I want my game show. There are game shows about financial intelligence like the Price is Right. There are game shows about intellectual intelligence like Jeopardy. There are even game shows about probability intelligence like the Family Feud trying to guess what a hundred random people might say. However, there’s never been a game show for emotional intelligence. Just think of the possibilities!
If you’re not familiar with emotional intelligence, I’ll let Wikipedia explain: It is “The capacity of individuals to recognize their own and other peoples emotions discern between different emotions and label them appropriately, use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior and manage and/or adjust emotions to adapt environment or achieve goals.” Thanks Wikipedia.
In this information age (which was demonstrated by my ability to type in a word and pull up a full description in seconds) we often turn toward information gathering to gain intelligence about a lot of different fields. However, emotions are unique, fantastic beasts, indeed. To gain intelligence about these creatures it isn’t enough to read blogs like this one. Gaining a larger capacity for emotional intelligence is all about exposure, curiosity, and valuing empathy and connection.
Emotional intelligence and awareness happens in community. It happens as we experience life in all its colors and shapes with a lens of curiosity and growth. It comes with being able to be around people that help you experience sadness or joy or anger. Have people in your life to help you recognize when you are sad or joyful or full of anger. It often starts with being around people that are sad or joyful or angry.
Ask questions and be curious of people, not for what they can do for you or what you can do with them. It’s about valuing connecting for connection sake. We’re conditioned in this mobile, transient culture in America to look for connection based in like interests in order to provide companionship. Not everyone you pursue connection with will end up being a close friend, but that doesn’t negate the value of that connection.
This can be hard to do if you are unapproachable. Do you have different kinds of people in your life? Do you have people with higher emotional intelligence in your life? Do you have difficult people in your life? If not, start there. Can people call you out? Can you take feedback about potential blind spots? If you aren’t uncomfortable every week, if not every day, you aren’t experiencing opportunities to grow. Growth starts with risk.
This endeavor can be further hindered by the fast pace culture we are living everyday. Growing in awareness of your self and others can’t be rushed. It can’t be gained by a pill or TED talk (although I love TED talks). It’s gained by personal experience and that takes time.
Further still, this can be strained by the leadership mindset. Often we are trying to move people from point A to point B. While this is not a bad thing, we can lose the people in the task. Emotions are human not systems or formulas. If we’re going to be effective parents, leaders, spouses, ministers, et cetera, we CAN’T lose the magic that happens when we connect in a human way.
If you don’t know what to say or do when people show certain emotions there is a sure fire way to learn. It’s a secret I will share with you today that has been passed down for millennium. Lean in real close so you don’t miss it . . . if you don’t know what to say or do when people show certain emotions . . . ask that person. “You mean I can just ask what I should say to them?” Well, yes. This is part of valuing connection. “I’m so sorry you are experiencing this right now. I’m not even sure what to say. What can I do for you?”
This is where empathy comes in. Empathy is not about fixing the situation or saying the perfect thing. If it were it would be only about us. Emotional intelligence and awareness of both your’s and other’s emotions comes through connection and reflection.
We grow in intelligence by experiencing. Even things that are uncomfortable or challenging. We grow in emotional intelligence by feeling every emotion, not just pretty, shiny, happy ones. I’m not suggesting that you adopt a crack habit or rage on the clerk at Starbucks if you get whole milk instead of soy. It’s not about having to go through everything yourself. We learn so much by being around others and feeling with them. Emotional intelligence comes more readily when we’re unafraid of our emotions and to feel with other people. Live with the lens of curiosity, connect with all types of people in all types of situations, and take a honest soul-searching look at yourself while hearing feedback from others.