ideas from books: Emotional intelligence

Emotional Intelligence
, by Harvard psychologist Daniel Goleman, has become a classic. Some say that its publication, in 1996, created a sort of revolution: people started to realize the importance of “emotional skills” not only to conduct a well-balanced and meaningful life, but also for a much more practical purpose: to boost performance at work.

The traditional way of thinking saw work performance as a function of IQ – analytic skills, or SAT-type intelligence, but little stress – if any – was placed on the person’s ability to manage his emotions, and those of his colleagues and clients.

Goleman, in 1996, was bold enough to state that IQ accounts, at best, for “20% of the factors that determine life success”. Which means that we should dedicate a considerable amount of time and energy to strengthening our emotional intelligence competencies, namely:
1. emotional self-awareness: being able to recognize our emotions as they come to us;
2. managing emotions: being able to put ourselves back in gear when we experience a negative emotion, such as anger, anxiety or depression;
3. motivating oneself: being able to put ourselves in an emotional state that will maximize our productivity in the activities we seek to accomplish;
4. empathy: being able to recognize emotions in others;
5. managing emotions in others: “people skills” or social intelligence.

I agree 100% with Goleman about the importance of the competencies he outlines, and the fact that we should all strive to become “emotionally literate”, in a process of lifelong learning. I recently took the Dale Carnegie Course, and one of the moments that struck me the most was when our instructor asked us to write down the qualities of someone at work that we deeply admired. As we all shared what we had put in our list, our instructor said: “how many of these qualities have anything to do with knowledge?”. We were astounded to note that very few, if any, belonged to that category.

Emotional illiteracy can:
– hinder and stifle the development of any cognitive or analytic skill: if we are depressed, anxious or angry, we will have a very hard time deploying our intellectual abilities, no matter how powerful they are;
– sidetrack us on our path to success: it takes strong discipline – a key emotional intelligence skill – to work long hours and “delay gratification” in order to accomplish a complex goal. No matter how good you are, if you don’t have to power to control your emotions (which will naturally resist the hard work you are forcing upon yourself and draw you towards pessimism at the first sign of failure), you will not succeed.
– destroy interpersonal relations, which are the basis for success in almost every occupation.

I particularly enjoyed Goleman’s discussion and advocacy of the “flow” state: a state where you are completely absorbed by a task, and you do it almost effortlessly. This is a state that Zen philosophy also refers to very often, where you do not work because you expect a future gratification or to assuage a preoccupation, but because you are capable of becoming “one” with what you are doing. Being able to master one’s emotions so as to get into the “flow” (or the “zone”) very often is indeed one of the greatest challenges there is, because our thoughts and emotions will tend to constantly lure us into doing something else, or being preoccupied by things that have nothing to do with the task at hand, thus dramatically reducing our effectiveness.

In conclusion, Goleman’s book is deservedly popular, since it helps us focus on what is truly important if we want to better our lives, both personally and professionally. Of course, it is a book that succeeds more in presenting the problem than in offering solutions. If we wish to develop the competencies Mr Goleman advocates, perhaps other books and programs will prove more useful.

I would like to recommend the following:
1. Non Violent Communication, by Marshall Rosenberg. The best book on emotional awareness, empathy and anger-control;
2. How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie. It tackles the last competency, people skills, in a brilliant way, although it is not a pleasant read because of the plethora of outdated examples and the tedious, monotonous style
3. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen Covey. I find the first habit, be proactive, very much in tune with what Goleman says about managing our emotions and tuning them for success, while delaying gratification (this what Covey calls the “P/PC balance”). Covey is also very eloquent on the importance of empathy and people skills in the latter part of the book.

In closing, I would like to stress once more that emotional intelligence is a lifelong pursuit, and that no book, no matter how brilliant, can magically boost our EQ. It is all about practice, and being aware of the infinite times during the week when we have been “emotionally stupid”, be it by abandoning ourselves to negative self-talk, by quitting on a task because of laziness or by upsetting someone because of our temper. Live and Learn!


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