You were born with the ability to recognize when you are experiencing an emotion. Most small children will readily tell you what they are feeling and can strategically choose to express themselves at will. As you grew older, it’s likely you learned how to disregard your emotions, hide them as often as you can, and rationalize why you feel the way you do to more conveniently deal with the situation.
No matter what people told you about the evils of emotions, if you don’t recognize what you are feeling, you can’t fully understand what motivates your thoughts and actions. This lack of awareness limits your ability to choose how you want to feel and act, negatively impacting your relationships, job performance, and overall happiness. It’s likely your upbringing stunted the development of your emotional intelligence.
Emotional Intelligence—the skill of knowing why you feel the way you do and then choosing to feel something differently if you want to—is critical to your work and life success. It also increases your understanding of others: what motivates them, how they work, how to work cooperatively with them, and how to inspire them to reach their potential.
Check yourself on this list to see if you are lacking or forgetting to access your emotional intelligence:
- You quickly blame other people for your problems or errors.
- You don’t take feedback well, getting defensive or shutting down when the comments are offered.
- You get impatient and frustrated when you think others don’t understand you or appreciate what you are saying.
- You don’t forgive people easily.
- You are quick to judge people for who they are, what they wear, what they say, or what they do based on what you think is right and best.
- You are very selective with whom you will spend time and share your thoughts with.
- You give your opinions early in a conversation and hold on to them no matter what anyone says.
- You constantly declare that you don’t care if people like you or not.
- You think emotions are overrated and it doesn’t matter what other people feel.
- You quickly challenge new ideas that might impact your work.
The behaviors that demonstrate emotional intelligence include:
- Resilience and flexibility
- Listening and accepting
- Taking personal responsibility
- Seeking other points of view
- Understand, accept, and able to explain your emotional reactions
- Staying calm under pressure
- Using emotions appropriately to both inspire and make others feel comfortable
- Admitting and learning from mistakes
- Taking feedback with ease
- Body language matches words
Short of attending a training session, here are some things you can do now to increase your emotional intelligence:
- Track your emotional states for three weeks. Set an alarm to go off on your phone or computer two or three times a day. Write down what emotions you are feeling. Look deep into your body for anger, fear, betrayal, embarrassment, or disappointment. Break down your happiness into more specific feelings such as pride, appreciation, or hope. Look for more than one emotion. For example, you could be feeling happiness and jealousy at the same time.
- After you determine what you are feeling, write down what you are doing to see how your activity is related to your emotions. If you can discern why you are feeling the way you do, write that down too. Why are you experiencing what you feel right now? What are you not getting from the situation that you expected, such as respect, appreciation, or control? What are you afraid of losing, such as your credibility, security or attention? It doesn’t matter if you are right or wrong; you can blame others in this part of the exercise. Clearly tell yourself the story that is going on in your head so you can identify why you feel the way you do.
- After a week, look for patterns in both how you felt and what triggered your emotional states.
- Identify the three most common triggers of emotions that drain you (such as your need to be understood, appreciated and respected). Focus on noticing when these three triggers arise for the next week.
- When you notice a common trigger and reaction, ask yourself what you can do to get your needs met or to let go of the attachment to your needs if getting them met is not possible in the moment. Focus on how you would like to feel and how you want this story to end. When you feel a negative emotion arise, see if you can: Ask for what you need (i.e. to be listened to, to be acknowledged for your contribution, to have time to think, etc) Let it go and focus your energy elsewhere. Commit to an action that will get your need met in a different way
The more you practice this exercise, the more emotionally intelligent you will be, naturally and spontaneously. If you consciously choose how you want to feel and act, you can inspire those around you to feel the same way, increasing productivity and creativity along with your own peace of mind.