The term Emotional Intelligence (EI) has become more common place as a competency. But there seems to be very little understand as to what it is or why it matters. However, many of the Topics of the Week found on this blog relate directly to EI. Learning to understand and express yourself more effectively and being able to correctly interpret what other people are trying to tell you is the basic foundation of EI and will be the working definition we will use today. (If you are interested in a more in depth look at EI www.eiconsortium.org is a good resource.)
To show why EI is important let me share an experience I had a few years ago:
I was invited to go to dinner by a good friend of mine. The group turned out to be rather large, 15 or so people if I remember correctly. I ended up sitting across from my friend and his sister was seated to his right. Early in the evening we learned that his sister was dealing with a messy break up from a long term relationship. I could feel how badly she was hurting as she told the story. Tears slid down her cheeks. Soon she was openly sobbing. I wanted to reach across to comfort her but the table was too wide. I looked to my friend expecting to see the same feelings on his face. I was shocked! He was eating his soup and didn’t even seem to notice! I got his attention and said, “Your sister is crying.” He responded, “I know” and kept eating. I waited a few moments and then said, “Comfort her.” He looked up from his soup in confusion and replied, “Uh? How?” “Put your arm around her.” He put down his spoon and reached toward her. Before he even touched her she collapsed into his chest, weeping. He looked uncomfortable and awkwardly patted her shoulder.
I realize now I observed a complete lack of emotional intelligence. Not only did my friend not have the ability to correctly interpret the feelings going on around him, he was clueless as to how to respond to them when they were pointed out to him.
Of course this is an extreme example. But I have seen very similar situations on athletic fields and in board rooms. Someone leaves the field obviously frustrated and upset, yet no one from their team checks in with them. An executive completely loses his cool in a meeting and then doesn’t understand why everyone tiptoes around him for the rest of the day.
Being emotionally intelligent starts with paying attention. What is going on with the people around me? How do I feel about it? A feeling word list can be really helpful. If you can’t come up with the right word you aren’t going to really understand what is going on. Think it sounds corny? Look at all the different words for angry at thesaurus.com. There are more than 50 of them. And it doesn’t even get into being frustrated or disappointed. Once you have an understanding of the feelings going on – what is the appropriate social response? Are you brave enough to be involved or are you going to play it safe and pretend emotion can be overridden by logic?
This is what I can tell you for certain – emotions have a huge affect on every interaction we have. Call it going with your gut or your intuition or try to ignore it; they will influence you one way or another. Fortunately, your level of emotional intelligence is something you can change over time with practice. Sometimes it takes having someone to help point out where you might be lacking. But I know growth is possible. My EIQ (Emotional Intelligence Quotient) has improved substantially in the past 15 years.
Do you have a story about someone lacking in EI? Or can you share an example of someone who really “got” a situation and was able to make a difference? We would love to hear about it. Make a comment.
Next week we are going to discuss one of Doc Robyn’s personal passions – why are women so catty?
Did you miss The Art of Real Teambuilding last week?