I believe the nutshell I would put this into is as follows: Emotional intelligence is knowing how you and others feel at any given time, and using those feelings in a positive way that makes for a good outcome for everybody. Big nutshell, I know, but big topic too. There are as many definitions and variations available to answer this deceptively simple question, as there are emotions to be experienced from moment to moment, from person to person. It is a priority in the field of Cognitive Psychology. But before attempting to put these meanings into some semblance of order, based on expert findings, I would like to offer my own gut reaction and interpretation. Hopefully such an offering from a layperson seeking enlightenment, can help to enlighten others.
Expanding my nutshell, I honestly believe Emotional Intelligence (EI)is the capacity to feel, to understand and work with those feelings, expressing them in ways that help in decision making, psychological well-being and relationships with others. It also includes the ability to empathize with others’ emotional states and from that, relate to them in a sensitive and positive way that enhances life experiences. By recognizing our own and others feelings in any given set of circumstances, be they negative or positive, we can use this EI capacity to process information, use what we learn and ultimately, harness our feelings to make for a better state of mental health and a deeper connection to others.
That connection is a deep human need, and I believe from the moment we are born, we have it. A baby has little problem expressing emotions, such as fear, happiness, contentment and pleasure, to name but a few. Circumstances can affect the ability to express our emotions as we grow, but there is little doubt that we all come equipped with the potential to develop EI further. Analyzing and examining some of the scholarly definitions may clarify meaning. Or you may, like me, look at your own intuitive interpretation; because you, as a feeling, thinking individual really have the capacity to do so.
One of the most accepted definitions comes from the work of researchers Jack Mayer and Peter Salovey. In 1997, they drew up four branches of EI as follows:-
1. Perception, Appraisal and Expression of Emotion
2. Emotional Facilitation of Thinking
3. Understanding and Analyzing Emotions: Employing Emotional Knowledge
4. Reflective Regulation of Emotions to Promote Intellectual Growth.
For each of these branches, a real life example might best illustrate and clarify.
1. Consider how you feel when you hear a beautiful piece of music. You might get a lump in your throat, think of how it takes you out of the mundane world, and you may be uplifted. Then think how it affects others around you, which is where appraisal comes into play, when you recognize how the music affects them. You identify with their emotions, and may then express and share feelings with them, making connections that arise from your EI.
2. In using emotion to facilitate your thinking, imagine that somebody has lied about you not meeting a deadline. You are angry, but instead of shouting, ranting and throwing things, you use the anger, righteous in this instance, to gather information to support your case. You remember how being angry without using clear judgment does not work for you. The anger might make you feel up, then down, but you use it to examine the pros and cons of the situation and this helps you to think of the right way to act upon your emotions.
3. You have a sister or brother who often annoys you. Sometimes you like them, but because of your relationship and history, you love them. Using EI, you can differentiate between the two, and so recognize the variations of feelings being with that sibling brings about. If you lost that sibling, you would suffer and you are able to understand how the two emotions of like and love work together, alongside irritation, competition, affection and loyalty. Being able to analyze this mixture and accepting how it works, with an understanding, shows the application of EI in the family relationship.
4. You have had a bad row with your partner the previous evening. You get up in the morning, feeling sad, annoyed, despondent and many other negative emotions involved in such a scenario. EI allows you to think about why you are experiencing the feelings, and also to make decisions as to how useful or helpful they are to you. You can sift through them, consider the best way to deal with them, relate them to how your partner might be feeling, and judge the best way forward – probably for both of you.
To conclude, I return to my initial and very personal interpretations which assert that emotional intelligence really is about understanding, analyzing and using your emotions to ensure a well-balanced way of dealing with life in all its magical variations. It might even be summed up as going with the flow. Do not be afraid to feel and share, never underestimate the power of true emotion, be ready to experience and act upon it, and let it help deepen your understanding of others. We are, after all, all in it together, and together we can work it out.