We hear the term “Emotional Intelligence” a lot in workplaces. We get told that great leaders have it. Our performance reviews tell us to increase it. But what is it? Here’s my own definition:
Emotional Intelligence is the ability to consciously align your behaviors to a desired outcome.
It may sound simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. That’s because behaviors are influenced by emotions, and emotions are influenced by a variety of things like personal needs, values, past experience, and instinct. The raw input of our environment passes through these filters, and our brain delivers a verdict in the form of an interpretation. And that, in turn, produces a behavior.
Basically, it’s “Channel and Choose.” Your brain receives stimulus, channels it through your own personal filters, and then chooses an action.
One of the wondrous and amazing things about the human brain is that it can operate at a meta level of consciousness, above these routine brain processes. We can become aware of our own needs and values that trigger particular emotions. We can process those emotions and then evaluate potential responses. We can learn to recognize situations that create an “emotional-hijack” and produce ineffective (or even destructive) behaviors—and change that course.
Some think that “Emotional Intelligence” is all touchy-feely and requires you to act a certain way all the time. Nothing could be further from the truth. Emotional Intelligence is about being able to choose your behaviors, rather than having the behaviors choose you. It’s about recognizing patterns in yourself and others so that you can be in control of your actions.
Understanding oneself is the first level of Emotional Intelligence. With that insight, we can then move into understanding what drives other people’s behaviors. This is where the concept becomes extremely powerful.
How Does It Work?
Let’s say you’re trying to enlist colleagues to support a proposal. You know it’s a great idea, and you explain it in detail, and yet one of your associates blows up defensively and stalks out of the room. What happened? Well, that person’s brain filtered a strong negative emotion. Was it something you said? Was it how you said it? Could you have anticipated this reaction and changed your approach? This is where Emotional Intelligence gives us a rich toolkit.
People are all different, and yet there are predictable behavioral patterns that form personality styles. You may be familiar with some of these frameworks such as , Social Styles, or . These frameworks provide a structured way to understand behavioral tendencies, and develop an understanding of how your behavior affects others. These skills increase your effectiveness by improving your relationships with others. You can learn to tailor and adapt your communication style so that it meshes well with different styles, to produce a positive result. In avoiding other people’s emotional triggers and hijacks, the path remains open for collaboration.
How Do You Get Some?
Studies show that Emotional Intelligence is more important than . The good news about Emotional Intelligence is that it can be learned and refined over time. in determining the future success of a person
1. Gain Insight to Yourself. There are many ways to do this. You can complete a standard assessment such as the DiSC Inventory or the Social Styles index. These assessments are available through a variety of sources online and deliver a detailed report of your overall tendencies.
Another means of insight is to ask people you trust. This requires courage and a thick skin, and your genuine desire to take in whatever they have to say, even if you disagree. Hearing something that seems totally inconsistent with your self-perception can be very painful, but it’s also the best way to see gaps between your intentions and your behaviors.
2. Learn About Emotional Intelligence and Personality Styles. Two of the principal works on Emotional Intelligence are Emotional Intelligence by Dr., and Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Drs. Travis Bradbury and Jeanne Greaves. Books like ( & Dorothy Grover Bolton) break down how each personality style filters information, communicates, and interacts with the other styles. There are numerous books and classes available on the DiSC framework, as well.
3. Work on One or Twoat a Time. Rather than trying to take on the whole world of personality differences, choose one or two areas that seem to cause you the most trouble. Maybe it’s having people listen to you? Perhaps it’s your short temper? Observe the situations where this happens, note the external stimulus or triggers, and think about how your brain may be unconsciously delivering a filtered response that is counter-productive. You’ll be amazed at how much calmer you can remain when you are aware of your own “hot buttons.”
4. Get a Coach or a Mentor. If you want a truly objective viewpoint, a coach or mentor can be invaluable. They will help you to recognize patterns in yourself and others, and build your ability to consciously choose your behaviors rather than being driven by pure emotion.
Once you understand how your emotions influence your behaviors, and the behaviors of others, you will look at interactions as opportunities to build rapport and enhance communication. The benefits are immense to decision-making, relationships, and even to your overall health. According to, author of ,
“Emotional Intelligence is much more powerful than IQ in determining who emerges as a leader. IQ is a threshold competence. You need it, but it doesn’t make you a star. Emotional Intelligence can.”
And who doesn’t want to be a star?