Emotional Intelligence (EI) is accurately recognizing your own and others’ emotions. It manifests via self-management and relationship management. A number of qualities are associated with it including emotional self-awareness, empathy, and self-control. More about EI qualities in a future post.
Emotional Intelligence (also abbreviated EQ) has a very important physiological component. To truly understand EI you must know what is happening physically which goes back millions of years. Our emotional centers are located in the limbic brain and evolutionarily speaking, their purpose was survival. This part of the brain which includes the amygdala protected humans by reacting immediately to a threat and activating the fight or flight response. It still works this way even today.
Martha Beck in her book Steering by Starlight describes it as lizard brain (a reference to the brain’s early evolution in vertebrates) and categorizes the threats we respond to as lack and/or attack.
In their book Resonant Leadership, Boyatzis & McKee sum up the problem by saying “In today’s advanced civilization, we face complex social realities (say, the sense someone isn’t treating us fairly) with a brain designed for surviving physical emergencies. And so we can find ourselves hijacked — swept away by anxiety or anger better suited for handling bodily threats than the subtleties of office politics.”
All is not lost though because the prefrontal area of the brain (aka the executive center) considers information coming from all over the brain, including the amygdala, and then determines what to do. It is this prefrontal-limbic connection that checks our emotions (the fight or flight response). This is where emotional intelligence abilities come into the picture and guide us to respond appropriately even when we feel threatened by lack or attack.
Understanding that emotions come from a millions-year-old system designed for our survival is a good first step in developing emotional intelligence whether you possess a great deal of EI or are just beginning to grow this capability.
Would love to know your thoughts on EI. Where have you seen its effect? Share your comments here.
My husband took that photo at the ruins of Uxmal in the Yucatan where iguanas were everywhere, just like squirrels are everywhere in our neighborhood.