Research Paper By Martina Malavenda
(Relationship Coach, ITALY)
Emotional intelligence is defined as “a set of emotional and social skills that influence the way we perceive and express ourselves, develop and maintain social relationships, cope with challenges, and use emotional information in an effective and meaningful way. – Daniel Goleman
Emotional intelligence (EI) is the general catchphrase for the ability to know our feelings, clearly sense them when they occur without becoming overwhelmed by them, manage our emotions and the following actions accordingly to a given situation and also recognize the feelings of others and skillfully interact with them.
Emotional competences can be learned, developed and practiced to achieve outstanding results in the workplace, but also to be able to resolve conflicts and challenges in our daily life and to have healthier and more fulfilling relationships within our family and our spouses.
The more emotionally attuned we are to our feelings and those of people around us, the more appropriately we can respond to the given circumstances. When a very critic situation occurs, we can train ourselves how to be calm. When there’s a happy moment in our lives, we can let us feel that happiness and be vulnerable and warm with people around us. When we feel frustrated or incredibly angry, we can train ourselves on how to cool off and better respond. Understanding a situation and channeling our emotions accordingly is the core of EI.
5 key components of Emotional Intelligence
Emotions can play an important role in our lives: As Goleman suggests in his book “Emotional intelligence”, they are essentially impulses to act, action plans Nature has endowed us with to be able to handle, in real-time, life’s emergencies and much more. Emotions can help us survive, thrive and avoid danger, they motivate us to act quickly and take actions that will maximize our chances of survival and success.
Naturalist Charles Darwin believed that emotions are adaptations that allow both humans and animals to survive and reproduce. When we are angry, we are likely to confront the source of our irritation. When we experience fear, we are more likely to flee the threat. When we experience love, we might seek out a mate to share our lives with and reproduce.
They also play an important role in our daily life decision-making, they allow other people to understand us, they let us do the same in our turn and to be able to connect on a human level.
Emotions are a complementary part of our brain’s rational side, they are as important as this latter and finding a good balance between these two “brains” (emotional and rational one) is essential to living our life fully. Psychologist and best-selling author Daniel Goleman has suggested that there are five key components that, if developed, let people achieve a great level of emotional intelligence and find a good inward and outward balance.
- Self-awareness: according to Goleman, it is the ability to monitor our inner world, our thoughts and feelings. It is the ability to sense our “emotional brain” in motion when it makes itself felt, and to identify and label each particular emotion properly.
For instance, when we get angry, the heart rate, arterial tension, and testosterone production increase, breathing rate speeds up, the blood flows to the hands, cortisol (the stress hormone) decreases against an increased level of adrenaline which generates an impulse of strong physical energy, and the left hemisphere of the brain becomes more stimulated which allows us to be more vigilant and to have a quick reaction to a physical or, more often, an emotional threat. Being self-aware, in this specific situation, means recognizing a change in our body, how it manifests outwardly, what the source of our physical change is and how this state is called: “Here’s anger”.
However, self-aware individuals are also aware of the effect of their own thinking patterns on their emotions (if I tell myself “I haven’t been able to grasp yet a stupid yoga position I’ve tried thousands of time so far, I’m such a failure!”, the triggered emotions will be anger and frustration), following actions, moods, and behaviors they decide to put in place. These individuals are also capable of recognizing their own strengths and limitations, are open to new information and experiences, and learn from their interactions with others. They tend to have a positive perspective on life and to release negative feelings way before others.
Goleman suggests that people who possess this self-awareness have a good sense of humor, a good level of self-confidence in themselves and their abilities without getting arrogant, and are aware of how other people perceive them.
- Self-regulation: the recognition of emotions is well-differentiated from the efforts we make to not act under their strong impulse. In addition to being aware of your own emotions and the impact you have outwardly, emotional intelligence requires you to be able to regulate and manage your emotions. This doesn't mean putting emotions on lock-down and hiding your true feelings, it simply means waiting for the right time, place, and a venue to express your emotions. Self-regulation is all about expressing your emotions appropriately.
Once you’ve realized you are feeling an emotion and recognized which one of them you are experiencing, you are in control of your external reactions and how you’d like to deliver it. You are in a privileged position to choose how to present yourself and how to handle emotional triggered situations. For instance, if you’ve identified you are feeling angry, you can pick a strategy to cool yourself down before facing any conversation with others such as moving to a more neutral space and journaling, taking a walk, doing physical activity, etc.
Those who are skilled in self-regulation tend to be flexible and adapt well to change. They are also good at managing conflict and diffusing tense or difficult situations. Goleman also suggests that those with strong self-regulation skills are high in conscientiousness. They are thoughtful of how they influence others and take responsibility for their own actions.
- Empathy: The more emotionally attuned we are to our feelings, the more skilled we’ll be in reading other people’s emotions. Therefore, empathy is strictly connected to self-awareness: if we know our inner world we can easily recognize others and act accordingly. When you sense that someone is feeling sad or hopeless, for example, it will likely influence how you respond to that individual. You might treat them with extra care and concern or you might make an effort to buoy their spirits.
This is empathy: the other person’s emotions are seen, understood, accepted and exchanged by you in a process that Daniel Stern, the author of “the interpersonal world of the infant”, called “attunement”.
Empathy allows people to build social connections with others, it helps you learn to regulate your own emotions and engage in helpful behaviors.
- Social skills: These skills have a lot to do with being empathetic and attuned to others and involve the ability to coordinate a group of people’s efforts towards a common purpose, the ability to negotiate solutions, to set personal ties by using empathy and the ability to analyze the social context.
People who are socially intelligent display core traits (or social skills) that help them communicate and connect with others such as effective Listening, they truly pay attention to what and how a person is saying something and create further connection; conversational skills that enable them to carry on a discussion with practically anybody, they’re tactful, appropriate, humorous and sincere in these conversations, and they remember details about people that allow the dialogue to be more meaningful; reputation management that enable them to thoughtfully create an impression on others while still being authentic; and lack of arguing, they don’t outright reject another person’s ideas, but rather listen to them with an open mind, even when it’s not an idea that they personally agree with. Some other important social skills include verbal communication skills, nonverbal communication skills, leadership, and persuasiveness.
- Motivation: People who are emotionally intelligent are motivated by things beyond mere external rewards like fame, money, recognition, and acclaim. Instead, they have a passion to fulfill their own inner needs and goals. They seek things that lead to internal rewards, experience flow from being totally in tune with activities, and pursue peak experiences.
Those who are competent in this area tend to be very optimistic and hopeful that things will evolve for the better. They are action-oriented, set goals, have a high need for achievement, and are always looking for ways to do better. They also tend to be very committed, resilient and asking for help when it’s needed.
Developing EI through coaching practice
Individuals are increasingly seeking new approaches to help them set, manage,
communicate and achieve goals in many aspects of their lives (career, relationships, finances, parenting, etc). They see strong interpersonal, coping, creative thinking and anger management skills as important in achieving such goals and often turn to coaches for support in doing so. Coaching can promote and encourage development in each area of EI, as seen above, through powerful questioning, practical exercises, and self-assessment tools. Let’s look at them in detail.
- Self-awareness: a coach could use several powerful questions in order to explore the client’s set of emotions, thinking patterns, non-verbal reactions, strengths, limiting beliefs and core important values. As Dalai Lama once said “To have greater self-awareness or understanding means to have a better grasp of reality”, so doing we detect the reality of our client and the beneath emotional and thinking “layer” that feeds that reality. Some of the questions could be: “What do you think your strengths are?”, “What are the most important values for you?”, “When that episode happens, what were you feeling?”, “What were you thinking at that moment?”, “What was the primary cause of your thoughts and feelings?”, “What were your physical reactions to that situation?”, “What was the other people’s response to your reaction? And what do you think they might have been feeling?”.
Besides good practices and exercises to suggest could be mindfulness which trains our attention to notice subtle, but important signals, to see thoughts and feel your physical reactions clearly, as they arise rather than just being swept away by them; daily journaling that creates an archive of your thinking and your mindset, allowing both coach and client to spot counterproductive habits of mind and pinpoint practical strategies to work with whatever may be standing in the way of your success. It is helpful, reminding yourself of a specific situation and to write down what was happening, what you were feeling, what your physical sensations were and how you reacted. Those are beautiful ways to point out what happens inside of you, and practice naming and accepting the feelings.
- Self-regulation: working on this skill requires that you already have gained a vision of your overall emotions and what the eventual unhealthy mechanisms are that need to be changed to achieve what you really want. The coach’s work is built upon the client’s pre-acquired self-awareness. A great practice to try out in a coaching session could be “visualization”, or rather visualizing your own self in the way you’d love to think, feel and respond to events. It’s basically like creating an avatar of yourself you can fill out with the suitable emotions and reactions to make you reach out to your goal. Powerful questions that match a visualization exercise could be: “What would your ideal self respond to this situation?”, “How would your ideal self manage this emotion?”, “What would your ideal self think or feel in order to get successfully to his/her goal?”.
Another great technique is thinking of a role model, someone whose presence and behavior you admire and that you can reproduce in your daily interactions: “what does he/she do when they’re under pressure or during a time of stress or when they feel emotionally distressed?”.
Besides, when it comes to journaling, after recognizing a dysfunctional thinking pattern beneath a particular emotion, the client can reframe it by writing down more positive thoughts. For instance, if I realized the person I have in front of never listen to me and this makes me feel angry, an underlying belief may be: “I must be very little important or interesting, what I say never really counts to others. This is why people don’t listen to me”. It can be reframed as “what I say matter, I’m as important and interesting as anybody else, this person might be temporarily distracted or not the right person to talk to about this”. The coach could also ask questions in session such as “What were you thinking when you felt angry?”, “what thoughts could you have embraced to avoid feeling angry?”
- Empathy: in a coaching session, empathy can be investigated by guiding the client to explore the other person’s point of you: “In your opinion, what makes that person react that way with you?”, “what was their non-verbal response to what you said/did?”, “How did he/she feel at that moment?”, “What is the other’s perspective on this issue?”. Questioning the other’s emotional world can lead to a deeper understanding and connection.
- Social skills: a great technique in this case as well is guiding the client to identify a socially skilled role model they can observe and imitate in their daily interactions. Looking at how that person listens to, uses his/her body language and looking into the reasons the client feels so comfortable in his/her presence can lead them to a major clarity and ultimately to develop better listening and conversational skills.
However, keeping an eye on the client’s values and needs is essential: as Goleman mentioned in his book “Emotional intelligence” if interpersonal skills are not properly balanced by a good perception of our own needs and feelings, social success is meaningless and lacks real satisfaction. Therefore, being authentic and able to value our own needs and priorities is as important as developing social abilities. To this purpose, a powerful question could be: “how would you manage interaction with someone, if one of your core values or need gets questioned?”
- Motivation: coaching has a big role in supporting clients in reframing negative thoughts that might drag them down, developing a measurable, specific action plan, assisting them to design what action/thinking client will do after the session, investigating support systems, resources, and eventual barriers, in identifying their successes and in designing the best method of accountability for themselves. The coaching session structure in itself will help clients to feel driven and motivated by the end.
As we have seen, reaching out to a good level of emotional intelligence can help us in many ways, particularly to be able to develop healthier relationships with our own selves and others. This research paper has been created with the intent to really appreciate this complex but amazing and powerful world of emotions and to understand how to channel it properly. My Irish dance teacher often says that power without control is chaos and brings nothing good. This is the point: coaching is a magnificent key to find that balance between energy and discipline and get everything we desire and deserve in this life and, sometimes, much more.
Goleman Daniel, “Emotional intelligence”, BUR Rizzoli, 1999