Emotional Intelligence – A Practical Approach

March 5, 2018
Saket Bansal
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I am a counselor, at least in the Agile environment! Yes, I feel so whenever I learn and try to apply the concepts on Emotional Intelligence (EI) not just in coaching sessions, but also in managing day to day issues.

I have been learning and expanding my knowledge about EI for about 5 years. Furthermore, I run a company by name iZenbridge and I am a certified coach all of which requires certain level of coaching & EI competencies. I have been teaching Agile coaching and in the process have been delving a lot into the concepts of EI. In this process, EI has become one of my personal favorite topics for further study and research. As a part of my coaching sessions, I recently conducted a one-hour webinar on Emotional Intelligence, which was well received by many. I have hence decided to pen down some of the key points from the webinar in the form of a blog.

I want to start this blog with a caveat – My attempt in this blog is to merely highlight some of the concepts and practical ways to develop EI. In general, EI as a concept cannot be taught, it has to be learnt. Let’s learn some of the ways to improve EI through this blog…

Here’s some theoretical insights to start with: What’s EI really?

It is a term created by – Peter Salavoy and John Mayer – and popularized by Dan Goleman (1996) through his book named Emotional Intelligence.

For ease of understanding the concept of EI can be explained using a four dimensional box.

The two key dimensions are that of one’s own self and that of the society. In other words, one is an internal view and the other is an external view.

1) Internal View – The ability to understand oneself and manage one’s emotions is self-awareness and self-management.

2) External View – This same intelligence when applied at a social capacity results in social awareness and when you start influencing others emotions towards the desired goals, it is relationship management.

The primary focus of this blog is on the first aspect of internal awareness – Self-awareness and Self-management. The reason I chose this over external awareness is that in my perspective, we need to start with self-awareness and self-management first as our relationship with others is the final output of your own self-awareness.

Self-awareness – What am I feeling right now?

Self-awareness is Knowing one’s internal states, preferences, resources, and intuitions. There are many ways to improve self-awareness. One way is by using the mood meter developed by Yale center of EI.

In the above mood meter, you can notice the X axis moving from a degree of unpleasantness to being pleasant. The Y axis depicts the energy levels from low to high.

By recognizing the way you feel at any point in the day you can mark the relevant quadrant in the above mood meter. For example, if you are feeling relatively pleasant but at the same time not very high in energy, then you are most likely feeling calm. You can easily plot the feeling in the quadrant such as the one highlighted. You can repeat this a number of times or at specific intervals throughout the day so as to remain connected with your own emotions.

Here are some more strategies to be self-aware. Again a caveat – it’s difficult to follow a predefined strategy for your own emotional needs. Hence, you need to find your own strategy, whichever works best for you. Below is just a sample list:

  1. Keep a log of how you feel – Keep a tab of your feelings
  2. Listen – Listen to what others have to say and reflect on the feedback (Don’t be in a hurry to defend!)
  3. Convert strong emotions to opportunities – Reflect on strong emotions such as anger, jealousy, hatred. Try to understand what incited these emotions
  4. Be mindful – You can bring mindfulness by concentrating on whatever you are doing. Watch your activity and bring in focus on the activity

All of the above techniques will significantly improve your self-awareness.

Self-Management – What should I do about how I feel?

Some of these concepts discussed above also apply to self-management. Self-management refers to managing one’s internal state, impulses and moving towards the desired state.

If I flip the previous question on self-awareness and ask – Where do you want to be? Which zone would you want to be in the same mood meter? you can start thinking of where you should be and how do you move from current feeling to desired feeling. This is self-management.

Here are a few practical & experienced based techniques:

Let’s consider the outcome equation:

All of us are driven by many events occurring around us. Let’s take a situation – My boss sent me a curt email. Let’s dissect this scenario based on the above equation.

One way to approach is that you accept that events happen, which you cannot control and focus on the response which defines the outcome. If we respond in an Emotionally Intelligent manner, we may have a positive outcome. It is thus evident that the key is to control our response.

So I have attempted to expanded response:

I have tried to break-down the step by step thought process that happens during the response phase.

Most often we find ourselves in situations where we don’t understand the event clearly. So:

Step 1: In order to bring ourselves more clarity, we tell ourselves a story as to why such an event happened.

Step 2: Typically, this story generates a lot of feelings/emotions in us

Step 3: We then act on these feelings

Essentially during the response phase, you act based on what you felt. This is contrary to the fact that you must ideally respond to what your boss did to you. Nevertheless, in most cases you may find yourselves in situations where whatever you responded is because of your feelings.

My take on this is that typically, we have a certain feeling about an event and we add a story to make the feeling strong and act on it. In psychology parlance it’s known as conformance bias. Whatever is happening in the world can be perceived in many different ways, however, we want to interpret in a way that confirms to our initial judgement about it.

Stimulus & Response:

In any situation, there is a space between the stimulus and response and this space helps us in choosing what response we want to give. There are many strategies to control emotions in this phase:

  1. Delay – One strategy is to delay your response. This delay brings calmness and stability in your mind. For example, you get a bad email and you feel provoked to respond immediately. In this situation, you can use the delay technique and choose to respond to this email after an hour. This will calm you down and will allow you to choose the best response.
  2. Focus – Focus on some good cause. For example, I am here for the company goal, I don’t have to get into politics, etc. You focus on some idea, value, some instrument, which removes some amount of energy from that particular aspect of stress so that you get some space. This space will help you think and move forward.
  3. Breathe – The other aspect is to breathe. Well, we all breathe all the time, but whenever you feel the breathing, your mind goes into focusing it and when you come back you are already calm.
  4. Label – Labelling is another way where you scan your mind and identify what you are feeling. You simply label the feeling – Am angry! Then some stress gets relieved because you know what you are feeling and that will take care of it. You first accept that you are angry, which then calms that emotion and you move forward.

All of these things happen at the speed of light. So the question is can we do something now? How can I train my mind and body so that they can be rational? how can I fix my stories? Can I do something now? This is where I want to introduce the concept of mindset. Can I cultivate a mindset, which itself makes me EI? Can I really understand my story & in general control things well?

Focusing on mindset really is not a model – This is coming from my own experience….

Mindset is my recipe for success in Emotional Intelligence. What mindset change can you bring to EI? Here are some examples and I will elaborate on one.

Many of us believe others are stupid. If we start moving from believing people are stupid to believing people are human & we start respecting them as they are then lot of things change. This is a change in mindset. When we start respecting people around us, our perspective of things change drastically and so does our level of EI.

If we cultivate this mindset by reflecting regularly on our way of thinking, we may become more & more capable to see that feeling and story concepts occurring when we face an event. Else, it may happen in such a speed that you may not be able to reflect on it.

What have I learnt?

There is a difference between thought, feeling, action and mindset. You may have a thought, but you may not yet be feeling it and this may get converted into a feeling and sometimes into an action too. Most of us focus too much on the action and we leave the mindset part. We need to remember that this is like a cycle. In order to get a better awareness and manage oneself better, we need to be aware of all four aspects – mindset, thought, feeling and action.

The awareness journey:

Self-awareness helps us in becoming Emotionally Intelligent. Just by controlling event- response, we may not be able to see the results. You need to go through a journey where thoughts and mindset will play a major role.

So in my view, if you focus on self-awareness & self-management, I am sure you can improve your social awareness and relationship management. I believe in the fact that when we are in harmony with ourselves, we can be in harmony with others too. Harmony is not being good or bad, it’s about being who you are.

I will leave you with this question to contemplate on. What steps are you planning to take to improve your self-awareness? Do write to us – we would like to know if you have implemented any techniques to improve self-awareness and management, which has in turn positively influenced your social awareness and relationship management.