What is emotional intelligence and why is it important to understand (and develop it in yourself)?

What is emotional intelligence and why is it important to understand (and develop it in yourself)?

Human Resources

Author: Celia Denton (PTES Consulting)  

Editor’s comment: Over the next few months, we will  been running a  series of articles on emotion intelligence by PTES Consulting’s Celia Denton, our go-to expert for professional psychometric testing services.

Becoming an astronaut with NASA is a grueling process that includes rigorous and challenging selection procedures. Out of thousands of applicants, only about half a dozen are selected each decade. In order to be able to apply, you need extensive experience and knowledge in science and engineering. You also need to be physically strong, and a pilot with about 1000 hours of flying experience.

Let’s take a look at the story of Lisa Nowak, who adhered to all the criteria above. She had a master’s degree in aeronautical engineering and studied postgraduate astrophysics at the U.S. Naval Academy. She flew air missions for the U.S. Navy in the Pacific for over five years. And in 1996, she was one of the fortunate few to be selected to become an astronaut.

In 2007, after discovering that her lover was seeing another woman, Lisa drove 15 hours straight, in a diaper, from Houston to Orlando, in order to confront her boyfriend’s new girlfriend in an airport parking lot. Lisa packed zip ties, pepper spray and large garbage bags, and had some vague, but not-really-thought-through plans to kidnap the woman. Before she could even get her out of her car, Lisa had an emotional breakdown, resulting in her arrest.

Lisa was initially charged with attempted murder and kidnapping, but her charges were eventually reduced to burglary and misdemeanors.

She pleaded guilty in 2009 and was sentenced to a year of probation. The following year, Lisa was discharged from the Navy. She now lives in Texas and works in the private sector.

So, how does this link to emotional intelligence (EI)? 

Emotional intelligence refers to the ability to perceive, control, and evaluate emotions. Some researchers suggest that emotional intelligence can be learned and strengthened, while others claim it is an inborn characteristic.

The ability to express and control emotions is essential, but so is the ability to understand, interpret, and respond to the emotions of others. Imagine a world in which you could not understand when a friend was feeling sad or when a co-worker was angry. Psychologists refer to this ability as emotional intelligence, and some experts even suggest that it can be more important than IQ in your overall success in life.

So, getting back to Lisa Nowak:

If EQ is the ability to perceive, control and evaluate emotions, then:

  • What emotions do you think Lisa experienced?

If EQ is the expression and control of emotions, then:

  • Was Lisa able to constructively express and control her emotions?

If EQ is the understanding, interpretation, and response to the emotions of others, then:

  • Did Lisa understand the emotions/feelings of the other woman?

It is very important to understand what EQ is NOT: 

  • Agreeableness
  • Optimism
  • Happiness
  • Calmness
  • Dropping your own standards
  • Giving in to excuses
  • Letting people get away with things
  • Hugging and consoling

So, a low EQ would look like: 

  • Being argumentative
  • Not listening (Lisa maybe?)
  • Blaming others
  • Emotional outbursts (Again, maybe Lisa?)
  • Always having to be ‘right’
  • Oblivious to other’s feelings (Lisa?)
  • Poor coping skills (Lisa?)
  • Turn conversations to themselves
  • Struggle with relationships (And lastly, again maybe Lisa?)

What does a high EQ look like:

High EQ individuals control their interactions with other (or difficult) people by keeping their feelings in check. When they need to confront a difficult person, they approach the situation rationally. They identify their own emotions and don’t allow anger or frustration to fuel the chaos. Typically, they:

  • Have a robust emotional vocabulary
  • Are curious about people
  • Know their strengths and weaknesses
  • Are a good judge of character
  • Are difficult to offend
  • Let go of mistakes
  • Don’t hold grudges
  • Neutralise toxic people
  • Don’t seek perfection
  • Disconnect
  • Limit caffeine intake
  • Get enough sleep
  • Stop negative self-talk in its tracks
  • Won’t let anyone limit their joy

So how does one go about developing EI in oneself? Look out for the second part of our article in July‘s Reporter.

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