Contrary to what you’ve always heard, emotions matter, and more so when it comes to making decisions. Here’s everything you need to know about emotional intelligence.
You’ve most probably heard the phrase, “Keep a cool head”, but is it true that cold, emotionless minds make better decisions? We explain why emotional intelligence is useful.
A couple of years ago, António Damásio, a renowned neuroscientist and neurologist, answered this question. A study was carried out on patients with brain injuries that had damaged parts of the brain which are responsible for emotions. Contrary to conventional wisdom, these patients had greater difficulty making rational decisions.
Losing the ability to adequately process emotional cues led patients to make decisions that were disadvantageous in the long term. That’s how important emotions are.
Emotions are our natural response to a stimulus such as joy, sadness, anger, and fear. This surely reminds you of the animated movie Inside Out. It’s somewhat similar, but without “disgust”.
Just like in the movie, emotions are present all the time. They don’t last long, but they’re still complex reactions of the brain. They’re easily distinguished by people’s behavior, they’re nonverbal, and they have specific functions, such as socialization and protection.
It’s important to know what an emotion is to define emotional intelligence. One of the most popular definitions is that of Daniel Goleman, from 1996, which states that emotional intelligence is the ability to self-motivate, withstand disappointments, control impulses and delay gratification, and to show empathy and hope.
It sounds like an ability that we’d all like to have, especially on a Monday morning. Emotional intelligence started to be defined in the 90s as the ability to recognize, value, and perceive our own emotions, as well as those of others, and how to regulate and express them appropriately, depending on the context.
Overall, we can say that emotional intelligence, “is important because it allows us to recognize our emotional state, manage those emotions, motivate ourselves, recognize others, and to be empathetic. In short, to manage the social relationships we establish in a healthy way,” explains Augusto Martínez Ruvalcaba, an expert in clinical psychology at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM).
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“Nobody is born with emotional intelligence. It’s OK if you don’t have it but developing this ability to identify and control your emotions and those of others can help you in all areas of your life,” explains Mario Carvajal, a psychologist at the School of Medicine and Health Sciences at Tecnológico de Monterrey.
According to experts, developing this intelligence will help to create emotional self-awareness, appreciation, and self-confidence. Self-managing our emotions also fosters social awareness and empathy. It allows us to consider others, and therefore establish healthy, authentic relationships, where there’s respect and support.
Emotional intelligence is made up of three basic skills:
Emotional intelligence develops just as we do, as we grow older. It develops first in the family and then at school.
“To develop it properly, context is important. It must be a space where it’s possible to recognize and express our own emotions. Self-control and healthy relationships with others should also be encouraged,” says Augusto.
Although this emotional intelligence is –to a greater extent– not perfected until early adulthood, health experts agree that in order to achieve it, you should approach a psychologist, and not be deceived by false advertising that promises to develop this ability in five steps.
“When I start with a patient who wishes to increase their emotional intelligence, I ask them to take a few simple steps: to observe their own behaviors and patterns and those of others. I ask them to identify the emotions that surround them, describe them, understand their origin and how they respond when they experience them. This is how patients analyze whether their behavior was adequate or not, and when faced with a similar situation, they’ll know how to respond,” says Carvajal.
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“A lack of emotional intelligence makes people normalize harmful relationships, for example, in so-called ‘toxic’ relationships,” explains Ruvalcaba.
In a (romantic, work, family) relationship, when there’s not good emotional regulation in one or both parties, the emotions of others become invisible, and consequently are not taken into account.
“So, the relationship that’s established causes damage to one or both parties, but in both cases, neither of them has adequate emotional intelligence that allows them to get out of that situation, either by abandoning the relationship because they recognize the damage it causes, or because they believe that such a relationship is normal,” he adds.
We all have the potential to develop a high level of emotional intelligence, and this can improve our decision-making and dealings with others. It will help us to resolve work, family and, of course, relationship problems. In short, developing this ability will save you emotional suffering.