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Emotional Intelligence – What is it? Why is it Important Now?

May 29, 2020

Emotional Intelligence is a term that is bandied around a lot these days. So what is it really?  How do we know if we have it and why is it important? What is ‘Toxic Positivity”?

Lisë Stewart and Natalie McVeigh, discuss the answers to these questions and why EQ is such an important skill and how we can improve it.


Lisë Stewart: Hello, and welcome to the EisnerAmper podcast series brought to you today by the Center for Individual and Organizational Performance. My name is Lisa Stewart and I am just a lighted to be here today with my colleague and friend Natalie McVeigh. And we're going to be talking about a subject that has been extremely popular recently. It's emotional intelligence and also in resilience and how the two of those play together. So we're just going to get right into it today, Natalie, because we've had so many questions about this just recently. And I know you've got such a strong background in neuroscience. I'm wondering, can you explain just exactly what is emotional intelligence?
Natalie McVeigh: Hi, Lisa, it's great to be here and that's an excellent question. Emotional intelligence or EQ, some people call it EI, is the way we recognize emotions in others and how we manage those emotions in ourselves and in our relationships. So there are a couple aspects. One is our own self-awareness, our social awareness, our empathy, and our motivation really play a factor in emotional intelligence.

LS: So is it something that a person can develop? Can you actually grow your emotional intelligence over time or do you have to be born with it?
NM: The great thing is it is grown throughout our lifetime. Now there's a lot of our emotional intelligence that does start from adult attachment theory, which is when zero to four, our earliest memories, but it continues to develop through our life and we learn through our own experiences. So there's some neuroplasticity involved and it's how we express and manage and interpret emotions of others is really key.
LS:So we can learn more about it and build that muscle for ourselves.
NM: Absolutely. And one of the most interesting parts about emotional intelligence is that it's catchy. So, the more you grow your emotional intelligence, the more those around you will start growing their emotional intelligence. You trap them a little bit in your limbic system. You catch them in the orbit that you have in the world. So the moment you start doing your work, those around you inadvertently are also doing some work.
LS: Okay, there's hope for my family yet. Okay, this is good. Very good to hear. So tell me, if I'm sitting here wondering, "Well, do I actually have good emotional intelligence? How do we go about assessing whether or not our emotional intelligence is effective or well-developed?
NM: Yeah, it's important to note that emotional intelligence is not the opposite of intelligence. It's not a triumph of heart overhead. We're not heartless robots. It's the unique intersection of both of those, that we take what we know and what we don't know and we find some space in comfort in between the two. So a more developed EQ usually means relationships are enjoyable and rewarding, feel connected, there's flexibility and resilience. Those are really important signs of EQ and that you're able to repair relationships relatively quickly. And there's some preference for practical optimism, but not necessarily toxic positivity. So currently COVID is happening, so some of these pieces of emotional intelligence, you might have enjoyed it other times might not be showing up as heightened right now, but those are some ideas in which have a higher EQ and people who have a little less developed EQ tend to be a little more brittle, tend to have overactive responses to things that challenge them and they're lower to trust and discounting, not just of themselves, but of others.
LS:That's interesting. And you used a term there that I'm not familiar with, and maybe I suffer from this myself, what exactly is toxic positivity?
NM: Toxic positivity is that idea that we have to be really positive all the time that everything is good. The interesting part about pop psychology is they take something that's somewhat true, and then they tend to make a whole book or whole idea around it. So there's some absolute value in reframing or seeing the bright side. But part of emotional intelligence is taking and learning from all of our emotions and there's seven essential emotions, only two of which feel really nourishing. And the others can be a little more depleting, but they're also important. So this toxic positivity is another way of having an undeveloped emotional intelligence and where we ignore data from more painful experiences, more painful emotions, having a preference for only the positive ones. And that's really not a balanced emotional experience.
LS:Natalie, are there tests or assessments that people can take that will give them feedback on their EQ?
NM: Absolutely. There's a large gambit of emotional intelligence assessments. Our preference is to use one that actually has videos involved. So it activates your mirror neurons. It's not a self-report on a survey that asks you what you might do or not do. In fact, their videos that are so close to you, that some people experience them being uncomfortable. So we administer an assessment through learning and action. Happy to talk about that.
LS:Oh, that's fascinating. So just generally speaking, if we wanted to improve our emotional intelligence and reap some of the benefits that you've already mentioned about closer relationships, better communication, et cetera, are there some basic practical skills or habits that we could begin to embrace?
NM: Absolutely. The very first one is honoring our emotional experience. Our emotions are meant to teach us information. I'll talk about anger because it's the one that everyone really likes to not admit that they have or enjoy. People think it's about conflict, but anger really teaches us some things. It teaches about boundaries, motivation, and direction. Aristotle said back in the day that, "Anyone can become angry, that's easy, but to be angry with the right person at the right time for the right purpose and in the right way, that is not easy." So when we're angry, those boundaries, motivation and direction are teaching us something. So what boundary of mind was crossed? What do I need to do next to fix something? And where am I going to go? And it's vital to understand that. So just honoring the emotion you have naming it, we say in neuroscience, "If you can name it, you can tame it."

So there's some great feelings list you can look up saying, "Is this anger? Is this another emotion? And then what is it trying to teach me before we go and do," especially in the United States we have a preference for self-soothing by doing action and not sitting with our emotions. So the very first thing is to sit with our emotion, learn from it. The second thing that you'd want to do is really try to find a way to see the difference between yourself and others. So we judge others by their impact and we judge ourselves by our intention. That's a quote by John Wallen and we'd really want to say, "Is this a me thing or someone else?" So I may feel bad sometimes even though you didn't make me feel bad. So we call this differentiation, seeing what's mine and what someone else's is important. And then having some empathy, a generous assumption of why someone may or may not have done what they did or did not do, and trying to create an honest conversation with them around our perceived experience of what happened.
LS: That's fascinating. So if you think of an effective leader, because I know that we're going to have plenty of leaders that'll be listening to this, what are some of the things that an effective leader does that indicates that their emotional intelligence is pretty high?
NM: Asking questions. Studies show that just the act of asking questions increases your emotional intelligence, some large amount. Also 6% of the time we're in conversation, we spend asking questions and it generates 60% of ensuing conversation. So, that is rich data there, that if the moment you start asking questions, you can do something. Another piece is just noticing neutrally. Neutral language sounds really, really boring, but it's quite effective. So when someone says something like, "Stacy screwed me over by not turning in this project," you can actually repeat back neutrally.

So it sounds like Stacy didn't complete the project and it allows someone else to have some self-awareness to notice their own response and it kind of catches the activity in the air to figure out what was the true experience that happened. Because what happens when an experience shows up, we either evaluate it or we have emotions about it. Either way, we're going to our head or our heart, both good processes, but they jumpstart us to making meaning out of something. So this neutral language and asking questions, not only creates a pause for the leader to get more data set, embracing their own emotional intelligence, but it's a way of modeling other people to take that pause, to enhance their own emotional intelligence, to get more data.
LS:Right. So it's a little bit like in the old days, we used to talk about reframing, trying to reframe so we can move that conversation along that reduce a little bit of the emotions that are in that language. So yeah, that makes a lot of sense to me. Well, so to wrap up this part of our conversation, would you have any books or resources that you would recommend to our listeners?
NM: Absolutely. I think Daniel Goleman's Social Intelligence is a wonderful book. There's also Mindsight by Daniel Siegel and then there's Emotional Intelligence at Work by Henry Weisinger. All great books. There are some wonderful podcasts you might want to follow right now. I know Susan David is a specialist in emotional agility and she's doing a podcast now around COVID and how to embrace emotions of all spectrums and same thing Daniel Goleman has some podcasts going out right now. And then we do resources. We have some longer webcasts that you can watch as well.
LS:Well, I think that you've done a lovely job giving people a little bit of a taster. Hopefully we've piqued some people's curiosity and maybe have motivated them to go forward and look into some of these resources, check out our website and see some of the other information that we have there. So, Natalie, I want to thank you so much for taking the time to do this and to all of our listeners today thank you for taking a few minutes to listen in and we really hope that we'll hear from you. Your comments are always welcome. Again, thank you for joining EisnerAmper's podcast series. I'm Lisa Stewart from the Center for Individual and Organizational Performance.

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Natalie M. McVeigh

Natalie McVeigh is a Managing Director in the Center for Individual and Organizational Performance and the Center for Family Business Excellence Group within the Private Client Services Group and has more than 10 years of experience as a consultant and coach.

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