How Emotional Intelligence can help you be a better human

You’re probably familiar with concepts like “tuning into your own feelings”, “managing your energy” or you might have come across emotional intelligence (EQ) as a concept at some stage in your life, but might not have paid enough attention to it. That’s because we still live in a world where we seem to dismiss the importance of becoming emotionally intelligent as we tend to prioritise skills that might seem more tangible at first glance. 

If you’re rolling your eyes wondering: “What does this have to do with behaviour science or business for that matter?”, that’s a great question and I intend to do my best to answer it. I find EQ fascinating and deeply believe that it plays a crucial role when it comes to our growth and development on all levels. I wonder all the time why don’t we learn this in school?!? 

Chances are, at least once in your lifetime, you’ve come across people who seem to walk around with confidence (!not cockiness), are humble whilst at the same time, manage to capture everyone in the room. Their energy is magnetic and everyone seems to gravitate towards them; they infuse some of that enthusiasm into you too, whilst at the same time really listen to what you have to say and make you feel at ease and important. Those are the people who possess high EQ and charisma for that matter, but that’s a story for another time.

Most times we seem to completely miss out the fact that if we get a grip on managing ourselves and improving our EQ, our lives would be a lot easier purely because once you understand what makes people tick, you can become a better friend, parent, lover, colleague and a better leader, especially if you’re someone who manages a team or runs a business. Not surprisingly, some of the best leaders are the ones who aside from IQ, specific skills for their roles and everything else in between, possess a great ability to easily interact and connect with people from all sorts of walks of life.

Once we become better at understanding ourselves and others, we also realise that most people have good intentions but sometimes they will behave in a way that completely annoys us due to certain external or internal circumstances and not necessarily due to a particular personality trait. 

If you’re reading this because you’d like to become more attuned to our own emotions and those of others, here’s what you need to take in to account.

Learn how to manage your feelings

According to Daniel Golleman, handling feelings so they are appropriate is an ability that builds on self-awareness. A crucial role in life is played by having the capacity to soothe oneself, shake off anxiety, irritability and so on. People who are poor in this ability are constantly battling feelings of distress, while those who excel in it, can bounce back far more quickly from life’s setbacks and upsets. 

In other words, when it comes to learning how to manage your own feelings, resilience plays a great role. Diane Coutu, Harvard Business Review, has narrowed down resilient people to these 3 defining characteristics: 

  • they cooly accept harsh realities by facing them
  • they find meaning in terrible times
  • they have an uncanny ability to improvise making due with whatever’s at hand 

Perhaps one of the most defining concepts I’ve come across, is the concept of logotherapy, or “meaning therapy” created by Victor Frankl, a trained psychiatrist, neurologist, and Hollocaust survivor. This humanistic technique allows individuals to take the kind of decisions that will create a meaningful life.

Frankl spent most of his years in a nazi camp and in his widely acclaimed book “Man’s search for meaning” he shares his fascinating story of being able to find meaning in what was otherwise a terrible situation. His book is proof that once you understand how to manage your feelings, you can find meaning in life even in the most horrible of circumstances.

The three main techniques that he proposes and which you can try are:

  • Dereflection – this technique explains the importance of shifting your attention from yourself to the task at hand and as such dereflection counters self-observation by “ignoring” your symptoms. To give you an example from my own personal life, a month ago I was climbing a mountain (peak was 2300km altitude). On the way down, there was a part where I completely freaked out, it was very steep, I couldn’t see how the heck I was gonna do it, I couldn’t see where I could find the right grip and so on. Safe to say I was in panic mode for a few good minutes. After having my moment of freaking out, I decided to use this technique and just focused on the task at hand which was “get the hell out of there safely”. This also helped my amygdala calm down and I could see the logic steps I needed to take in order to get off safely.
  • Paradoxical intention – This second technique proposes continuously doing something you are afraid of, until the fear goes away. Why does it work? Well, every time you try to suppress a worry of a thought you will most likely end up thinking about it worse. The same applies with your fears, the more you postpone doing something you are afraid of, the fear grows bigger and bigger! 
  • Socratic dialogue – using your own words as a way to self-discovery. In psychotherapy, this is used by identifying patterns of words and finding the answer to your problems. 

(Guttmann, D. (1996). Logotherapy for the helping professional: Meaningful social work. New York, NY, US: Springer Publishing Co.)

Learn how to motivate yourself and keep the momentum going 

There are numerous books and articles out there trying to tackle motivation and talking about the optimal flow state. My top 3 favourites are: Flow, Emotional Intelligence and The Motivation myth. 

When it comes to motivating oneself, we tend to use what I call the “motivation excuse” when we don’t really want to do a particular task or work towards a certain goal. I often hear people say “I am waiting to get motivated to do x or y” and I always hate to break it to them that motivation never strikes. As a matter of fact, nothing happens without taking action towards achieving small successes as this will keep the momentum going. As a result, you will get motivated when seeing the results after a few weeks, months, years. Take for example exercising and healthy eating – you feel good when you notice the results or feel more energised or learning a new language and get excited you can string a sentence together. 

Most people hope they will be handed the magic pill that will keep them motivated. Ultimately, it comes down to these two words: Hard work + a lot of commitment towards achieving your goals and taking one step at a time, no matter how small or big. 

If you want to dive deeper into motivation, its fickle nature and what you can do to get better at getting stuff done, here’s another article I wrote a few months ago.

One of the best definitions when it comes to motivating oneself has to come, yet again, from Goleman:

Marshalling emotions in the service of a goal is essential for paying attention, for self-motivation and mastery, and for creativity. Emotional self-control—delaying gratification and stifling impulsiveness—underlies accomplishment of every sort. Being able to get into the “flow” state enables outstanding performance of all kinds. People who have this skill tend to be highly productive and effective in whatever action they undertake

This state of optimal experience was defined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in Flow as following: 

When the information that keeps coming into awareness is congruent with goals, psychic energy flows effortlessly. There is no need to worry, no reason to question one’s adequacy. But whenever one does stop to think about oneself, the evidence is encouraging: “You are doing all right.” The positive feedback strengthens the self, and more attention is freed to deal with the outer and inner environment. 

Understand what empathy really is 

Perhaps one of the most essential skills to have in life, the ultimate “people skills”, if you ask me, is empathy. Empathy fuels connections and is having the capacity to recognise emotions in others, in other words feeling with people. In this 2 minute video, Brené Brown explains empathy very simply but very effectively. 

As she puts is, there are four key elements to empathy:

  • Perspective taking – recognise someone’s perspective as their truth 
  • Staying out of judgement (which is hard to do most times) 
  • Recognise emotion in other people 
  • Communicating that you have understood that particular emotion

But empathy, as Goleman says, builds on self-awareness. In other words, the more open we are to our own emotions, the more skilled we will be in reading feelings in other people. 


So how can you become more empathetic? 

Listen 

When someone opens up to you and shares what’s going on in her life, the absolute best thing you can do is listen. JUST LISTEN. You don’t need to provide a response or come up with smart answers. Simply let the person talk. Cry. Shout. Whatever it takes. But make sure you’re giving them your full presence. 

Connect with their feelings

They say you don’t truly know how someone feels until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes. While most times you can’t do that (unless you have been in the exact situation) you can definitely imagine it. You might not have gone through the same thing as your friend or family member, but you can envision what that might be like. 

Acknowledge their pain

Sometimes the best response is no response at all, as in very difficult times is unlikely you have a helpful answer. An example that comes to mind is death (not to be morbid!). Whatever we say in those moments won’t change the situation but we can be there for the person, allowing them to share their pain, acknowledging it, creating that safe space. It’s always better to say “I don’t know what to say but I am here for you” than avoiding the conversation altogether. 

Show them love and acceptance 

There’s no universal response here but by simply showing up and doing something nice for the other person, you show that you care. You might choose to just show up and cook a meal, bring a drink or do something nice for the other person just to show you have their back no matter what.

When it comes to learning how to become more emotionally attuned so in turn you become a better human, it’s important to realise that this is the sort of work that takes time and requires consistency; we need to make small steps in that direct every day. Growth, as you perhaps know by now, feels painful and uncomfortable most times, but without it, there’s no progress.

Having the ability to monitor our feelings is crucial to psychological insight and self-understanding. An inability to notice our true feelings leaves us at their mercy, as Golleman points out. People with greater certainty about their feelings are better pilots of their lives, having a surer sense of how they really feel about personal decisions from whom to marry to what job to take.

This is also one of the ways I personally measure my success. The more I manage to grow and evolve (emotionally, mentally, intellectually, physically) the more successful I am in my own books. I know…it’s a very biased perspective! 😃

What’s one take away you can start implementing today in order to become a better human? (Pop your comments below)

Author: Ionela spinu

Photo by Allie Smith on Unsplash

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