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  • Writer's pictureHugo Menard

The need for emotional intelligence

“Anyone can become angry —that is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way —this is not easy.”

ARISTOTLE, The Nicomachean Ethics

Our emotional intelligence (EQ) may very well be more important than our mental intelligence (IQ). Research has shown that people with a high IQ don’t necessarily do better than people with a low IQ. Yet those with a lower IQ regularly outshine their “smarter” counterparts if they are more emotionally intelligent. In fact, when schools teach emotional intelligence, academic performance increases.

What’s particularly interesting about this is that academic improvement occurs even though students' time is divided up even more with the addition of a class on emotional intelligence. Said differently: students are spending less time on a given subject (science for example), yet are getting better results. This is easily transferable to the workplace. And although many argue that you can not improve your IQ, you can definitely improve your EQ.

Emotional intelligence encompasses things such as self control, persistence in the face of setbacks, handling emotions, managing stress and much more. As you can see, these skills play a significant role in success regardless of IQ. You can be the best engineer, but you’ll still encounter setbacks that you’ll have to deal with.

In modern times we have over emphasised the importance of IQ, while often trying to ignore or remove emotions from the equation. We have tried to ignore emotions because they aren’t fixed, tangible, reliable things. They can seem senseless and messy. We can be completely calm one minute and the next we’re in a full blown rage at what someone has said. We can come into a meeting full of hope and passion for the work we’ve done, but with a few words of criticism we can become devastated and lethargic.

This is precisely why we need to develop our emotional intelligence, because, (sorry to state the obvious here), but we have emotions. They are one of the major forces that control our decisions. If we try to suppress our emotions we’ll simply be controlled by them subconsciously (plus we’re setting ourselves up for health problems later down the line). This means that we may think we’re making a rational decision, but in reality, it’s the undercurrent of the emotional river (conscious or unconscious doesn’t matter) that determines where our boat will go.

People see the problems created by emotional reactions, and conclude that the best thing to do is remove emotions from the equation. But that’s the equivalent of saying that because a nuclear bomb with all its devastation was created through the use of mental intelligence, we should do away with intellect and this whole “thinking” thing because it causes problems.

The importance of emotions is even seen in the very structure of our brain: the part of our brain that governs our critical thinking, has grown from the part of our brain that deals with emotions. In other words, the emotional brain grew first, it is more fundamental, it has more power, and it will override our critical thinking in many situations regardless of our IQ. Think of how many times you knew you shouldn’t do something yet you did it anyway.

Even if you try and toughen up and think “I don’t do this mambi pambi emotional stuff”, the reality is, most of our spare time is spent doing things that we believe will make us feel good (or at least avoid feeling bad). Whether it’s watching a movie, spending time with friends, playing sports etc. Sometimes we do things to feel good in the short term (such as eating that donut right now), or it’s to feel good in the long term (going to the gym to be healthy even though we don’t feel like it right now).

Our emotions influence

Whether we do it consciously or not, our emotions influence those around us. We give off a vibe that can put people at ease, make them feel comfortable working with us, make them feel safe enough to question a decision if they see a flaw we may have missed, and create an environment where teamwork can flourish. But we can also put people on edge just because we’re absorbed in an emotional state of anger or worry for example.

Being intelligent with our emotions can be more important than being the smartest one in the room or having the most PhD’s. People will often want to work with people who make them feel good, rather than with people who are just smarter.

Our emotions are at the centre and ripple out to affect every other facet of our lives. Whether it’s putting in the work so that the IQ we already have can be fully utilised rather than laying dormant, or enjoying our life more by cultivating the emotions we would like to experience and managing our impulses so that we don’t say something in a burst of rage that have far reaching consequences.

Our emotions help us

With all the talk about mastering your emotions and not getting emotional, it’s important to remember that emotions are there to help us. They help us act. If a dangerous animal jumps out at you, it’s not in your best interest to have to make an informed decision about whether or not you should run. Far better to get a quick surge of fear (which bypasses your critical thinking) to mobilise your body. Your emotions take front seat and do what has worked throughout human history in order to survive.

The main problem is that our reactions are generally designed to help us in the kinds of situations our ancestors would have found themselves in. They’re not so helpful in the office on a Monday morning. This is why emotional intelligence is even more important today in the modern world.

Take a look at what happens to our body when we experience certain emotions:

When we’re angry, blood flows to our hands which helps us fight. And we get a rush of adrenaline which helps us move into action.

With fear, blood is directed more to the legs, which helps us to run away faster. This means blood is drawn away from the face, explaining why we go “white with fear”. Hormones are released that put us on alert, giving us a better chance of survival.

Love creates a state that is the opposite from the “fight-or-flight” response, and supports cooperation - just the thing you need when you’re around other people.

Surprise causes us to raise our eyebrows. This allows us to see more of what is going on, giving us a better chance to understand the situation we’re in and take appropriate action.

Sadness lowers our energy as well as our excitement for the pleasures of life. This allows us to mourn what we have lost, and think deeply. As we come out of sadness, we can make plans based on that deeper understanding. An understanding that would not be as thorough had we been distracted by all of life’s happenings.

Our emotions override our intelligence

Have you ever been in the heat of an argument and said something you didn’t mean? Maybe you were even conscious enough to know that you shouldn’t say it but emotionally there may have been a sense that you couldn’t resist.

Have you ever studied hard for an exam or a test, but when you were sitting in front of that white page you went blank? This occurrence is not due to a lack of IQ, it’s your emotions being stronger than your intellect.

In life and death situations, parents often sacrifice their lives to save the lives of their children. That means emotions are so powerful that they will override the most fundamental instinct that is common throughout all of nature - the instinct for survival.

When EQ is left unattended, sh*t goes haywire

Imagine someone we’ll call Mark loses his job. He can understand all the reasons why it happened. He can know that the company was going through tough times, he can see evidence that his work performance was sub-par, he can understand that the best thing for him to do is to move on and find another job. He can even understand that finding another job won’t be very difficult with his qualifications and experience…

…but emotionally he can still feel outraged at what happened, jealous towards those that got to keep their job and devastated at the uncertainty he faces.

In other words, he has an emotional mind and a logical mind. Mastery of one does not mean mastery of the other. Each has their own language and logic. While we can focus on developing one, remember that they work together, ideally in a balance.

Science shows that we react first from our emotional mind. This reaction happens within fractions of a second. It allows us to respond very quickly (such as jumping out of the way of an oncoming car). But the benefit of speed comes with a sacrifice in accuracy. It’s only as our logical mind assesses the situation that we get more accuracy, context and information. This can often then loop back and inform our emotional response.

For example, imagine you’re standing outside when all of a sudden you hear a loud noise behind you. You jump before you even realise it, quickly turning around to face the “danger”. As you see a car, you realise the sound was a car horn and you relax again.

So let’s learn to work with our emotions and develop our EQ, rather than trying to ignore emotions and obsessing over IQ. We live in a complex world, yet our emotions cause us to see things in black and white, to feel certain that our point of view is correct, and even ignore information that contracts what we feel to be true. That’s not a recipe for success. As Goleman puts it “we too often confront postmodern dilemmas with an emotional repertoire tailored to the urgencies of the Pleistocene.”


Emotional intelligence: why it can matter more than IQ by Daniel Goleman

Photo by Dil on Unsplash

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