Delivering courses on Emotional Intelligence the question I hear most often at the start is: “How can I be more Emotionally Intelligent?”. The Emotional Intelligence is the habit of managing our personality, thoughts and feelings so that they lead to mindful behaviour. Developing EI is a combination of the right understanding and the right doing – actively practicing what we’ve learnt. Think about the Emotional Intelligence as a muscle. If you want to work on your bicep, you need to first of all know what exercises to do, but then you eventually need to start doing them. There are many ways to develop our emotional intelligence and a great body of knowledge around its construct and functioning that we teach in our Training courses, but for those of you who are eager to practice, here’s your EI-Development pocket guide.
Step 1: Awareness
The first step to developing your Emotional Intelligence is to understand your current strengths and areas of development. In my training courses and 1:1 EIP exploration sessions I often find that people are surprised to learn that EI is not a single score (like IQ for example) but a concept that incorporates a multi-dimensional mix of behaviours, feelings and attitudes. They are even more surprised when they realized that some of these aspects they are already quite good at! Many of my clients have a strong drive to self-improvement, which is great of course, but it often makes them miss out on the feedback regarding the things they are already good at. In my coaching practice, I’ve often found that people who succeed in achieving their goals are those who clearly see what they need to do differently, as well as realizing what is already working and what they need to do more of.
Step 2: Invite the feelings
In our EIP Accreditation courses we get our clients into the habit of checking-in with their feelings. As a business psychologist I often find it difficult to accept that despite all the research stressing the importance of acknowledging our feelings, most businesses seem to live by the notion of “if I close my eyes and pretend not to see it, it will go away”. Well, I’ve got some news for you – it won’t. If you are feeling angry that anger doesn’t just disappear if you suppress it long enough. It may disappear from your conscious mind after a while, but it will reappear in a form of something else – a back pain, throat problems, stomach ulcers etc.
Feelings are not some elusive constructs, they are physiological reactions to our cognitive experiences. In his brilliant book Emotional Intelligence @ Work, Jo Maddocks, mentions Löveheim and Tomkins’ model that explains how neurotransmitters within our bodies are linked to emotions. The authors explain for example that feeling angry is produced by low serotonin and high concentrations of dopamine and noradrenaline. These chemicals have a powerful effect on many organs in our body and can lead to various ailments and illnesses.
With the studies clearly showing a strong link between our emotional and physical wellbeing, it becomes apparent that we need to be able to manage our feelings in a healthy manner if we want to be productive and function well. But in order to do something about the emotions we have, we need to acknowledge them. If I feel insecure I can pay attention to this feeling, acknowledge that this is what I’m experiencing in the present moment, and even if it’s not the most pleasant feeling, I accept that this is what I feel. No emotions are good or bad, they all communicate something to us and our role is not to suppress it but to listen to that message. Once I accept that I’m feeling insecure, only then I can make a conscious decision about what I’m going to do about it. If I don’t pay attention to this feeling I can easily divert my attention from the anxiety I’m really experiencing and turn my energy into blaming someone else. Alternatively, I can acknowledge my feeling and manage it in a more mindful way.
Step 3: Remember you always have a choice
People who developed their emotional intelligence often say that it’s all about their mindset and taking responsibility for their actions. Acting in an emotionally intelligent way starts with accepting responsibility for our behaviours. If someone is shouting at me, I have more options than to just shout back or give them a silent treatment. I and only I am in charge of my behaviour. It’s not someone else who is making me angry and leaving me no choice but to speak in an aggressive manner. I am CHOOSING to feel angry and I am CHOOSING to behave in that manner. I can also choose not to feel threatened by someone’s raised voice, choose to recognize their aggression is just masking their own insecurity and thus choose to speak to them in a calm manner. Choose behaviour you would like to have. Choose long term gains. Choose to ask yourself: do I want to win the battle or the war?
Step 4: Look after yourself
You may have noticed that when they are hungry or sleepy, children are more prone to throwing tantrums and acting in irritated manner. Same rule applies to adults. When our body does not receive the rest and nutrition it needs, the impact of negative emotions on our behaviour is more profound. The messages coming from the lymbic part of the brain, known as the emotion centre, tend to be a bit quicker and more powerful than the signals coming from the neocortex, that is the thinking brain. The more sleep deprived, hungry, dehydrated or tired we are, the weaker the message from the neocortex and the more powerful the signal from our lymbic system. Eating healthy, drinking plenty of water, sleeping 8 hours a night, exercising and taking regular breaks during the day are crucial for managing our emotions in an effective way.
Step 5: Smile more
This may sound a bit self-help-ish, but the research confirms that when we smile our brain receives signals from the muscles around our mouth and makes sense of it by assuming that if we are smiling we must be feeling happy. Smiling activates the release of dopamine, serotonin and endorphins, which are the neurotransmitters that have a positive impact on our physical and mental wellbeing. Moreover, since humans evolved living in groups, social rewards or punishments tend have a powerful effect on our behaviour. Research shows that seeing a smiling person actives a part of our brain responsible for processing sensory rewards. In other words, when someone smiles at you it activates a feeling in your brain of being rewarded. Thus by smiling more, you’re making yourself feel better, contributing to other person’s positive emotions and are more likely to be treated in a more friendly manner by them, leading to a more mindful and positive behaviour exchange. So keep on smiling!
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