The Way to Thrive: Emotional Intelligence – What, Why, How

Emotional intelligence is, quite simply, a superpower. It’s the other kind of smarts and involves understanding what we’re feeling, what others are feeling and allowing our behaviour to be guided positively by that knowledge.

This is why we love it:

  • it fuels close, healthy relationships;
  • it guides how we are seen and treated socially; 
  • it leads to better decision making
  • it is a strong predictor of job success;
  • it gives us the muscle to express ourselves and have needs met in a positive way;
  • it helps us manage and express emotions in such a way as to avoid them damaging relationships or our own physical health (by holding them in).

Decades of research has proven that emotional intelligence is a greater predictor of success than IQ. It’s the reason people with average IQ’s can often outperform those with higher IQ’s. Now for some stats. According to Travis Bradberry, co-author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0

  • 90% of top performers are high in emotional intelligence;
  • People with a higher emotional intelligence make an average of $29,000 more per year than those with lower emotional intelligence
  • There is such a definitive link between emotional intelligence and income that every point increase in emotional intelligence adds an extra $1,300 to an annual wage. This has been established across all industries, at all levels, right across the world. 

Some people naturally have a higher emotional intelligence, but the good news is that it’s something that can be grown and developed in anybody. 

  1. Be aware of your thoughts and feelings as they happen.

    Emotions contain important information but too often, we feel things automatically without stopping to see if they are directly because of the situation at hand or leftover from past experiences. If feelings are driven by a current situation, it’s sensible to allow behaviour to be guided by those feelings. For example, if we’re anxious – there’s probably something to be anxious about so fight or flight might be necessary. If we’re feeling close to someone, that person is probably worthy of our love and trust so it’s not only safe to drop our guard and let them in. 

    Sometimes though, the feelings we feel are leftover from past experiences. When this happens, the feelings happen automatically and we act on them without giving their validity a second thought. If, for example, you’re having difficulty forming close relationships, is it because of the people you’re with or because you’ve been hurt before and old scars are infecting new relationships? If you’re anxious, is there really something to be anxious about, or is your fear detector too sensitive (maybe because it’s been triggered too many times) or responding because something from the past that was never resolved. Unless you tune in, your tendency will be to act as as though you still have a reason to be guarded or scared – whether you do or not. 

    It’s so important to pay attention to the feelings behind behaviour. By being aware of thoughts and feelings as they happen, they can be assessed for what they are and we can act more deliberately, rather than on impulse or out of habit. 

  2. Observe your behaviour 

    Be aware of how you act when you feel certain emotions and how this plays out in day to day life. How does the way you feel fuel your behaviour in relationships, in a crowd, your productivity, your creativity, your mood or your confidence. Are you behaving the way you want to behave? Or do your actions seem to happen without much thought at all. Behaviour can become automatic – we think, we feel, we act. When this happens, behaviour plays out unchecked. The more awareness you have around what you do, the more you’ll be able to inform your behaviour and act to effectively meet your needs.

  3.  Take Responsibility (Response-Ability).

    This isn’t easy but honestly, it makes such a difference. Your emotions and behaviour are yours to control. They come from you and only you can change them, if you want to. You can’t change what other people do, but you can change how you respond. You might feel sad or angry in response to something someone does, but what you do with that sadness and anger, and how long you hang on to it for, is up to you. We have so much power over our lives. The difficult part is realising it and being brave and bold enough to use that power to act deliberately. It’s not always easy, but it’s always the best way to look after ourselves.

  4. Respond, rather than react.

    Reacting happens automatically. There’s a thought (‘I’m fat’) that automatically brings up a feeling (‘shame’) which automatically prompts behaviour (‘eating/ snarling at someone close to you’) in such a way as to get distract from the emotion and to feel better. 

    Responding, on the other hand, involves slowing the process down enough to notice the thought or the feeling. Then, with full awareness of what’s happening inside you (‘I’m feeling guilty because I haven’t exercised for a while’) you make a deliberate decision on how to behave (‘I’ll go for a walk’). 

    Being able to slow down enough to get a clearer picture of what’s going on for you always leads to a response that is more likely to get you what you need. It keeps relationships intact, stops you from saying ‘yes’ when you mean ‘no’, and stops your emotions running your life. It also builds your capacity to be assertive by allowing you to sensitively share what you’re feeling or thinking with the right people at the right time in a way that you can be heard and get what you need.

  5. Be Empathic – With Yourself and Others

    Empathy is about reading people and situations, understanding why people the way they do and letting them know that you understand. This is the cornerstone of healthy relationships. When people feel noticed, they will naturally feel closer to you. Showing empathy isn’t always easy. Sometimes it involves putting your own thoughts and feelings aside for a moment to stop them from blurring your view. 

  6. Connect to Others. And Make it Easy For Them to Connect With You

    Show interest in other people and be open to connecting with them on a level that’s deeper than how interesting the menu is. This doesn’t mean you need to be outgoing and extroverted – not at all. Shy people often have an enormous amount of emotional intelligence because they are so empathic and think before they speak or act. Emotional intelligence means that you make the effort to read the person and act in such a way as to encourage the connection. Often it’s just about being interested in them or their story. You don’t need to be profound, witty or the life of the party. You just need to be open, responsive and curious.

  7. Anger never exists on it’s own. Understand what’s behind yours.

    Anger always comes from another emotion. Some of the common culprits are shame, insecurity, grief or jealousy. If you’re angry, pay attention what you’re feeling and the thoughts that are going alongside it. There will always be something else there, but it can take time and patience to flesh it out.

  8. Thoughts, feelings and behaviour aren’t a package deal. 

    Thoughts and feelings can drive behaviour automatically. Emotional intelligence means having the capacity to think and feel one way, but act in another way – generally a way that is more socially appropriate and more likely to make you heard, seen and satisfied.

  9. And if you have kids

    .  Build an emotional vocabulary by talking about your own feelings. 

    .  If they are angry, talk to them to try to flesh out the feeling underneath so they can get used to paying attention to their thoughts and emotions. 

    .  Model a healthy way to express your feelings. It’s good for your kids to see that you sometimes get sad, disappointed, jealous or anything else we humans experience from time to time.  Just don’t overwhelm them and don’t look to them for support. They still need to know you’re their rock and that you’re okay. 

Emotional intelligence is a way of relating to the world and the people in it with sensitivity and honesty. The  more we have, the more we’ll thrive. We won’t be able to help it.

3 Comments

Amelie

Thank you for this great article 🙂
I´d love more of this ! It can make you feel so dumb when your partner or friend seems to understand you and the people around you so much better than you do. When I was a teenager my dad told me he was worried about me going out into this world because I was lacking “sensors” for whats actually going on… I feel like I got a lot better already but sometimes people still tell me they think I am easy to manipulate which feels very troubling…
Hoping with articles like this I can teach myself how to be more emotionally clever 🙂

Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Follow Hey Sigmund on Instagram

Behaviour is never from ‘bad’. It’s from ‘big’. Big hungry, big tired, big disconnection, big missing, big ‘too much right now’. The reason our responses might not work can often be because we’ve misread the story, or we’ve missed an important piece of it. Their story might be about now, today, yesterday, or any of the yesterdays before now. 

Our job isn’t to fix them. They aren’t broken. Our job is to understand them. Only then can we steer our response in the right direction. Otherwise we’re throwing darts at the wrong target - behaviour, instead of the need behind the behaviour. 

Watch, listen, breathe and be with. Feel what they feel. This will help them feel you with them. We all feel safer and calmer when we feel our people beside us - not judging or hurrying or questioning. What don’t you know, that they need you to know?♥️
We all have first up needs. The difference between adults and children is that we can delay the meeting of these needs for a bit longer than children - but we still need them met. 

The first most important question the brain needs answered is, ‘Is my body safe?’ - Am I free from threat, hunger, exhaustion, pain? This is usually an easier one to take care of or to recognise when it might need some attention. 

The next most important question is, ‘Is my heart safe?’ - Am I loved, noticed, valued, claimed, wanted, welcome? This can be an easy one to overlook, especially in the chaos of the morning. Of course we love them and want them - and sometimes we’ll get distracted, annoyed, frustrated, irritated. None of this changes how much we love and want them - not even for a second. We can feel two things at once - madly in love with them and annoyed/ distracted/ frustrated. Sometimes though, this can leave their ‘Is my heart safe?’ needs a little hungry. They have less capacity than us to delay the meeting of these needs. When these needs are hungry, we’ll be more likely to see big feelings or big behaviour. 

The more you can fill their love tanks at the start of the day, the more they’ll be able to handle the bumps. This doesn’t have to be big. It just has to be enough. It might look like having a cuddle, reading a story, having a chat, sitting with them while they have breakfast or while they pat the dog, touching their back when they walk past, telling them you love them.

All brains need to feel loved and wanted, and as though they aren’t a nuisance, but sometimes they’ll need to feel it more. The more their felt sense of relational safety is met, the more they’ll be able to then focus on ‘thinking brain’ things, such as planning, making good decisions, co-operating, behaving. 

(And if this today was a bumpy one, that’s okay. Those days are going to happen. If most of the time their love tanks are full, they’ll handle when it drops a little. Just top it up when you can. And don’t forget to top yours up too. Be kind to yourself. You deserve it as much as they do.)♥️
Things will always go wrong - a bad decision, a good decision with a bad outcome, a dilemma, wanting something that comes with risk. 

Often, the ‘right thing’ lives somewhere in the very blurry bounds of the grey. Sometimes it will be about what’s right for them. Sometimes what’s right for others. Sometimes it will be about taking a risk, and sometimes the ‘right’ thing just feels wrong right now, or wrong for them. Even as adults, we will often get things wrong. This isn’t because we’re bad, or because we don’t know the right thing from the wrong thing, but because few things are black and white. 

The problem with punishment and harsh consequences is that we remove ourselves as an option for them to turn to next time things end messy, or as a guide before the mess happens. 

Feeling safe in our important relationships is a primary need for all of us humans. That means making sure our relationships are free from judgement, humiliation, shame, separation. If our response to their ‘wrong things’ is to bring all of these things to the table we share with them with them, of course they’ll do anything to avoid it. This isn’t about lying or secrecy. It’s about maintaining relational ‘safety’, or closeness.

Kids want to do the right thing. They want us to love and accept them. But they’re going to get things wrong sometimes. When they do, our response will teach them either that we are safe for them to come to no matter what, or that we aren’t. 

So what do we do when things go wrong? Embrace them, reject the behaviour:

‘I love that you’ve been honest with me. That means everything to me. I know you didn’t expect things to end up like this, but here we are. Let’s talk about what’s happened and what can be different next time.’

Or, ‘Something must have made this (wrong thing) feel like the right thing to do, otherwise you wouldn’t have done it. We all do that sometimes. What do you think it was that was for you?’

Or, ‘I know you know lying isn’t okay. What made you feel like you couldn’t tell me the truth? How can we build the trust again. Let’s talk about how to do that.’

You will always be their greatest guide, but you can only be that if they let you.♥️
Whenever there is a call to courage, there will be anxiety - every time. That’s what makes it brave. This is why challenging things, brave things, important things will often drive anxiety. 

At these times - when they are safe, but doing something hard - the feelings that come with anxiety will be enough to drive avoidance. When it is avoidance of a threat, that’s important. That’s anxiety doing it’s job. But when the avoidance is in response to things that are important, brave, meaningful, that avoidance only serves to confirm the deficiency story. This is when we want to support them to take tiny steps towards that brave thing. It doesn’t have to happen all at once.l and it doesn’t matter how long it takes. Brave is about being able to handle the discomfort of anxiety enough to do the important, challenging thing. It’s built in tiny steps, one after the other. 

We don’t have to get rid of their anxiety and neither do they. They can feel anxious, and do brave. At these times (safe, but scary) they need us to take a posture of validation and confidence. ‘I believe you, and I believe in you.’ ‘I know this feels big, and I know you can handle it.’ 

What we’re saying is we know they can handle the discomfort of anxiety. They don’t have to handle it well, and they don’t have to handle it for too long. Handling it is handling it, and that’s the substance of ‘brave’. 

Being brave isn’t about doing the brave thing, but about being able to handle the discomfort of the anxiety that comes with that. And if they’ve done that today, at all, or for a moment longer than yesterday, then they’ve been brave today. It doesn’t matter how messy it was or how small it was. Let them see their brave through your eyes.‘That was big for you wasn’t it. And you did it. You felt anxious, and you stayed with it. That’s what being brave is all about.’♥️
A relationally unsafe (emotionally unsafe) environment can cause as much breakage as as a physically unsafe one. 

The brain’s priority will always be safety, so if a person or environment doesn’t feel emotionally safe, we might see big behaviour, avoidance, or reduced learning. In this case, it isn’t the child that’s broken. It’s the environment.

But here’s the thing, just because a child doesn’t feel safe, doesn’t mean the person or environment isn’t safe. What it means is that there aren’t enough signals of safety - yet, and there’s a little more work to do to build this. ‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, it’s about what the brain perceives. Children might have the safest, warmest, most loving adult in front of them, but that doesn’t mean they’ll feel safe. This is when we have to look at how we might extend bigger cues of warmth, welcome, inclusiveness, and what we can do (or what roles or responsibilities can we give them) to help them feel valued and needed. This might take time, and that’s okay. Children aren’t meant to feel safe with every adult in front of them, so sometimes what they need most is our patience and understanding as we continue to build this. 

This is the way it works for all of us, everywhere. None of us will be able to give our best or do our best if we don’t feel welcome, liked, valued, and free from hostility, humiliation or judgement. 

This is especially important for our schools. A brain that doesn’t feel safe can’t learn. For schools to be places of learning, they first have to be places of relationship. Before we focus too sharply on learning support and behaviour management, we first have to focus on felt sense of safety support. The most powerful way to do this is through relationship. Teachers who do this are magic-makers. They show a phenomenal capacity to expand a child’s capacity to learn, calm big behaviour, and open up a child’s world. But relationships take time, and felt safety takes time. The time it takes for this to happen is all part of the process. It’s not a waste of time, it’s the most important use of it.♥️

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This