5 Easy Pieces of EI Knowledge

1.      In his life-changing book, Love + Work, Marcus Buckingham rightfully declares “Each activity, each interaction is emotionally charged, either positive or negative. Each moment hits you, you can take it in, and it either lifts you up a little or drags you down a little. No moment leaves you at zero.”

Although not new, having him make this declaration powerfully supports this EI fact. Years ago, when I started teaching EI I had a research-based slide that defined how many emotions we had each day. I would present the slide and then say “Those numbers are impressive. But really, when do we ever not have a feeling?” I’d then ask participants to add the numbers I wrote on a flipchart (2+2). “What’s the answer?” A resounding “Four!” Then I’d ask “how did that make you feel?” Confused expressions would sweep across the faces in the room. I’d say – “No Really! How did that make you feel?” and raise my hand. After some hesitancy, a few hands would raise, and I’d welcome their responses. “Silly – a little proud – happy – indifferent – annoyed – like a kindergartener….” Yes, even doing a rote calculation evokes a feeling! We have emotions from moment to moment, even when we sleep. Especially when we dream.

This is important because emotions contain vital information that is always available.

2.      Not to contradict Marcus – “there are no “negative emotions.” But weall know what hemeant. That’s how we talk. We consistently describe unpleasant emotions as negative.

The original scale for measuring emotions was based on the pleasantness of a sensation (feeling) in relation to its intensity. Unpleasant emotions are not negative. They contain vital information and motivate us to do very positive things like run from animals that want to eat us (fear) and confront people who treat us unfairly (anger).

My point is that the many experts in Emotional Intelligence have been telling us for years that there are no “negative” emotions. Changing the words we use to talk about them will help us change outdated, life-limiting, beliefs that emotions are bad.

3.      And while we’re on the topic of language – learn to accurately identify emotions. We have over 2000 words that describe emotions in the English language. 50% describe unpleasant sensations, about 30% describe pleasant, and 20% are somewhat neutral but still describe emotion. Brené Brown’s research reports that most Americans average a three-word emotional vocabulary for identifying what they feel – “happy, sad, and pissed.”

An interpretive slip on the scale of intensity can cause significant problems. For instance, in an Employee Relations matter identifying someone as angry instead of frustrated can create a much more intense scenario calling for more serious action.

Neuroscientist Lisa Barrett Feldman reports that people with larger emotional vocabularies are more socially successful. Marcus Buckingham argues that relationships are vital – “A person is only a person through other persons.”

5.      Empathy cuts the effort it takes to identify and work with emotions in half.I say “work with” because our cultural habit is to stuff feelings. We’ve been taught that they have no place in the workplace, and practically nowhere else. Most of the language used is about “controlling, managing, or regulating” them which all sound like mechanistic terms from the industrial age. Experiencing, let alone expressing them can evoke strong fears of shame and rejection. Especially for men because emotions have been designated feminine. Maybe this is why many studies have suggested women make better leaders.

Mr. Buckingham dares use the word “love” in a business context. Love is strongly akin to appreciation, empathy, and compassion. If we honor feeling and follow it we’re using a powerful internal rudder to guide our lives. This helps alleviate shame as a major obstruction along the way. Shame has its societal and personal value, but shaming feeling cuts us off from ourselves. We become slaves to opinion and propaganda. Self-empathy lightens shame. We become more assured and flexible with self-empathy. We more easily recognize and accept the feelings and differences of others.

Self-empathy lets us accept our feelings and the information they provide. This is self-assurance (without the “con” of confidence). We are free to accurately claim a feeling. Shame doesn’t block us from admitting or owning it. The resulting empathy this awakens eases our connection with others. Because we’re O.K. – we’re not shaming ourselves for our perception, they can be O.K. too.

Motivation is driven by feeling. Very simply, when we seriously consider the feeling of others before we take action, we authentically engage them. The resulting motivation is highly sustainable if our use of feeling is genuine. The intent to manipulate weakens the connection. Manipulation inspires rebellion.

The Acceptance, accuracy, and empathetic utilization of feelings is important because emotions contain vital information that is always available; emotions strengthen Human Connection. Experiment with practicing these five points of emotional knowledge.

“Propers” to Daniel Goleman, Caruso & Salovey, Marc Brackett, Susan David, Karla McLaren, Leonard Mlodinow, Brené Brown, Marcus Buckingham, Lisa Barrett, and many neuroscientists, Ponlop Rinpoche, and many Buddhist teachers, etc. Wonderfully, Emotional Intelligence is found in many current perspectives.

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