Emotional Intelligence is your ability to be aware of, understand, and influence your feelings and the feelings of others. In moments where your emotional intelligence is weaker internally, you may have negative self-dialogues, be driven by fear, catastrophise small issues, and often won’t sleep well at night. When it’s missing externally, you’ll take stress out on those around you, be frustrated often, and feel aggressive or impatient with other people. Improving your emotional intelligence increases your self-awareness and self-leadership. It also greatly increases your ability to lead others, by both understanding their needs and emotions better.
There are three key steps to becoming more emotionally smarter:
Understand our own emotions, and become aware of how they are impacting us in the moment.
When we experience a negative emotion – fear, anxiety, anger, frustration – we get put into a threat state. We find it hard to think, can’t focus, feel less connected and have less insight. This is the heart of defensive reactions. Our immediate response to feeling threatened is to protect ourselves. These emotions aren’t bad, but we can’t let them control us. We need to build strategies to move out of this state.
Understand other people’s emotions and learn how to work with them.
We become emotionally smarter the more we understand about the social motivators of the brain. I coach through the ACCESS model, where Autonomy, Certainty, Connection, Equality, Status and Safety are the primary motivators. Here’s a quick run-down of the base desire behind each:
- Autonomy: Making our own choices
- Certainty: Knowing what the future holds
- Connection: Feeling like we’re part of a group
- Equality: Seeing that things should be fair
- Status: Believing that we are well-positioned relative to others
- Safety: Feeling able to express intimacy or vulnerability
It’s extremely useful to know which social motivators are most important to you. You’ll find that they’re not all evenly weighted, and you can probably rank them from 1 to 6. Have a go at doing this. Now, have a think about your interactions with others. It is likely that the social motivators that you care least about are the ones that you put least effort into providing for others! Growing your emotional intelligence lets you correct this.
Build strategies to get yourself out of a threat state when you’re stressed.
One of my favourite strategies is the 30-second circuit breaker. I call it BLR: ‘Breathe – Label – Reappraise’.
Breathe: The first step is breathe deeply. This simple action provides two benefits. Firstly, it’s an interruption. It creates a pause before our response. Secondly, it starts a physiological process that actually changes how we feel. Breathing deeply sends oxygen to the prefrontal cortex, which in turns helps regulate our fight-flight-freeze response.
Label: After you breathe, label the emotion. Whether angry, frustrated, or annoyed, label it! You can say something like: “I’m feeling overwhelmed.” “I feel hurt and upset.” What’s the benefit of labelling? One, it switches on our prefrontal cortex, engaging rational thoughts rather than relying on emotions. Two, it allows us to externalise. We can step back from the feelings we’re having, and assess them more objectively. We can’t make choices about what to do with our feelings until we recognise what they are.
Reappraise: Finally, reappraise by asking yourself some questions: “What can I learn from this?” “What can I be grateful for?” “In five years, will this 10 minutes to matter?” Switching negative thoughts into positive puts you back in control. From here, you have the power to respond the way you want to, and shape the conversation or interaction in a productive way.
To be able to use the BLR strategy – or any strategy – you need to practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is about being present and aware. Our brains are always thinking about the past and the future! Thankfully, you don’t need to do mindfulness exercises for long amounts of time for it to benefit you, you just need to practice it consistently.
Emotional regulation and our ability to handle stress are key skills to have. It’s exciting to know you can develop them actively, and become emotionally smarter.