Emotions: Know them to deal with them!Sep 08, 2021
Keeping emotions out of decisions is a disaster for decision making according to published studies (Lenner, 2015). The role that emotions play in the brain are different from what most scientists have assumed for decades. Even the most mundane rational decisions depend on emotional data.
Emotions provide the production of responsive hormones to the external stimulus. These hormones enter the bloodstream and create feelings. Emotions provide us with the primary filter that focuses attention and provides motivation for a specific course of action. If you would see a tiger in front of you, you would, for sure, experience fear. The primary filter that emotions give us results in the production of fight-or-flight responsive feelings, allowing our body to react quickly and appropriately for its own self-preservation. This emotional reaction happens suddenly and unconsciously.
Rather than keeping emotions out of decision-making, we must ensure that cognition and emotion work together. Without the guidance of emotional learning and social feedback, rational thinking and logical reasoning skills are of little use.
This is the process called Emotional Intelligence and it is through this process of cognition and emotion that optimal decisions are made. This concept was defined for the first time in the 1980s by two American psychologists, from Yale University, John D Mayer and Peter Salovey, in the academic literature. Daniel Goleman, another American psychologist, later built on their work and published his well-known books on the subject in the 1990s. According to this author, Emotional Intelligence makes up at least 80% of the distinguishing competencies of outstanding leaders.
The more we read about Emotional Intelligence the better we understand that such abilities as emotional management, self-awareness, showing empathy and maintaining healthy and balanced relationships are crucial if we want to achieve better results both professionally and personally.
“It is very important to understand that emotional intelligence is not the opposite of intelligence, it is not the triumph of heart over head — it is the unique intersection of both.”
To understand more about Emotional Intelligence, we first need to understand how our brain works. In resume, the brain is divided into three regions that control different aspects of the human brain functioning: The Brainstem, the Limbic brain, and the Neocortex.
The Brainstem plays an important role in the regulation of both cardiac and respiratory functioning, controlling autonomously our heart and breathing rate. It is also where our central nervous system is regulated therefore working to maintain our consciousness and to preserve vital reflexes such as swallowing, vomiting or coughing. It is a part of the brain which cannot be reprogrammed since it regulates your body. The Brainstem will keep us alive, being stimulated whenever we feel under attack and working to preserve vital functions of our body!
The Limbic brain sits over the primitive brain and is impulsive and powerful, making sure our intuition is activated when we most need it! It controls how you feel to certain stimulus. Knowing something is right in your heart. It connects information to memory and works best during emotionally charged context. It serves the primitive brain giving pleasure to natural survival needs. We like to believe that our decisions are based on our thoughts but, in reality, they are based on our “emotional state of mind”, how we feel at the time. This part of the brain is associated with both positive and negative emotions such as anger, fear, anxiety and/or love.
The Neocortex is the newest part of our brain and is also referred to as the “thinking brain”. It sits on top of the emotional brain and it controls higher-level processes such as logic, reasoning, creative thinking, language, complex social interactions and planning in advance.
The Limbic and the Neocortex regions referring to the emotional and thinking brain respectively, are the two areas we are most interested in when it comes to EQ — Emotional Quotient. The goal in EQ is to find a balance between these two regions of our brains so that they can work in harmony, coordinating effectively how we act during various circumstances. Basically, the information coming from the outside world travels through the spinal cord reaching first the Limbic system (the emotional brain) before it reaches the neocortex. This means that before we think rationally we are already thinking emotionally, which can high-jack certain important decisions of our lives. In his book, Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman refers that:
These two minds, the emotional and the rational, operate in tight harmony for the most part, intertwining their very different ways of knowing to guide us through the world. Ordinarily there is a balance between emotional and rational minds, with emotion feeding into and informing the operations of the rational mind, and the rational mind refining and sometimes vetoing the inputs of the emotions. Still, the emotional and rational minds are semi-independent faculties, each reflecting the operation of distinct, but interconnected, circuitry in the brain (p.9)
Having said that, Daniel’s Goleman famous framework helps us understand the 5 domains of the emotional intelligence:
- Self-awareness- How aware we are of our own emotions, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and acknowledge of them as they arise. There are innumerous techniques to improve self-awareness such as keep a journal, meditate, practice mindfulness, setting goals or practise of a positive self-talk.
- Self-Regulation - How we control ourselves. How we control our emotions and thoughts before we act. This skill of self-regulation allows us to manage emotions appropriately and proportionately at any given time or in any given circumstance. The ability to walk smoothly from one emotion to another, analyzing each one as we go, is something that needs to be worked upon! Ultimately you´ll want to be able to spot unpleasant and counterproductive emotions in order to eliminate and substitute them for more positive emotions such as optimism and enthusiasm. Techniques such as The 5 Whysor The Five Chairs can be very useful to effectively increase self-regulation and ultimately behave more intelligently in the future.
- Social Skills - Now that we’ve got ourselves under control, we can move on to focus on others. The ability to be socially aware depends on how accurately we pick up on other people’s emotions. We can start by doing a simple exercise that asks us to try and step back from a social encounter and analyze the situation and its interactions as if from the outside. Not only will this allow us to perceive the situation through a different perspective but will also help us start to better understand other people´s minds and ways of thinking and interacting. Social awareness is deeply connected to “mindful listening” and so if we want to master the first, we have to master the latter. This skill allows us to listen more effectively by shutting out distractions such as noise, our own thoughts, or any other impulsive reactions that can draw us away from a conversation, therefore allowing us to really focus on the message that the other person is trying to pass on to us.
- Empathy - The understanding of how others feel and being compassionate toward them. Empathy drives your social skills and these involve how well you communicate and interact with others on a one to one basis or when you're working in teams. Make sure when you see someone else going through a hard time, you listen and share, but also clearly communicate that you are available to help, if it’s the case. The follow-through on empathy means initiating positive change for others.
- Motivation – Motivation is the drive to work and the drive to succeed. Of course, motivation will differ from person to person, however, people who are emotionally intelligent have a passion to fulfill their own inner needs and goals and take advantage of challenges that arise and use them as a personal drive to improve, rather than focus only on things like fame, money, recognition, and acclaim.
In resume, Emotional intelligence is about awareness - awareness of your own actions and feeling and awareness of those around you through self-understanding and empathy. Emotional intelligence is also about action and behavior - controlling ourselves in order to accept and then regulate our emotions. Only this way, we are able to build healthier and effective relationships in all areas of our life!
Ana Carolina Barros