Emotional intelligence – the capacity to recognise your own emotions and those of others, and using this information to handle interpersonal relationships with empathy.
I used to work in a hospital. One day a psychiatrist delivered the news to a patient that she wouldn’t be able to go home on the weekend for her sons’ birthday. She was too unwell.
Naturally the patient was distressed, something that could’ve been predicted even before the news was delivered. The psychiatrist was angry at being questioned, told her she would just have to accept it, that this was the way it was going to be.
The patient picked up a chair and flung it across the room. She was then sedated, a black mark next to her name, labelled ‘violent’.
You’ve seen the scenes on television where a panicked family sit in the emergency room waiting for news of their loved one. A doctor appears and starts talking about spleens and ribcages and valves while the family take none of it in because they are waiting to hear the words that tell them their loved one is still alive.
I once took my cat to the vet and he was whisked out of my arms to be taken to some back room for blood tests. The vet returned and began talking to me in the noisy waiting room while my cat wailed somewhere in the recesses of the building. I could take in none of the vet’s words.
Emotional intelligence – the ability to understand how you affect the people around you, sensing the emotional needs of others and adapting with the situation to manage your relationships more effectively.
I would have been more receptive to the information the vet was giving me if he had taken me to be with my cat and closed the door on the noisy waiting room. I would no longer have been distracted by concern for my cat and the noise around me.
The people in the waiting rooms of tv shows would be more receptive to the information they’re being given once they know their loved one is out of danger. In a highly emotional state they are not going to be able to deduce from what is being said that their loved on is probably still breathing.
And the psychiatric patient needed empathy for a perfectly normal feeling of disappointment that most people would feel in the same situation. Instead the situation was escalated unnecessarily, resulting in a person being labelled with a word that had never applied to her before outside this one incident.
Ways To Increase your EQ:
- Think about how your words and actions will impact those around you. Put yourself in their shoes. How are they likely to experience it? How would you feel on the receiving end of your words or actions? How can you make it easier for them?
- Self-reflect regularly on how you interact with others. Try to be an observer of your own actions. Are there some areas you could work on? Do you need more humility, more patience, less judgment? Also notice what you do well.
- Talk about your feelings rather than expressing them directly. For example, saying ‘I felt angry when that happened’ is more effective than screaming ‘you’re an idiot’.
- Sometimes no matter how mindful we are, we slip up. When this happens, apologise. Consider how you might do it differently next time.
The ability to pause and reflect in upsetting situations is the key to responding intelligently. It gives us time to see the other person’s side, enabling us to understand why they did something. When we do this, we may find we can let go of our upset altogether.
Learning and practising these skills changes your brain circuitry, inhibiting disruptive emotional impulses. This is helpful both personally and professionally, and considered as important as your intellect in determining success in work and life.