Understanding Emotional Intelligence

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By Susan Kavanaugh

Remember that song refrain: “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me”? It reminds me of being 12 years old and singing in the church choir the day I was baptized. It also reminds me of the time I had the pleasure of working with Jill Jackson-Miller, the co-lyricist and composer of the song, in 1988. Memories aside, it is a credo I adopted from a very early age.

While the song was written over sixty years ago, its message continues to resonate with each new generation. The lyrics touch us on an emotional level—and they are also a helpful mnemonic device for anyone seeking to live mindfully and work intentionally to improve their E.I. Quotient.

What’s an E.I. Quotient? E.I. stands for Emotional Intelligence, and it’s been an important tool for a long time in corporate boardrooms and leadership trainings across the country. It’s worth bringing to the forefront, again, as we strive to live in the present. It turns out that IQ, or Intelligence Quotient, is only part of the whole. Organizational psychologists realize that it takes a handful of types of intelligence to excel at leadership, or even to interact successfully with others on a day-to-day basis.

Emotional intelligence is defined as “the ability to monitor one’s own and other people’s emotions, to discriminate between different emotions and label them appropriately, and to use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior.” Scientists say that E.I. involves four related activities: perceiving, using, understanding, and managing emotions.

Perception of others’ emotions involves reading body language, voice tone, etc., while perception of our own emotions involves a willingness to mindfully assess our state of mind, without moving immediately to judging or acting upon the emotions we feel. Perception is the ground or basis upon which the other activities are built.

Using emotions involves recognizing which emotions can best stimulate which type of work. A good mood, for example, can stimulate creativity and outside-the-box thinking, while a serious or somber mood is likely to stimulate careful, methodical, and appropriately fear-based reasoning.

Understanding emotions involves a mental movement from perceiving an emotion to understanding how that emotion will impact relationships. It involves recognizing variations and gradations in emotions and comprehending how emotions change over time (as in the classic five stages of grief, for example).

Managing emotions involves two elements. The first is to be mindful enough of our own emotions that we do not let them get “out of control” and the second is to recognize how we can actually manage the emotions of others, as leaders do when they use a powerful speech to “rally the troops” for a critical project.

Hopefully you’re already seeing how E.I. connects closely with conscious living. In fact, living mindfully can automatically improve your E.I. Quotient. In the “heat of the moment,” we tend to forget that emotions themselves are neither good nor bad. It is what we do with those emotions that matters, and mindfulness helps us with that process of decoupling feelings from reactions so that we can first take time to assess the messages those emotions are carrying.

Being peaceful beings, adopting the physicians’ credo to “do no harm,” means taking the time to acknowledge, address, and appropriately integrate what emotions are telling us: both our own and the emotions of others. When we do this, we become a magnet for others and reap the rewards of modeling conscious living more directly. Together, let us bring peace on earth, one day and one interaction at a time.


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