Understanding Emotional Intelligence and Its Effect on Your Life

Guest post by Julie Pepper Lim, Marketing & Communications Coordinator at Meritage Medical Network.

E·mo·tion·al In·tel·li·gence

noun

The capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.

“emotional intelligence is the key to both personal and professional success”

The five components of EI:

  • Self-Awareness.
  • Self-Regulation.
  • Motivation.
  • Empathy.
  • Social Skills.

Emotional Intelligence was first advanced by Peter Salovey, President of Yale University, and John Mayer, Professor at University of New Hampshire, but Daniel Goleman popularized it in his book, Emotional Intelligence.

Emotional Intelligence can help people make better decisions and improve organizational performance. This is beneficial because people drive performance.

This area of study has been particularly valuable in leadership development. The reach of leaders has a cascading effect on teams, groups and whole organizations. So, the better a leader’s Emotional Intelligence the greater their capacity for relationships which are vitally important to overall success.

Dr. Tasha Eurich says:

“Leaders who focus on building both internal and external self-awareness, who seek honest feedback from loving critics, and who ask what instead of why can learn to see themselves more clearly — and reap the many rewards that increased self-knowledge delivers.”

“For yourself, ask the introspective questions, yearn for knowledge and be curious. And for others, seek feedback in an honest, caring environment.”

Curiosity is a huge part of EI or EQ (Quotient). Einstein claimed to have no special talents, but only to be passionately curious. Curiosity and passion walk hand in hand and people who want to grow and learn are more likely to be successful both personally and professionally.

Deep thinking and problem solving are a big part of the quotient for EI. People who are often contemplating the why of who we are and what we do are often seeking continuous improvement, as well as being receptive to analyzing and processing all new information that comes their way.

There’s also a belief component in people with high EQs, where they contextualize that the things and people in their life are there for a reason. This can drive more trust and esteem in people as they believe the pieces in their lives will come together in a good and productive way, which by extension, often do.

As little as ten years ago, EQ was not thought of as a science. As it became more studied and more data was developed regarding its value, it was embraced by educators in the form of programs in social and emotional learning, or what has come to be known as SEL. Now in some states and nations, SEL has become a chief discipline with programs in character education, violence prevention, antibullying, drug prevention and even academic performance.

Roger Weissberg, who directs the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning at the University of Illinois at Chicago has led the way in bringing SEL into schools worldwide. He has made the case for SEL enhancing children’s learning while preventing such problems as violence. Empathy development is a huge aspect of EQ and has been paying off not just in behavioral ways but in academic achievement, as well.

In 1995, Daniel Goleman proposed that a good part of the effectiveness of SEL came from its impact in shaping children’s developing neural circuitry, particularly the executive functions of the prefrontal cortex, which manage working memory. Today, Mark Greenberg of Pennsylvania State University reports that not only is SEL effective in boosting academic achievement, but that much of increased learning can be attributed to improvements in attention and working memory. This acts as further evidence that neuroplasticity, the shaping of the brain through repeated experience, plays a key role in the benefits of SEL.

Today, companies are looking at candidates through the lens of EQ. The components of self-awareness and self-management can become critically important when you have what Daniel Goleman refers to as an “amygdala hijack.”

The amygdala (Latin, corpus amygdaloideum) is an almond-shape set of neurons located deep in the brain’s medial temporal lobe. Shown to play a key role in the processing of emotions, the amygdala forms part of the limbic system. In humans and other animals, this subcortical brain structure is linked to both fear responses and pleasure.

An amygdala hijack occurs when a person feels humiliated, threatened or intimidated. These feelings are accompanied by physical symptoms like a racing heart or narrowing vision. The more a person can learn to identify the hijack, the more skillful the individual can become in choosing to cool down before impulsively responding. This is what Dan Siegel and his colleagues at UCLA refer to as, “Name it to Tame it.” It’s the root of Emotional Intelligence and, more importantly, how we can benefit from using it.

Something as simple as facial expressions can trigger our neurons to mirror those of the person whose face we are looking at. This can produce an emotional contagion. Sigal Varsade, a researcher at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, suggests avoiding an emotionally toxic person’s gaze to to fend off mirroring their neurons!

The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that modulates our emotions. The cerebellum at the base of the brain keeps people’s attention focused on the other person, picking up their cues and facial expressions like a synchronistic dance. When a person can break the synchrony and detach from the sender’s emotions it can be helpful to the overall interaction. Leader’s moods play a powerful role in impacting groups and their performance. This is especially important since memories are also created and people remember negative reactions more than positive ones.

Our amygdalas are often hijacked, especially when we’re passionate, which is often the case in the work place, at school, and of course, in our family interactions. Practicing self-awareness, and learning self-regulation are two aspects of EQ that can help to lift it. Now that Emotional Intelligence is being more dynamically and scientifically explored, we can look at it more tangibly and maybe start to appreciate the impact that it can have on our lives.

Conditions such as anxiety, autism, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and phobias are suspected of being linked to abnormal functioning of the amygdala, owing to damage, developmental problems, or neurotransmitter imbalance.

As children become adults, they generally gain more neurons in the amygdala which helps to govern social and emotional behavior. However, in children on the Autism spectrum, scientists have determined the opposite. In this case, these children have more neurons in the amygdala earlier in life and less as they mature into adults. This overabundance of amygdala neurons could possibly contribute to the social interaction challenges they face.

There’s still much research to be done on the effects that Emotional Intelligence can have on a person’s life. However, with the amygdala at its center, there’s hope that this science can help us better understand ourselves at work and at play. There is also a possibility that it may even unlock clues to treating anxiety and other neurodevelopmental and psychiatric disorders.

Whereas our IQs have been thought of as immutable and more of a genetic makeup, with a small variable of change as we grow older, EQ is something we can actively develop through education and effective coaching. Though there are tests for both, IQ tests have in the past been thought of as more objective than EQ tests. EQ tests are more subjective in the lack of reliable results. People may not answer accurately because they’re trying to do well, which by virtue makes them more subjective tests.

While quantifying intelligence dates back to 1883, Emotional Intelligence didn’t become widely known until Goleman’s 1995 book, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. There are critics of Goleman and the use of the word “intelligence” in his studies. By using that term, they feel he is conflating skills, habits, and personality traits which they dismiss as an actual form of intelligence at all.

Still, the research continues, as does the conversation. Whether or not you consider it an intelligence or a trait, it is exciting to look at the impact that controlling your personal “Emotional Intelligence” can have on your existing environment and your life.