Emotional intelligence

How To Develop Emotional Intelligence

How To Develop Emotional Intelligence

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Emotional intelligence and its potential impact on daily life at home and at work have been much discussed recently. It is to do with a set of skills that everyone possesses, to some degree; in this it is similar to general intelligence. These skills concern how we deal with any information that is relevant to emotion. In more detail, our emotional intelligence is made up of how we judge emotion and express it, how we make use of whatever information we gain from emotion, and how we regulate emotion in adaptive ways.

There are huge individual differences in emotional intelligence, particularly in the way in which people appraise and express emotion and how they use the information they derive from emotion. Think, for example, of the differences in these respects that there are between members of your family and your friends and people that you work with. Particularly important, however, is the manner in which we regulate emotion - this is significant throughout our development, from early childhood onwards, especially concerning our well-being. The major question here is: how do we learn to regulate our emotion?

Interestingly, at one extreme there is a condition known as alexithymia that essentially is equivalent to having an extremely low emotional intelligence. An alexithymic person has great difficulty in processing emotion information and in regulating their own emotion. He or she has a limited understanding of blends of emotion, a limited awareness of how to describe complex, differentiated emotional states, an inability to see emotional subtleties and no awareness of the complexities of the emotional life of others. In other words, the emotional system of an alexithymic person seems to be dissociated.

Gross (1998) has done much to conceptualise the ways in which we attempt to regulate emotion. He lists five types of regulation process:

1 Situation selection - we can approach or avoid people or places or objects that we know lead to pleasant or unpleasant emotional experiences for us.

2 Situation modification - we can focus on whatever is leading to the emotional experience and change it to our advantage.

3 Attentional deployment - this simply means putting one's attention elsewhere, away from the emotion-evoking situation, by distracting oneself, concentrating hard on something else, or merely by ruminating or worrying.

4 Cognitive change - this involves altering our appraisals or evaluations of something in order to alter its emotional impact; it would include all of the psychological defences (see Chapter 17) and the making of downwards social comparisons (they are all worse off than me anyway).

5 Response modification - in everyday terms, this is the most common form of emotion regulation; it happens late on in the situation and might involve drugs, alcohol, exercise, therapy, food or outright suppression.

Whether or not we regulate our emotions depends on our own emotional awareness (part of emotional intelligence) and how we think about our own moods. Also, we need strategies to use that can affect our feelings. So, for example, we might make ourselves feel good by helping other people, or by leaving the more pleasant things that we have to do until later in the day. (Of course, some people might start off with the more pleasant tasks and never actually get round to the less pleasant ones.)

Emotion regulation is learned to begin with in childhood, as the ability to reason develops and as children begin to realise that emotion is something that can be changed. The capacity to regulate emotion depends partly on temperament but also very much on the development of language because that provides access to the social influences on emotion.

If emotion regulation is low, then the child (and later the adult) is likely to be uncontrolled, unconstructive (socially), aggressive and susceptible to circumstances such as social rejection. If the level of emotion regulation is high, then general socio-emotional competence is increased. As our ability to regulate emotion grows, so too does the way in which we think about emotion. This is also influenced by the way we are brought up, in particular, the type of attachment that we experience early on in life (see Chapters 6 and 14).

Emotion regulation tends to continue its development throughout the lifespan, older people generally being better at it than younger people. One of the major ways in which the elderly regulate their emotion is through being highly selective in their social encounters. They try to restrict these to people who understand them and with whom they feel safe in shared intimacy and emotional expression. Emotion regulation is important to staying positive throughout the vicissitudes that inevitably come with increased age.

One important area in which emotional intelligence and regulation have been studied recently is the workplace. For years, work was seen as the place where only 'rationality' could drive what occurs. It was regarded as unprofessional to be otherwise, which meant, of course, that women (since they are more 'emotional') were regarded as less professional. So, emotion regulation was seen as very important to the workplace, simply through its suppression.

Recently, this view has been shown to be the nonsense that it obviously is. Emotion has a key role to play in the workplace and many (if not all) decisions are essentially emotionally based, the 'rational' gloss being placed on them afterwards. Current thinking is more along the lines that directness, openness and spontaneity are important to workplace productivity and well-being, this being a long way from emotion suppression.

Emotional intelligence has been shown to be highly relevant to success at work, success being indicated by both increasing status and by well-being. A number of matters are relevant to any consideration of this sort, however. For example, emotion regulation is related to dependency and dependency can take many forms in the workplace. Also, emotional expression and emotion regulation or management are based on social rules, some of which might be specific to a particular place of work. For example, air cabin crew have evolved a way of being emotionally engaged when dealing with passengers that is entirely different from their behaviour towards one another when they are off duty.

To take one example, there is an interesting relationship between emotional intelligence and style of leadership. A basic distinction is between transactional and transformational leaders. Transactional leaders work through the use of rewards and punishments; leadership for them is a question of transactions. Transformational leaders work through affiliation, affection and general emotional involvement; they tend to be charismatic. They have visionary goals, challenge the status quo and concern themselves with individual needs.

Transformational leaders tend to have skills that overlap considerably with those of emotional intelligence. They are positive and sensitive, with good language skills, and high self-esteem. They are intuitive and maintain close relationships with members of their group. So, in emotional intelligence terms, they are in touch with their own feelings, honestly, they show empathy and excite emotional commitment. They are emotionally stable and encourage a similar stability in others through mood and stress management. They tend to be pleasant, more emotional, more altruistic and less aggressive than transactional leaders.

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