Emotional Intelligence 101– What You Weren’t Taught In School

emotional intelligence

Image by Marc Blowers | Instagram @cashcarnegie

We’re taught at a young age that being smart is important and school is the gateway to a happy and successful life.

Come on Little Billy, finish your homework and get good grades so that you can get into a good school and get a good job and have a good life…and for God’s sake Billy, stop staring at the teacher’s breasts!

We’re inundated with countless hours of instruction and homework soon after we learn how to walk and not shit our pants in public.  We’re given innumerable exams and quizzes to ensure we’ve sufficiently retained what we’ve been taught and are prodded (albeit not-so-gently at times) through the educational ladder.

The goal of all this schooling is so that we contribute to society as employable and productive denizens.

Inherently, this isn’t a bad goal and you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to understand the importance of education.  It cuts our experiential learning curve, teaches us about ourselves and the world around us, hones our critical thinking and problem solving abilities, and enables us to synthesize information to produce unique insights and creative manifestations.

Despite the obvious pros of school and the education system, it tends to focus on teaching us strict academics and “hard” skills – i.e. math, English, science, social studies – while generally neglecting other skills essential for optimally navigating the human experience.

This one-sided approach to education can be problematic because we aren’t computers whose only goal is to solve complex algorithms (or locate and terminate Sarah Connor).

Indeed, technical knowledge and critical thinking is essential for career and life success, but it would be foolish to neglect the humanistic truth that we are all highly intricate and emotional creatures who are not always bound to behave and decide under the pretenses of logic and reason.

Herein lies the problem – we’ve spent the majority of our lives cultivating and enhancing IQ and very little time cultivating and enhancing something known as EQ or emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence is the ability to perceive, control, and express one’s emotions, understand the emotions of others, and use this knowledge to guide behavior, aid decision making, and facilitate healthy interpersonal relationships.

EQ is different from IQ because it deals with the emotional aspects of reasoning rather than the logical ones – how you solve a math problem is a lot different from how you overcome feelings of grief or help a friend going through a breakup.

helping a friend is a great way of improving and showing emotional intelligence

A few examples of EQ in action might include:

1) You get cut off on the highway.  You feel yourself get angry and really want to punch the person responsible in the face.  You accept these feelings but ultimately decide flipping this person the bird and tailgating them for 20 miles is probably not the best decision.  You keep on driving and are proud of yourself for your ability to exercise self-control and restraint.

2) You’re at a social gathering.  You notice someone in the corner who appears nervous and uncomfortable.  You take note of how they’re probably feeling go up and talk to them.  You ask them who they are and use what they tell you to ask follow-up questions.  You slowly begin to build rapport by showing interest and empathizing with them.  Soon, they’re joking and laughing with you and appear much more at ease in the environment.

Emotional intelligence is important because it supports competencies linked to personal and interpersonal wellbeing while mitigating the negative influence emotions can have over our behavior and decision making.

Daniel Goleman’s book Working With Emotional Intelligence lists 5 specific competencies that emotional intelligence consists of:

1) Self-awareness

2) Self-regulation

3) Social skills

4) Empathy

5) Motivation

Each of these competencies could have an entire article dedicated to them but the point is that EQ is a multifaceted concept that addresses an array of personal and interpersonal skills conducive to physical, mental, emotional, and social wellbeing.  As your EQ goes up, these skills tend to follow suite.

When it comes to EQ’s ability to mitigate the negative influence emotions can have on our behavior and decision making, I want you to take a moment to reflect on a time your emotions got the best of you and you did something stupid.

(Please note that if this exercise takes you more than 5 seconds, you’re probably not very self-aware and EQ is just what you need.)

Remember that time mommy pissed you off and you ran away… yeah you weren’t being very emotionally intelligent.

That time Sally broke up with you and you turned into a total psycho…yeah you weren’t being very emotionally intelligent.

That time your coworker said something mean and you photocopied your ass and put it all over the office…yup same thing.

When I reflect on my life and earlier years, it’s impossible to deny that I severely lacked emotional intelligence at times.

poor emotional intelligence

Sure, I could tell you what an imaginary number was but I could barely handle the pain associated with my first rejection.  I experienced periods of shame and guilt that were only reconciled through self-harm and sabotage.  Social anxiety was normal.  Peers of mine went down dark and lonely paths trying to find solace in the confusing and painful realities of life and growing up.

If we aren’t able to understand our feelings, get them under control, and express them in a productive way, we are liable to act foolishly and out of the best interests of ourselves and others.

Our lack of formal EQ education has resulted in a society that generally sucks at it. It’s okay, it’s not entirely our fault.  The great thing about how much we suck is that we have nowhere to go but up.  You know why?

Emotional intelligence can be learned.

Unlike IQ, which many experts believe is relatively fixed, emotional intelligence is malleable and can be developed over time.

Like any skill, there are going to be some people who are naturally better at it than others.  Additionally, some people might be better at certain aspects of emotional intelligence than others such as someone being a strong empathizer but weak self-regulator.

Regardless of where you fall on the emotional intelligence spectrum, you can improve through awareness, education, and practice and improve the outcomes in your life as well as the lives of those around you.

Next week, we’re going to look at specific strategies to help us increase our emotional intelligence competencies so stay tuned!

UPDATE: 4 Real-World Tips for Improving Emotional Intelligence

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  1. Sherri B.

    This is right up my alley! As a mom and a SPED teacher, this is SPOT ON! Good article Michael. I look forward to reading them weekly! 🙂

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