April 25, 2014

Little Details: Got emotional Intelligence?

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We can’t all be rocket scientists or brain surgeons or prize-winning poets. I, for one, believe there’s ample seating at the “intelligence table” for varied and interesting expressions of capability.

Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences—of which I’ve written in the past—maintains that intelligence can be linguistic, mathematical, spatial, kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal or naturalist.

Daniel Goleman, author if the 1995 book “Emotional Intelligence,” (EI) defines this brand of intelligence as, “the ability to identify, assess and control the emotions of oneself, of others and of groups.”

Both bodies of work provide useful tools for parenting, teaching and personal development. Today, I choose to focus on Goleman’s work.

A high Intelligence Quotient (IQ)—a traditional measure of cognitive ability—although certainly a life asset, does not guarantee success. EI can sometimes make up for what some of us lack in pure intelligence.

Goleman describes the five elements of EI as:

Self-awareness: Knowing oneself, including personal strengths and weaknesses

Self-regulation: Ability to act deliberately and thoughtfully while controlling emotions and impulses

Motivation: Embracing a challenge, being persistent and understanding the value of delayed gratification

Empathy: Being able to read and be sensitive to the feelings of others

Social skills: Knowing how to be a team player and how to foster positive relationships with others

This description makes me think of a youngster I knew years ago. She may not have been the “star student” from an academic standpoint, but her ability to read people and connect with adults and children made a strong positive impression. Where some kids bullied and demonstrated imperialist tendencies, vying for peer control, she was the friendly, compassionate kid who rose above the fray.

Goleman’s research found that individuals with higher EI tended to be better at responding to stressful situations. They are more adept at handling unpredictability. They generally enjoy positive self-esteem, strong relationships and are, overall, more optimistic than their peers.

For the record, let’s just say I’m apt to cry when emotion moves me. Sad stories, moving pieces of music, and inspirational sermons in church have all been known to evoke streams of tears.

When watching episodes of “Lassie” as a child, my older sisters teased me when the highly-predictable, on-screen crisis emerged—just before the commercial break. I cried in elementary school if I didn’t “get” a math concept. I cried in high school when studying for difficult exams. I cried at work when my boss refused to give me the night off to attend my junior prom. (Fortunately, a posse of adult coworkers—waitresses in their black and white nylon uniforms—marched into the kitchen to demand that I got the night off.)

My mother, wanting to protect me, saw my tears as a sign of fallibility.

“Don’t let people see you cry,” she said. “They’ll think you’re weak.”

I’ve come to realize that tears—at the right place and time (i.e., not in the break room at work) can be downright therapeutic. Bottling up emotions is never healthy. Our feelings seep out, one way or another.

Goleman’s advice on how to foster EI in young people reads a bit like a Parenting/Teaching 101 course:

Validate a young person’s feelings.

Allow a young person to express his or her feelings, even if those feelings are uncomfortable to witness (e.g., anger or fear).

Teach problem-solving to young people. Avoid the temptation—so instinctual for parents—to jump in and “fix” problems for them.

Model EI in your own relationships and when conflicts arise

We can’t choose our families. We can’t always choose our co-workers. That said, we can be very intentional in our efforts to forge relationships with people who possess strong emotional intelligence. Knowing what qualities to look for—in a friend, partner, or boss—can lay the foundation for the kinds of relationships which bring us joy and satisfaction as opposed to the kind which leave us feeling emotionally depleted.

None of us is perfect, but emotional intelligence, like cognitive intelligence, is a part of ourselves that can always benefit from a bit of fine tuning.

Sources:  www.HowardGardner.com/multiple-intelligence, www.cio.com.au/article/391355/characteristics_emotional_intelligence, glowan/com/wordpress/2011/12/15-emotional-intelligence-traits-of-highly-successful-people,  www.themotherco.com/2011/1/ways-to-boost-emotional intelligence, www.parent4success.com/821/14-tips-for-helping-children-with-emotional-intelligence

Katherine Bielawa Stamper lives in Williston.  Reader comments are welcome at [email protected] or [email protected].

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