Emotional Intelligence: Having “Smart” Feelings

Darrell’s avatar

Long before the synapses firing in our newly-formed brains as a baby made much progress toward assembling complex thoughts or anything like a language, our emotions spoke for us. We all wailed when we were hungry, uncomfortable or otherwise unhappy with how things were going in our infant world. Our emotions were with us from day one and are with us today. We’ve matured and they’ve become more refined, but our feelings still do a lot of talking for us.

Often when we discuss emotional intelligence (EQ), we tend to focus on those people without strong emotions. However, EQ is about more than teaching the less-emotional types to take feelings into account. Consider the opposite extreme: there are personality disorders in which the chief symptom is an over-emotional approach to life. When severe, this can be debilitating for those diagnosed with it. While those with the disorders may have plenty of emotions, their lives would be better if they could deal with their feelings more effectively. EQ is not only about the quantity of emotion displayed, but the quality of dealing with emotions.

Most of us are somewhere toward the middle of the spectrum that extends from the ice cold logicians to the red hot drama kings and queens. However, even the most balanced person in the middle of the spectrum can benefit from improving their EQ.

Leadership experts today often cite EQ as a necessary ingredient for being a strong leader. Some would rightly argue there are many leaders who don’t look as though they care much about the feelings of others. Usually it’s because either they start with a lot of power, had an undeniable genius that demanded others follow or had some other advantage. Most leaders don’t start with these things. The typical person’s leadership abilities can become better when they learn to connect well with those who follow. When it comes to effective leadership, research suggests that, for most people, caring plainly counts.

Even if a person does not aspire to leadership, handling the emotional aspects of life well can help them with their families, friends and co-workers. Unlike IQ, which is fairly fixed early in life, we can improve our EQ. We can develop it and learn to respond better to emotions, both our own and those of others. An important first step toward growth in this area involves understanding your own personality traits and how you deal with emotions.

Maya Angelou captured some of the essence of EQ when she said, “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Emotions are a very powerful and influential language and learning to speak fluently can benefit us all.