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What is Emotional Intelligence?

Sep 10, 2021
Reading time 4 min.

What is the point of Emotional Intelligence (EI)? Why bother with how you are feeling? Why concern yourself with the emotions of others? Well, it can make life personally and professionally much easier for all involved.

EI is a skill that can be developed, but what exactly is it?

EI is the ability to understand our own and others’ emotions. It is slightly more complex in that it involves the ability to not only understand and name the emotion that we are experiencing but to manage this effectively. I have often provided the example of how do you know if entering a job interview you are excited about the opportunity or afraid of the interview process?

Although everyone will have their own emotional cues, we also have general emotional cues when our emotions are elevated. These general cues can often overlap between emotions because they are part of the fight or flight response. This is within us all and designed for us to run toward opportunity or run from danger. As such the head, heart and lungs will get into gear. People may experience racing thoughts, headaches, racing heartbeat as the heart pumps blood around the body to the muscles to prepare for action. In addition, people may experience changes in their breathing, be it heavier, faster or more shallow. It is important for us all to be able to avoid to the best of our ability our emotions elevating to this level in everyday life. Elevated emotions can impair our ability to think clearly. Sometimes it is essential. It is a natural reaction for a reason. However, it can be controlled.

How can we manage our emotions so that we do not react impulsively, inappropriately or in anyway that may cause us to do something that we later regret? There is no one answer to this question. Everyone will have different methods that work for them. However, if we look at the general cues of thoughts, heartbeat and breathing we can identify some methods that will work for most.

Do you know when you are thinking negatively? It is an abstract concept to think about thinking but a powerful tool to support you in emotive times. I find the most difficult aspect is identifying that I am thinking negatively in the first place, but I have managed to identify thought patterns that warn me that either I am winding myself up or bringing myself down. For example, “I can’t do this!” Now I know from experience I can do pretty much anything I put my mind and motivation to, but I am a procrastinator. If I catch myself thinking “I can’t do this” I can challenge it by reminding myself of all that I have achieved, and typically there’s something similar I have overcome. I have overcome a lot in life. In the past two years alone I have overcome depression, anxiety, stress, near divorce and an identity crisis. All amid a global pandemic.

Now typically I can recognise my heart racing, but I want to avoid it getting to that level unless necessary such as running from danger. One of the best tools I find for managing all three of these cues; thoughts, heart rate and breathing is mindful breathing.

Typically, we will take shorter exhales from the chest in panic breathing. Initially just be mindful or conscious of your breathing patterns. You can then focus your thoughts on the breath and slowing down on the exhale. If necessary, counting in your head how long you are exhaling for. Also try to focus on inhaling through the abdomen as opposed to the chest. You will distract your mind from those negative thoughts. This also slows down the breathing and the heart rate. This can bring you back to a more composed state where you can manage the situation as is best for all involved. At the very least it provides you with time for more choice.

It is a discreet technique that can be practised anywhere, without anyone knowing that you are doing it. I would recommend practising this in a relaxed state first, as it is a skill and like any skill it can be learned to become like second nature.

There are numerous other emotional management techniques that you can use. Each individual will find different techniques work for them.

However, once you are in control of your emotions, rather than your emotions in control of you, it gives you options. Options in your personal, professional and practically any area of your life. Emotions are alive within us all the time.

How do you know how someone else is feeling? Sure, you could ask. However, they may or may not intentionally lie to you. They may even be lying to themselves because emotions can be that intense. There are ways in which you can pick up on this. What they say. What they don’t say. Their body language and numerous other tells. Again, if you would like to discuss this further, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

It is an emotive time out there. Stay safe.

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