The Journey of Emotional Intelligence
Like most things in life, the application of emotional intelligence matters more than the theory of it.
To most people, the theory of traveling sounds fun. You might have a destination in mind, but some planning and preparation needs to happen prior to putting the pedal to the metal and hitting the road. In addition to figuring out what to pack, determining where you are going to stay and what sights you are going to see along the way, you need to determine a route to guide you along the way and, on road trips especially, a map to help get you there.
Emotional Intelligence is like a roadmap you can use to change your perspective about relationships during your journey through life. With some planning, preparation, and application, emotional intelligence can help make people better parents, better partners, better colleagues, better teammates, and as a result, co-create better workdays.
Come along with me and journey through the four stages of Emotional Intelligence.
Beginning The Journey: Self-Awareness
For some, hopping on a plane, train, or automobile and going where the road takes them without much planning might feel invigorating. However even with a level of spontaneity most people going on a trip have a destination in mind. And when you are on the emotional intelligence journey, that destination is typically toward more effective relationships.
Getting going toward being emotionally intelligent starts with self-awareness. Self-awareness essentially comes down to making time to stop and pay attention to the way you think, feel, and behave, specifically observing these three patterns or points of interest:
- Patterns of thought. How do you tend to think about and explain what happens to you? What’s your self-talk like? What expectations do you hold in certain settings or with certain people? What are your core beliefs that influence your thinking?
- Patterns of emotion. How well do you understand your own moods and emotions? Do you observe and try to understand your emotions, or do you react to them impulsively? Do you view difficult emotions as enemies to be avoided or do you avoid feedback from others?
- Patterns of behavior. Do you understand why you tend to act in the same way in certain situations? Do you have a sense for what types of events are triggering for you? Do you understand what motivates your behavior or leads to self-sabotage?
Self-awareness is a skill that can be learned and involves becoming curious about your own mind. And being curious takes time, attention, and practice. However, the more you pause and think about what you feel, want, and need, the more you can experience the benefits of self-awareness.
Take In The Scenery: Self-Management
Self-awareness allows you to take in the sights that have piqued your interest, but even your best laid out plans can take unexpected turns.
Perhaps you stayed up too late watching one more episode of your favorite TV show, even when you knew you had a busy workday ahead. Or maybe you missed a deadline because you pushed off a big project for too long. Or maybe you became frustrated with one of your direct reports for not completing a project according to your guidance. It happens to the best of us.
On the journey of emotional intelligence, you will find yourself having to take self-management detours. Self-management is the ability to manage your behaviors, thoughts, and emotions in a conscious and productive way. Essentially, it’s knowing what to do and how to act in different situations. It is about understanding what you can and cannot control.
Like self-awareness, self-management can be learned and refined. Staying conscious of your thoughts, desires, and feelings as you go through your day and taking note of those you need to work on is a great place to start. For example, keep an inventory of your strengths and as you plan your work, assign yourself work that fits these strengths during your optimal working times. Also, know what you’re not good at (or disinterested in) and find other people or tools that can help. Easily distracted? Turn off the notifications on your devices to give you some dedicated focus time. Self-management means you understand your personal responsibility in various aspects of your life, and you do what you needs to be done to fulfill that responsibility.
Meeting Others Along The Way: Other Awareness
Part of the fun of going on a trip is the people you meet along the way, right? You will quickly discover that most people are not the same as you (surprise!). They have different strengths, skills, and “ticks.” They may communicate differently than you do, their interests may be quite different than yours, or the same things that bring you joy may not be important to them. When you are aware of these differences and create opportunities to understand them, rather than letting frustration fester, you allow relationships to be built on trust.
Let’s look at some people that you might meet – or have already met – on your EI journey:
If Bob always seems “too busy” to come to meetings, or respond to emails or phone calls, instead of getting frustrated by their lack of response, ask how they are doing. Maybe you’ll learn that they thrive by managing a lot, or you’ll learn that they’re feeling the overwhelm right now and are having trouble handling.
If Cathy always seems to be butting into every question, discussion, and decision, instead of getting frustrated by what appears to be her need to control, allow her to share her experience and expertise with the team.
If Quinten never speaks up in meetings, but shares really good insight afterwards – when it’s too late – instead of getting frustrated, ask if something is preventing him from sharing. You may learn they aren’t comfortable in meetings, or they are intimidated by someone in the room.
If Fran always seems negative and frustrated about everything, instead of getting frustrated with their pessimism, take some time to listen to their concerns and move toward a resolution – don’t shut them down.
If Adam is always chatting and sharing stories that you’ve heard two or three times, instead of getting frustrated, take a couple minutes to let them share and connect with others before jumping into the task at hand.
There is no value judgment with these travelers, just an awareness that there are differences. There are advantages and disadvantages to the extremes, but the most successful individuals are those who can flex to meet the current situation.
Where To Next: Social Awareness
Unlike a trip where you have a destination in mind, you never “arrive” at being emotionally intelligent. Emotional intelligence is a journey you are always on, one that you can leverage to continually learn about yourself and others so that you can manage your behaviors to deliberately collaborate with, engage with, and influence others. It is about being able to be “on the road” with others, contributing to situations and conversations where both you and they can be at their best and achieve better results, together.
Let’s be clear: going on the journey of emotional intelligence doesn’t mean you have to be a “people person,” an extrovert, or love the constant company of others. However, it does mean that you have the ability to apply the skills of self-awareness, self-management, other awareness and social awareness to help achieve more effective relationships.
As C.S. Lewis said, “You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.” Enjoy the journey!
What would you add? Join the conversation in the comments below or on social media!