At Eureka Training, we believe strongly in the importance of EI in the workplace. To that end, we are devoting a series of articles to explore the subject, designed to help you identify, utilise, build, and enhance emotional intelligence in yourself and in those you mentor.
We welcome your personal stories, which we would love to share. And if there are any aspects of emotional intelligence you would like us to pursue, please let us know.
The ability to express and control our emotions is essential, but so is our ability to understand, interpret, and respond to the emotions of others. Imagine a world where you could not understand when a friend was feeling sad or when a co-worker was angry.
So what is Emotional Intelligence (EI)? Quite simply, emotional intelligence is the ability to identify and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others. Even simpler, it is the intelligent use of emotions. It is generally said to include many skills including:
- Emotional awareness, including the ability to identify your own emotions and those of others
- The ability to harness emotions and apply them to tasks like thinking and problems solving
- The ability to manage emotions, including the ability to regulate your own emotions, and the ability to cheer up or calm down another person
In the early 1990s, John Mayer and Peter Salovey introduced the theory of EI and demonstrated how it might be measured. At the time, they described EI as “the capacity to reason about emotions and emotional information, and of emotions to enhance thought. They believed:
People with high EI can solve a variety of emotion-related problems accurately and quickly. High EI people, for example, can accurately perceive emotions in faces. Such individuals also know how to use emotional episodes in their lives to promote specific types of thinking. They know, for example, that sadness promotes analytical thought and so they may prefer to analyse things when they are in a sad mood (given the choice). High EI people also understand the meanings that emotions convey: They know that angry people can be dangerous, that happiness means that someone wants to join with others, and that some sad people may prefer to be alone. High EI people also know how to manage their own and others’ emotions. They understand that, when happy, a person will be more likely to accept an invitation to a social gathering than when sad or afraid.
Salovey and Mayer proposed a model that identified four different factors of emotional intelligence: the perception of emotion, the ability reason using emotions, the ability to understand emotion and the ability to manage emotions.
- Perceiving Emotions: The first step in understanding emotions is to perceive them accurately. In many cases, this might involve understanding nonverbal signals such as body language and facial expressions.
- Reasoning With Emotions: The next step involves using emotions to promote thinking and cognitive activity. Emotions help prioritise what we pay attention and react to; we respond emotionally to things that garner our attention.
- Understanding Emotions: The emotions that we perceive can carry a wide variety of meanings. If someone is expressing angry emotions, the observer must interpret the cause of their anger and what it might mean. For example, if your boss is acting angry, it might mean that he is dissatisfied with your work; or it could be because he got a speeding ticket on his way to work that morning or that he’s been fighting with his wife.
- Managing Emotions: The ability to manage emotions effectively is a crucial part of emotional intelligence. Regulating emotions, responding appropriately and responding to the emotions of others are all important aspect of emotional management.
According to Salovey and Mayer, the four branches of their model are, “arranged from more basic psychological processes to higher, more psychologically integrated processes.
Later on, in a Psychology Today article from 2009, Mayer suggests that it’s just as important to consider what EI is not. He outlines his view: “Emotional intelligence, however, is not agreeableness. It is not optimism. It is not happiness. It is not calmness. It is not motivation. Such qualities, although important, have little to do with intelligence, little to do with emotions, and nearly nothing to do with actual emotional intelligence.”
Daniel Goleman, another important expert in EI, weighs in: “All of us are different people in different situations, or with varied groups, or from time to time, and at various stages of our lives. The old personality model, that we have fixed traits that stay with us throughout our lives, does not do justice to how flexible our behaviour can be.”
He recommends thinking in terms of ‘modes’ rather than ‘fixed personality traits’.
‘Modes’ are a new concept that lets us understand how and why we actually are diverse people at various times. A mode orchestrates our entire way of being: how we perceive and interpret the world, how we react – our thoughts, feelings, actions and interactions. For example, there’s the avoidant mode, where we try to distance ourselves from feelings and people; the anxious mode, where we over-worry our relationships – and the secure mode, where we can take in emotions with calm, feel secure in ourselves and are able to take smart risks, and can focus in ways that help us be at our best. With some people, for instance, we may be in a mode that proves self-defeating, like the anxious mode. But with others we may find ourselves in the secure mode, where we live life at our best.
One effect of thinking in terms of ‘modes’ rather than ‘personality types’ is that modes imply we have choices. How liberating! We have the ability to learn what triggers us, to understand what puts us in particular modes, why we revert to less productive modes in times of stress, and how we can create new habits that allow us to get into better modes. Over time, the idea is that we train ourselves to be less reactive and more proactive no matter the situation.