Since early childhood, we have been trained to accomplish tasks using logical reasoning, word comprehension, and visual thinking. These skills are measured through standardized tests that assess intelligence and yield our Intelligence Quotient (IQ) score. However, we often lack the proficiency to tackle tasks that require emotional intelligence. In many cases, we have not been properly guided to identify and express our emotions, which is what emotional intelligence is all about.
Emotional competence is defined as the capacity to identify, understand, express (self-awareness), manage (self-management), and use one’s own feelings and those of others (social awareness). The term “Emotional Intelligence” became widely known with the publication of D. Goleman’s book: Emotional Intelligence – Why it can matter more than IQ (1995).
In this context, I would like to explain the components of emotional intelligence in the context of a workplace situation and the three-step emotional intelligence approach to tackling it.
Situation: Imagine THE project you have been working on for the last three months has been defunded, and your boss tells you that your tasks will have to be completely reassessed. Your first reaction may be to feel frustrated, angry, aggressive, defensive and disappointed.
Even if the situation feels uncomfortable, this is the starting point to tackle it from an emotionally competent perspective.
Emotions as a guiding system – self-awareness
First, label your emotions and recognize them as interpretations of feelings. Also, acknowledge the intensity of the emotion. Emotions signal how accurately we are achieving the goals set out by our motivational system. Therefore, the deeper our motivational system is engaged with a situation, the stronger our feelings. Be mindful that the way we “feel” emotions has been reshaped and filtered according to our socio-cultural context and past experiences.
Example: I feel very angry (labeling emotion) as I had invested all my energy and time into the project for the last three months. This reverts me to an experience in which my dedication and engagement were not acknowledged.
Incorporating emotions – self-management
Once we can describe how we are feeling and how intensely we are feeling it, we can disclose deeper emotions and identify the values being compromised by the situation. At this moment, we have the possibility to manage emotions in a twofold manner: first, by recognizing and accepting them, and secondly, by choosing how to react to the situation that triggered the emotion.
Example: I am frustrated (underlying emotion) as I perceive that my work has not been acknowledged (acknowledgment value being challenged).
Empathy – social awareness
Once our own internal emotional examination has been concluded, it’s time to turn to the counterpart. We do so by developing our emotional competence via empathy. We need to adopt head-to-heart cognitive empathy by understanding the other person’s perspective, heart-to-heart emotional empathy by feeling what someone else feels, and empathic concern to be able to sense their needs. However, overdoing it can lead to compassion fatigue, while underdoing it can defer our personal connections to others.
Example: The decision to defund the project comes from top management; therefore, my boss hasn’t overseen my dedication and my engagement in the project. I will continue to do my newly assigned projects with the same dedication and enthusiasm.
By engaging in this three-step process, we are prone to build a capacity for resilience and self-awareness, improving not only our ability to tackle future situations in a competent manner but also fostering better decisions.
On a final note, once the emotions have been ventilated, and the situation has been discussed, MOVE ON. The objective is to learn from the experience and develop our emotional competencies, a course long due from our school days. Mayer, J. D., & Salovey, P. (1997). What is emotional intelligence? In P. Salovey & D. Sluyter (Eds.), Emotional development and emotional intelligence: Educational implications (pp. 3–34). New York, NY: Basic Books.
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