guidance from their emotions and use their experiences to foster a deeper connection with their values and needs.
Moreover, organizational psychology research shows that it plays a massive role in creating leadership characteristics and positive organizational environments.
“Your success in your career, as well as your satisfaction in your career, is much more highly dependent on your level of emotional intelligence than it is your skill set or what you know, with very few exceptions.”
As a result, people with the highest emotional intelligence reap more successful outcomes by working effectively. This characteristic also makes them feel more satisfied with their jobs.
Four Components of Emotional Intelligence
Emotional intelligence is not one of these things that you either have or you don't. While it is more innate with some people, you can develop and figure it out.
Before knowing how to develop your emotional intelligence, it's first essential to understand its components.
- Self-management and regulation
- Social awareness
- Effective and healthy management of relationships
First Component: Developing Self-Awareness
Remember: “The heart of emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize and understand your own emotions.” It is the foundation of how you can respond effectively to various situations and stay in a good place.
People with high emotional intelligence have the basic understanding that all life events are neutral. Without this level of awareness, you may tend to believe your feelings are linked to a particular situation.
So when trying to identify and figure out how your feel, ask yourself the following:
- Why am I having this feeling?
- How does it make sense?
- What is it attached to?
How Lack of Self-Awareness Manifests in Low Emotional Intelligence
The second foundation of emotional intelligence is figuring out how you work.
- For instance, some people don’t have the language for emotions. They are often unaware of their emotions. But upon seeking therapy and coaching on emotional intelligence, they show up as highly anxious. Hence, they either make very emotional decisions or respond to situations without the emotional components.
- On the other side of the coin, some people are highly emotional and tend to be reactive. They tend to lash out or make emotional decisions without fully understanding the whole picture. Because of these emotionally charged reactions, they may be unable to identify how they really think and feel.
It’s important to know and acknowledge that not all feelings are helpful, healthy, productive, or even worth listening to.
It's essential to get outside feedback. Only then can you reach the point of being able to name these emotional experiences, and this is where emotional intelligence coaching comes in.
Emotional Intelligence Assessment
There are many ways to increase your emotional intelligence, such as taking online EI training in quiz form. But this is dependent on self-reporting, so there’s no way to know how valid and reliable it is.
A more robust way of emotional intelligence assessment is the 360 assessment called the Emotional and Social Competence Inventory (ESCI). It is often used in workplaces and organizations. Here, both you and your peers will rate yourself on emotional intelligence competencies.
Having your peers also assess your emotional intelligence is important. According to research, there is a huge discrepancy between your perception of your own levels of emotional intelligence and how they perceive your EI. Many people have the tendency to perceive themselves as being more emotionally intelligent than they actually are.
How to Improve Emotional Intelligence through CBT
In addition to outside feedback and partnership, you can also improve your emotional intelligence through cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) exercises. Here are some helpful strategies to do this:
- Mindfulness skills: This is the ability to be in the present moment. It is how you can notice what is happening in your inner experience without getting lost in the thoughts.
- Feelings wheel: This is something you can print out and use as a reference when you feel a particular emotion. It will help you parse out more granular nuances of feelings toward developing a vocabulary for your internal experience.
- Having a vocabulary for your feelings: Our experience is defined by language. Hence, you cannot identify a feeling within yourself if you don’t have a name for it.
You can learn cognitive strategies to increase emotional intelligence through evidence-based life coaching, through cognitive behavioral therapy, and through online cognitive behavioral classes like our Happiness Class.
Second Component: Self-Management and Regulation
Self-management and regulation are not just about knowing how to feel that but also about changing how you feel to a large degree. However, note that this does NOT mean that you are obliterating or pushing away your emotions — this is not about feeling happy all the time.
Here is the difference between emotionally intelligent people and people with low emotional intelligence skills:
- High emotional intelligence: They are comfortable with feeling unhappy, and they're able to embrace dark emotions without needing to feel differently.
- Low emotional intelligence: They will frantically scramble away from any negative emotions.
These dark emotions are something you can take wisdom and guidance from. However, this is all an experiential growth process that has many different layers. It will involve developing cognition behaviors and applying specific practices that will help make you feel better. Read, “It's okay to cry” for more on this topic.
The mind-emotion connection and body-mind connection are intrinsic in this process. Hence, regulating yourself links back to everything that is a part of you; it all goes back to having a mastery of your emotions.
Third Component: Social Awareness
“You cannot have empathy for another human unless you yourself understand what emotions feel like.”
As humans, we’re created from the time we’re born through mirroring. It means you have to reflect on what's happening with others to fully understand them. It's about noticing people's energetic changes, understanding what makes them tick, and respecting boundaries.
In essence, social awareness is setting yourself aside to understand what other people need. It means recognizing that there’s much more going on under the surface of everyone with whom we interact.
Fourth Component: Relationship Management
Finally, the cherry on top of emotional intelligence is relationship management. It refers to communicating with other people in a meaningful, safe, effective, and respectful way. It’s about being collaborative in solving problems and being responsive.
The issue is many people feel worried about saying or doing the wrong thing. Nonetheless, know that people will feel your good intentions regardless of what you say. Most importantly, being able to regulate yourself is the critical component to being able to communicate well. Knowing how to create a positive interaction with your relationships is the core of relationship management.
- Love, Happiness & Success Podcast: Shadow Work
- Emotional and Social Competence Inventory (ESCI)
- Feelings Wheel
- Online Emotional Intelligence Coaching
If you feel like you could benefit from private emotional intelligence training to support your success in your relationships, career, or overall wellness — we're here for you. Schedule your first, free consultation with an emotional intelligence coach on our team to get started.
Emotional intelligence is a foundational skill that will help you navigate life wiser and better. What were your favorite insights? Feel free to share your thoughts (or a follow up question for Dr. Lisa) by leaving a comment down below.
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Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. She's the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.
How to Improve Emotional Intelligence: Podcast Transcript
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Dr Lisa Marie Bobby: This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby. And you're listening to the Love, Happiness & Success podcast.
That's the band Poly Action with a song Ten Hundred Years, which is really a deceptively kind-of-like bouncy and light sounding song, but is actually about something quite dark. If you listen to the lyrics, they're really singing about someone, talking about someone who does not have strong emotional intelligence skills and who has alienated a lot of people throughout their lives and is now feeling kinda not-so-great about that.
And I thought, dark as it may be, that was really kind of a nice intro to what we're going to be talking about today. We are going to be talking about emotional intelligence—not just what it is. But I'm going to be giving you some actionable ideas and strategies so that you can begin building your emotional intelligence. Because it is such a foundational skill that impacts so many different areas of your life. It's really important for you to increase your emotional intelligence—if you need to. And that's what we're doing today on the show. So thank you so much for being here with me and joining me today for another hopefully interesting episode of the Love, Happiness and Success podcast.
So I have lots planned for us today. But before we jump in, I just wanted to say thank you! I have not looked on our iTunes page for the podcast in a while and I just did this morning and saw that there are so many nice reviews of the show. If you have left a comment or review of the show, I just wanted to personally reach out and say thank you not just because it's made me feel really good. But also because every time you rate or review the show, wherever you listen, it increases the chances that somebody else just like you is gonna tumble on this.
As you know, the show is not being made with mercenary intentions. We're not doing advertising, we're not promoting it, really other than what we're doing. Just kind of putting it in the air throwing little bottles in the ocean. And so your support of the show, your reviewing it, rating it or sharing this episode or others with your friends or family that you think could benefit from listening or even on social media is the only way this gets around. So, thank you so much. I do these because I want them to be genuinely meaningful and helpful to people and you're dispersing the little seeds is really how that happens. So, we are a team. And I just wanted to thank you for that. So anyway, enough of that.
Increase Your Emotional Intelligence
Let's jump into our topic today and talk about how you can increase your emotional intelligence. Because as I mentioned previously, this is incredibly important. I talk about so many different things on the show. And we talk about relationships, we talk about career, we talk about self esteem and being happy. In some form or fashion, all of these things really link back to fundamental emotional intelligence skills. Emotional intelligence can touch every single part of your life, for better or for worse. People who are strong in emotional intelligence tend to have satisfying relationships and good friendships. But this isn't just about relationships with others.
We think about emotional intelligence as being able to kind of understand other people, and that's certainly a piece of it. But, it's really about having a good relationship with yourself. And that first foundational piece of emotional intelligence is understanding yourself. If you don't understand yourself and have insight into how you feel and what makes you tick, it is virtually impossible to have—awareness of other people and how they feel and what makes them tick. And it all starts with you.
So, while emotional intelligence can certainly benefit your relationships, it also benefits a lot of other things about your life personally, including your mood. People who are high in emotional intelligence tend to feel happier and more optimistic than people who don't. And when they do have moments when they don't feel okay, they're able to manage them more effectively, they're able to take guidance from their emotions and kind of use these experiences to get more deeply connected to their needs or values. As we've discussed on past podcasts—if you've listened to the one that I did, not too long ago, about doing shadow work or kind of cracking in under the hood to understand things that may be happening more in your subconscious mind, those are actually all emotional intelligence skills, believe it or not. Knowing yourself on deeper levels is that first foundational piece.
And the other thing—you may have heard this before, but in case this is new, I want to say it here is that emotional intelligence is not just related to aspects of your personal life. Well, it certainly does have a positive impact on your relationships, and also the way you feel on the inside. It helps you handle stress better, it helps you communicate better with others. But when we look at research related to organizational psychology, and aspects of career development, even like leadership characteristics, and what makes organizations positive environments or as opposed to negative or toxic work situations—there is a huge role that emotional intelligence plays.
Emotional Intelligence Coaching
Believe it or not, most coaches who really specialize in emotional intelligence, often apply this to sort of more career development or career coaching pursuits. Because what we know from research is that your success in your career as well as your satisfaction in your career, is much more highly dependent on your level of emotional intelligence, than it is your skill set, or what you know, with very few exceptions. We spend so much time particularly in professional roles, going to school and earning degrees and going to graduate school and going to professional school. We acquire all of this knowledge about these topics or industries, like we know how to do things.
And when you really, look at outcomes of you know, who is successful and who wasn't, it is actually not the person who knows the most. It is the people who are highest in emotional intelligence, who are able to work effectively with a team, be able to handle stress without freaking out or screaming at people or throwing a chair out the window, or having some crazy outburst. People who are able to communicate respectfully and solve problems collaboratively and contribute to kind of a nice organizational culture and environment. Those are the people who not just get ahead and get promoted or sort of advanced in their jobs are able to grow businesses and build teams. They're also the ones who feel more pleasure and satisfaction with their jobs because of their emotional intelligence skills.
So it's kind of weird, isn't it? I think our culture encourages us to spend so much time and energy going to school and acquiring knowledge. And almost nothing in terms of developing the emotional intelligence skills that are actually the most salient to our career success. It's kind of weird—but anyway. But that's why we're here right talking about it. And just kudos to you for listening to this podcast and demonstrating an interest in learning about this. And clearly, you already know how important it is.
What is Emotional Intelligence
So emotional intelligence impacts all areas of life. The good thing here is that emotional intelligence is not one of these things that you either have or you don't. Certainly some people are more innately kind-of smooshy empathetic, psychologically-minded people, right? Just because maybe you didn't get that personality when the personality cards were dealt when you were born. Or if you weren't raised in a family of origin that really taught you what to do with emotions and prioritized emotions, talked about feelings. It's very easy to arrive into adulthood without having a strong skill set in that area, because, again, it isn't taught in school typically. Unless now I think MBA programs at Harvard and Yale are actually making a point of teaching emotional intelligence because it's so strong. But for the rest of us, we have to figure it out on our own. If we didn't get that through our family of origin experiences. Very few people do, and it can be developed, it can be.
I am going to tell you the process of how to develop emotional intelligence skills, as well as some concrete things that you can begin doing and practicing in order to develop these skills inside of yourself. In order to understand these different things to do, let me give you an overview of how this all works together.
Four Components of Emotional Intelligence
Emotional intelligence is actually not one thing, it is divided into four different kinds of domains of emotional intelligence, that all work together. The four parts of emotional intelligence are: first of all, self-awareness, meaning that you understand yourself. Then, the next part is being able to manage and regulate yourself.
Once you have that in place, then you can build on that and create the two other pieces of emotional intelligence, which are social awareness. Being aware of what's going on inside of other people and how they're feeling. Then being able to manage those relationships in such a way to be effective, and healthy, and emotionally intelligent. So with that in mind, let's take a closer look at these one at a time.
First of all, the very first foundational piece of developing emotional intelligence is first of all, developing self awareness. How to increase your emotional intelligence really starts with you. Because the heart of emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize and understand your own emotions. When you're able to do this, it gives you so much information about yourself, but also about the world. It is the foundation of being able to respond effectively to different situations, whether it is with other people, or whether it's just inside of yourself so that you can stay in a good place. Ideally, people who are strong in emotional intelligence, are able to, first of all, understand how they feel, “This is the emotion that I have. This is the name of this emotion. This is what it feels like in my body. This is why I feel the way I do. This is the story that I'm telling myself right now that is creating the feelings that I'm having.”
Good awareness of not just feelings, but like “What just triggered that? What is the inner narrative that I'm indulging about this? What is that little voice in my head telling me about the situation that's making me feel one way or the other? What is the core belief that I am viewing whatever life experience I'm having through?” Or “What is the value or the judgment that I'm making about this situation?” Without this level of awareness, it is very easy to go through life, believing that you feel a certain way because of something that is happening.
People who are high in emotional intelligence understand that in very basic ways, all life events are neutral. A tree falls in the woods. It doesn't matter to anybody. Until and unless someone has decided what that life event means and sort of run it through the machine of “This is what I think about that. This is a good thing. This is a bad thing.” They evaluate it. They create some kind of judgment around it. It is linked to a core belief about what should be happening and did the tree falling in the woods did that? Was that a good thing? Or was that a bad thing? There's a lot of internal processing that happens automatically and below the level of our conscious mind, that creates feelings in the first place.
That key piece of emotional intelligence is figuring out, “I am having a feeling right now. Why? Why am I having this feeling? How does it make sense?” And again, we're not looking at why you are having the feeling, in a judgmental way, but just in a very open, honest, compassionate “Yes. Why are you having that feeling? What is it attached to? What does this mean to you?” Because with that information, you can take this to the next level and do something different with it, if you would like to.
The other piece of emotional intelligence on the self awareness level, is gaining that insight into how you work. Also for some people, they have to pull it back even further. There are some people—I have met them personally—who operate in the world without being aware of the fact that they are having emotions at all. They do not have language for emotions. They might feel very basic. Happy, sad, angry, and that's it. As such, they often will tell you that they're feeling nothing. They're feeling kind of blank, they're feeling sort of numb, that may be their subjective experience. But when you sit with them—as a therapist, or a coach who's working around emotional intelligence—they're showing up as being highly anxious. They're making oftentimes, either very emotional decisions and not knowing that or they're responding to situations without the emotional component, that would lead them to be able to handle these situations really well.
For example, someone who's really cut off from the way they feel will oftentimes have limited empathy for other people and how they're feeling. They may make a rational decision about how to handle X, Y, Z. But because it involves other people, while that decision was highly rational, and made perfect sense, when you look at it from a hard black-and-white-numbers kind of intellectual view, it was the absolutely wrong decision, because it did not take into consideration relationships or the impact on other people. There are negative consequences for their doing this.
You see this happening a lot in families, honestly, like a parent who is really cut off from their own emotions may be interacting with a child in a way that feels very rational and factual, but is, in fact, extremely destructive to their relationship with a child and is creating really adverse consequences for the kid’s emotional well being. It's damaging the fabric of their relationship. That kind of thing can also happen within couples a lot. So that's something to be aware of.
Then on the other side of this—this is interesting, this surprised me when I began really digging into emotional intelligence and how it showed up and what it means. You will also see the opposite. There are people who are highly emotional, they feel big things. If you ask them, they will tell you all about how they're feeling right now. But because these feelings are so big, and they are not questioned or sort of mindfully handled, these people tend to be quite reactive, and will sometimes even lash out or make emotional decisions without fully understanding the whole picture of “Why am I feeling this way? What is triggering me right now? What do I need to do in order to sort of slow down? Who do I want to be right now?”
Interestingly, because these emotional reactions can be so big and so fast, they actually have the effect of obscuring the actual authentic truth of what this person thinks and what they really feel. It's very interesting—and I say this as a therapist—when you can kind of sit down with somebody, and who's feeling something really big and unpack it. Like it’ll really be like, “Okay, what's going on here? What is that related to? What's it for?” Kind of dig in, oftentimes, the feeling contains either important information, or the feeling is not useful sometimes.
I think we live in a culture that has told us that everything you think and feel is fantastic, that we really need to be prioritizing feelings all the time. I'm here to tell you, not all feelings are helpful, or healthy or productive or even worth listening to. It takes a ton of personal growth work and self awareness and emotional intelligence work to be able to differentiate, what is a feeling that I should take guidance from, that I can trust that is actually telling me something important that I should listen to? Versus what is a feeling that is linked towards something old, something unhealthy, a match-to-flame kind of reaction that is actually not in my best interest, to indulge and being able to have that level of self awareness.
I could go on and on and on. But the first phase of emotional intelligence work is figuring all that out inside of yourself. I just would like to share that in my experience, is very difficult to do and here's why. We all have blind spots. We don't know what we don't know. We have habitual reactions. We have automatic ways of thinking and feeling and behaving and the stories we tell ourselves. It just feels true. It just feels like “This is what it feels like to be me.” It's not until you get some kind of outside feedback around and “Wait a minute, is that true? Is that the only way to think about this situation? Did that just happen? Or is that what you're telling yourself just happened?” I feel like it's very difficult to challenge these things that feel so automatic without another person sometimes or without some kind of growth experience giving you feedback that “Here's how you're showing up. And you actually do have options.” I think sometimes it can even be helpful for people to be challenged to even just define the emotion or the feeling.
Just a little personal disclosure here. When I was in my—this was so embarrassing—when I was in my early 20s I, having grown up in southwestern Virginia, which is the tobacco belt, I was a smoker. I hate to say that out loud, it feels so in congruent with who I am now but it's true. I was addicted to cigarettes. It was terrible. I will never forget this one—I finally got into therapy for it because I just could not figure out how to quit smoking. I just tried everything I knew how to do, it didn't work and was like “I need to do something else.” So anyway.
I went and I saw a therapist who was a very nice lady, we talked about all kinds of things. But there was one moment where we were sitting with my inner experience of wanting a cigarette. That is the narrative that I told myself, when I have this feeling, “This is what it is. This is me wanting/believing that I need a cigarette right now.” To my great surprise, through experientially unpacking this moment, very mindfully with my therapist, I realized that I felt this feeling sort of like in the pit of my stomach, like my solar plexus and this is what my shoulders were doing when I had this experience. It felt like this sort of cold, gnawing feeling. Through this process that she led me to, I had this revelation, that what I was actually feeling in those moments, the name for that feeling is anxiety. I had no idea.
It sounds so amazing to think about right now. But I think that that's really true for a lot of people and certainly people that I work with. They're having these internal experiences that they do not have names for, they don't know what it is, and their emotional experiences. That when they're able to identify them and be like, “Oh, I am feeling anxious right now. This is how I feel when I feel anxious.” It sounds so simple, but it opens up all of these different doors because you have many more options when you are aware that you are having an emotion and why you are having an emotion and all the different things contributing to it.
Emotional Intelligence Assessment
Because of how hard it is to do this on your own, this is why emotional intelligence coaching can be incredibly helpful. It’s to get that like real time feedback. But there are other ways to do it. Interviewing friends and family sometimes about what they see in you that you might not see in yourself. Doing some assessing around the kinds of results you're getting, particularly in relationships, can be another way of gaining insight into this.
There are a number of emotional intelligence assessments that you can take that are like in quiz form. However, I don't know how reliable and valid they really are, because they're dependent on your self reports that you are entering information into the assessment, based on how you perceive yourself.
The other thing that we know from research into emotional intelligence is that when people have the opportunity to do what is a much more robust way of assessing emotional intelligence, which is 360 assessments like the ESCI is often an emotional intelligence assessment that's often used in workplaces or organizations. There's a component where you would take an assessment and rate yourself on these emotional intelligence competencies. But then your peers, the people you work with the people who supervise you will also be rating you on how they perceive your skill set in these areas. And so that long, long story short, what research has found is that there is really a big discrepancy in the way that people perceive their own levels of emotional intelligence, and the way that they're actually perceived by others. This is true for all of us, I'm sure it's true for me, too, is that the tendency is to perceive oneself as being much more emotionally intelligent than we actually are, which is kind of crappy to think about, but it's not me, it's the research.
Anyway, just with that in mind, it can be very important to have a partner in this process. So that it's easy to think “Oh, I know, everything there is to know about how I feel, and how I think, and I handle my emotions beautifully,” when there may be more there. Just saying.
Again, in addition to having that kind of partnership, other strategies that can help you crack into it, are any exercises that you can do related to cognitive or cognitive-behavioral therapy, or cognitive-behavioral coaching. This is also the sort of next level of not just “How do I feel?” But “What is my internal narrative? What are the beliefs? What are the thoughts? What are the judgments that are subconsciously creating these feelings?” Because when you get clarity about that, you have so many more opportunities.
Another important strategy that can be quite useful when you're in this first stage of development around emotional intelligence, can be mindfulness skills. The ability to just be in the present moment, and notice what is happening in your body in terms of your inner experience, or having that kind of mindfulness meta-mind— “What am I thinking about right now?” without getting lost in the thoughts, being able to observe what is happening inside of yourself. So, a mindfulness practice can be incredibly helpful.
Other things that we use around here at Growing Self with our emotional intelligence coaching clients—and you can find these on your own, but— things like a feeling wheel. You can just Google “feeling wheel”, and download a feeling wheel, print it out, tape it to your refrigerator. Every once in a while, if you're feeling mad, or you're aware of that, take a look at your feeling wheel and be like, “No. What is this really?” A feeling wheel will sort of help you parse out more granular, different nuances of feelings so that you develop a vocabulary for your internal experience.
On this last point, and then we'll move on—having a vocabulary for how you are feeling is actually a critically important component of emotional intelligence because our experience is defined by language. If you don't know the name of a feeling, you cannot identify it within yourself. One of the things that you see with highly emotionally intelligent people is that they are able to say, “I'm feeling a little bit discouraged today. It's like mostly discouragement with sort of, like a smidge of frustration. But there's also this tension that I think is coming from my ambivalence about whatever.” They're able to have that kind of reflective psychologically minded experience about their own internal experience.
Anyway, there's a lot of value in doing that and developing really strong emotional intelligence skills is going to require a component of that. Until you are able to do these things within yourself, and understand how you feel, there is no moving on. You have to be able to do this first, in order to be able to take this to the next level of emotional intelligence, which is step two: being able to manage yourself.
Once you have figured out how you feel and why that is, and what's going on inside of you, the next piece of emotional intelligence skills is knowing what to do with that in order to be able to stay in an okay place, most of the time. This aspect of self-management means that—you not just know how you feel—that you are able to change how you feel to a large degree. Not that we want to obliterate or push away our emotions, and certainly this is not about feeling happy all the time.
Emotional Self Awareness
One of the things we know about emotionally intelligent people is that they are very comfortable with feeling unhappy, sometimes. When they do have dark emotions, anger, pain, hurt, distress, they're able to actually embrace them very fully, and not criticize themselves for having those feelings or need themselves to feel differently. There's a lot of tolerance and being able to just sit with a feeling of being like “I am really bad right now,” without any kind of judgment or without. I think this is especially important, without the need to get away from that feeling.
People with low emotional intelligence skills will frantically scramble away from any kind of bad feeling, sadness, anger, anxiety. They're like, “Nope, can't feel that. What do I need to do to not feel that?” It sort of paradoxical is the strong emotional intelligence skills is “It is absolutely okay for me to feel anxious sometimes. What's going on here? What is making me feel anxious? Is it a way that I'm thinking about the situation that is not helpful? Or is there actually something here that I need to pay attention to? Is there a threat? Do I need to do something differently in order to keep myself safe here?” It's like having a relationship with darker emotions in order to be able to take wisdom and guidance from them.
There is a lot happening when it comes to learning how to regulate your feelings, once you have that self-awareness. This is a process that takes usually months of emotional intelligence coaching in order to be able to acquire all the skills because it's not just like, “Tell me what to do.” It's an experiential growth process that builds on itself and little layers. It's not like five tips to become perfectly emotionally intelligent. You have to do things. You have to grow. It is a process. The entirety of the process is well beyond the scope of a podcast.
But I will tell you that it could include things like anger management skills, figuring out what makes me feel mad, and “What do I need to do when I start to feel these feelings so that I can either bring myself back down to the point where I'm able to handle the situation competently and in alignment with my values and in alignment with my desire to have positive relationships with other people?” Or “What is my action plan for when I'm actually too elevated to be able to be effective in communicating right now? What do I need to do so that I can not make the situation worse with this person that I would like to have a good relationship with? Maybe I need to take some time. Calm myself down. What are the specific things that work for me to calm myself down?”
For most people, it's some blend of cognitions behaviors. For many people who do emotional intelligence work, there can be a lot of acquisition of anxiety management skills. People can get very activated. Again, having the self awareness that it's happening is one thing, but when you have these skills in place, you have this comprehensive toolbox of, “Okay, I know I get anxious in these situations, here's what I need to do to prevent myself from getting as anxious. But also when I start to get anxious, here's how I handle that in a way that feels good for me. I need to do these things. I need to come back into the present moment. I need to remind myself of these things. These are my specific practices that I know if I do things, they will automatically make me feel better.” Nobody can tell you specifically what those things are. You have to create them through trial and error.
Certainly there can be a menu of “Here are 100 things that often help people in managing their anxiety.” But it's not like, “Okay, let's try these three. See how they work, see what works for you.” Through that experiential process, being able to say, “Okay, these are my things.”
Components of Emotional Intelligence
Also believe it or not, for many people, there is a component of emotional intelligence that goes into physical health and self care. There is no getting away from it. Our bodies and our minds and our emotions are intertwined. They are intrinsically connected. The way you think, changes the way that you feel. When you feel a certain way, it makes you think a certain way. When we are anxious, we scan our horizons looking for threats, and we tend to perceive things as threats. Our emotions are changing our cognitions and vice versa.
But there's also a huge role for the whole body-mind connection. It is very well established that when you aren't getting enough sleep, you will feel anxious and irritable. When you drink too much alcohol, you will feel depressed. When you don't drink enough water, believe it or not, you will feel like things are more difficult than they actually are. Isn't that crazy? But it's true. And even things like exercise can—I mean just a little bit of exercise most days—can enormously change not just your energy levels, but your mood. And your mood changes your cognitions, also your triggers.
Personally, when I am very sensitive to caffeine, if I have too much coffee in the morning, I am like “agh” and I feel that it's more difficult for me to stay in a good place emotionally if I am doing lifestyle things that are not conducive to my wellness. That taking care of your emotional health and your emotional intelligence is a piece of “What do I need to do day to day in terms of the way that I'm living, in order to be as emotionally healthy as I would like to be?” It's very difficult to manage your emotions in a healthy way, when you are doing things that are creating negative emotional states or mood states inside of you. When you drink nine cups of coffee, you will feel anxious, and then your mind will begin presenting you with anxious threatening thoughts that will then make you feel more anxious.
This level of emotional intelligence is not just based on that self-awareness, but it starts to condense into very concrete things around. “This is what I need to do to regulate myself to stay okay most of the time. And when I start to not feel okay, either tolerate that and know what to do with my feelings or bring myself back into a different place.” But it's like this mastery of your emotions is basically how I would conceptualize it. This place where you know how you feel and you know what to do with yourself when you feel this way, is stages one and two of emotional intelligence creation. You cannot really move on to the higher levels of emotional intelligence until you have mastery over yourself. Because if you recall, the next layers of emotional intelligence are the social awareness piece and the relationship management piece.
Social awareness, I think, is really what immediately comes to mind when we think about emotional intelligence. We think about, “Oh, being able to understand how other people feel, and be able to notice feelings of other people and be able to communicate effectively with others.” I think that's what we think about with emotional intelligence. Certainly, when it comes to applied emotional intelligence, a lot of times that's where the action is. But you cannot have empathy for another human unless you yourself understand what emotions feel like. You can't recognize when someone else is starting to feel sad or frustrated, if you are not aware of what sadness or frustration feels like.
Humans are created from the time we're first born through something called mirroring. We have mirror neurons. And in order to understand others, you have to be able to mirror in some ways what's happening with that. That is a neurological thing.That social awareness is being able to say, or notice “Okay, here’s what I think is going on with this person right now,” and to notice very small kinds of behaviors or changes or even energetic changes, not in the woowoo new age sense. But you know, what I'm talking about. I'm sure you've had a conversation with someone and something changed. Like they went cold, they withdrew a little bit. They had a reaction to something. That's the kind of energetic change I mean. That something's amiss in the force. So being able to notice when something's going on with other people.
But I think also being able to understand what makes people tick. So the work that you did in the first phases of emotional intelligence is not just “How do I feel?” but “Why do I feel that way? What are my core beliefs? What are my values? What are the things that are important to me? What do I need, maybe that I'm not getting in this situation, and that's making me feel bad?” When you have all that you're able to apply that to others and to be able to see somebody else and think, “Okay, based on what I know about them, their personality, their life, their values, their core beliefs, what they tell themselves about what's important. This is how I imagined they might be feeling in this situation.” Not in a judgmental way. But in a compassionate, empathetic way around, “Yes, this makes sense that this person is feeling this way.” Not to be arguing with it or trying to change it necessarily, but to be understanding it for the purpose of being able to be responsive to it. This can look like a lot of different things, but emotionally intelligent people, in relationships, or even on the job, will take the time to get to know people a little bit.
You need to have boundaries and that can be part of emotional intelligence, too. It’s not putting people on the spot. Also, being aware of power dynamics is huge. So, we need to be respectful of boundaries. But also asking enough questions or observing people to the degree where you're able to get a sense of “What's important to you? What is meaningful to you? What is scary to you? What is angering to you? What makes you feel good? What makes you feel bad? What is important for you, in this relationship with me, in order for you to feel good? How would you like to be treated?” Notice, as we're talking about this aspect of emotional intelligence, I'm using the word “you” a lot. That's intentional, because this part of emotional intelligence is very much setting yourself aside, and being able to experience empathetically the truth of another person, for the purpose of being able to understand them, and what they need.
I think even in a more macro sense, a component of emotional intelligence is recognizing that there's much more going on under the surface of everyone that we interact with. They are feeling people, that unless and until we take into consideration how they're feeling about things, we will not be able to understand them deeply or have effective or meaningful relationships with them. So, it's not just figuring out what they're feeling—but that's important. Because it’s critical. It's very easy to make factually accurate decisions, or to do things in a way that make intellectual sense, that are absolutely the worst thing you could possibly have done in the context of a relationship or relationship that you'd like to keep.
Understanding others is huge. It takes time and thoughtfulness and attention in order to be able to do that. But again, it begins with you and your knowledge of yourself because at the end of the day, other people are not really that different than we are. They may have different beliefs and life experiences or a core narrative but at the end of the day, everyone wants to be loved, respected. They need to feel emotionally safe with you. They need to be able to trust you. Respectful communication. Feeling that their preferences or values matter to other people, and that we're intentionally making space for those. That's what everybody needs. That's what everybody needs, and you need it too. I think understanding the humanity of others and acting accordingly is a big part of emotional intelligence.
Importance of Emotional Intelligence
Okay, and then once you have your self figured out, and you know how to manage yourself, and you have other people figured out, and you have a sense of who they are, and how they feel and what they need, then comes kind of the cherry on top of emotional intelligence, which is relationship management. And this is where emotional intelligence with others springs into action. Because what relationship management refers to is being able to communicate with other people in a way that is meaningful and safe and effective and respectful for them, being able to collaboratively solve problems, being able to be responsive to other people.
If for example, in the last step, you know that your partner has a strong value around spending time together doing certain things. Managing that relationship will be your taking action to be able to show them that you understand—that's important—their feelings matter to you, because you change your behavior accordingly, in a way that feels good for them. That relationship management is all about how other people feel with you, and what you are doing to create those experiences of emotional safety, and trust. What are you doing to make people feel good about being with you—and not like in a fluffy, superficial sense, but an authentic sense.
I also just want to tell you that many people get very hung up on communication techniques. I agree, there are ways of phrasing things that can sometimes go over better than others. There's a time and place for learning those. But what is also really true—and I say this, because I hope that it releases some of the anxiety. Many people feel worried about saying the wrong thing or doing the wrong thing. If you are empathetically connected to someone that you care about. So you understand that someone is feeling frustrated. You understand why they're feeling frustrated, and you have a commitment to helping them with that, so that they feel good with you and feel like you're connected, and that you’re going to work on it together. If you come in to any interaction with this intention, and you're able to say that out loud or show people that that is true, it doesn't matter nearly as much what you say, because people will feel your intentions. They will feel your good intentions, “This person is trying to help me right now.”
So being able, again, to regulate yourself, is the key component to being able to communicate well. Because you can't do this when you're feeling really triggered and when you're feeling really angry or hostile or resentful or stressed. You can't be that emotionally safe person who's able to kind of connect with someone else in a respectful way at that moment. So that piece of emotional intelligence is that “Okay, what do I need to do so that I can connect with this person right now and show up the way that I want to, so that this can be a positive interaction for both of us?” That's the core of relationship management. That is true, whether you're a parent trying to strengthen your relationship with your child, with your partner, with your boss, with the people that work for you, or with you. All of our relationships are based on understanding other people and being able to manage ourselves in such a way that we can appropriately recognize and meet the needs of others in our interactions with them.
This is a big topic and I know we kind of cruised through a lot of different parts of this quickly in today's podcast but I hope that this gives you an overview of all the different components of emotional intelligence and provides you with at least some direction of what to do if you'd like to increase your emotional intelligence and I hope you do.
Again, not only does it strengthen your relationships, it confers so many benefits to you too. You will feel happier. You will feel better able to manage the ups and downs of life. You will feel better able to cope with stress. You'll feel more optimistic. You'll even have more tenacity and grit. Emotionally intelligent people, because they're able to manage the feelings that come up when they're trying to achieve long term goals that are related to difficult things. Your capacity to manage your emotions directly related to your ability to get through medical school, or start a business, or do any of the difficult things that are so important to you.
Again, I hope this helps. If you would like more information on the topic of emotional intelligence, or emotional intelligence coaching, there's so much for you on our website growingself.com. Thankfully, I am not nearly the only person on our team here, who has an emotional intelligence coach, and there are people on our team—honestly that are much more experienced, and really specialize in this type of work, than even I do. I do it more relationally. But we have more career-development people on our team who do a lot of emotional intelligence coaching.
So if you go to growingself.com you could go to the blog page, or really any page on our website and do a general search for emotional intelligence. You will find so many articles, probably even some other podcasts that I've done with other people on our team or articles that other emotional intelligence coaches on our team have written that will provide you with even more skills and strategies and ideas to support you on this important journey.
All right, my friends, good talking with you and I will be in touch with you again next week for another episode of the Love, Happiness and Success podcast. And as we close, cautionary tales from Poly Action. Thank you.
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