Every day is full of emotions, whether we recognise them or not, they’re everywhere! When I speak about emotional intelligence – otherwise know as EI – people, more often than not, write it off. But emotions are not only everywhere; they hold so much information about how we interact with the world around us. They are valuable.
Some emotions will not only stop us in our tracks, but can completely hijack our thoughts and behaviours. Even the briefest encounter can either have us jumping with joy or blistering with rage. Emotional self-awareness is not your normal coffee time chat, or the exciting gossip over cocktails. What we normally find ourselves talking about is the story around the emotion, as opposed to the emotion itself. For example, image I am the storyteller. “You will never believe what Carl did the other day – I was furious”. The conversation will then typically shift immediate blame into Carl’s fault and will subsequently have little or no reflection on my part in the scenario. Were all too quick to misinterpret our emotions; perhaps instead of being furious. I was actually disappointed. This shift in the interpretation of my emotions would lead to a very different story; one that’s potentially more vulnerable.
My boys love superhero movies, so it was a welcome change when we went to the cinema to see Inside Out a few years back. It’s the most beautiful way to understand emotional intelligence that I’ve ever seen. The film is complex in its teaching (if you look far enough!), but at its very essence, it teaches us that emotions are information, and by avoiding them, we can miss connecting more deeply to the world around us.
The characters Sadness, Joy, Fear, Anger and Disgust, live inside a child’s brain. When one of the characters realises that they are not in fact angry, but instead they are hurt and sad, then they develop a deeper understanding about how life works, and thus, are more equipped to deal with whatever comes next. It’s both poignant and insightful.
So, what does it teach us? Emotional information is a guide to understanding our thoughts and behaviours, a key self-regulation tool for us all, whether in the workplace or at home. It also teaches us that emotions are not either good or bad, nor should we avoid extreme ends of the spectrum. Being sad is okay. Being overjoyed is okay. Being angry is ok. But experiencing any emotions without truly understanding why we feel the way we feel is not. Once we know the true root of a feeling and understand why and where it comes from, we can use this information in a positive way to work out what to do next, in just about any scenario. I know, it’s often easier said than done.
So let’s break it down:
Catch yourself and check: am I really “angry” or am I actually “disappointed?” my friend let me down at the last minute, I am furious. Identify the true emotion. What does it tell you? What is the emotional information? ” I would never treat her like this; clearly she thinks her time is more valuable than mine”.
Slow down, be curious. What was the trigger? Is it the person, the situation, your own beliefs, the tone? Identifying what set you off will help you understand how to come to terms with what you’re experiencing. Use your emotional information to move forward. Communicate to your friend that you were disappointed as you feel she disrespected your time. This conversation, while still hard, is more useful than a passive aggressive silence or telling them you were angry – help them understand you and give them a chance to reply. It could well be we’ve missed something massive going on for them…
Communicating our needs and moving on positively all require emotional intelligence, and that only comes about from understanding one’s self. Get to know the way your mind works and you’ll soon be able to harness just about every outcome.