There is so much talk about mental health and wellbeing right now, with companies thankfully moving it up the agenda. And yet still very few organisations prioritise emotional intelligence. However, emotional intelligence is synonymous with wellbeing.
It is learning and developing the skills associated with emotional intelligence that will foster your mental health and wellbeing and in turn create the right environment for others to do so too.
Because emotions are contagious.
Definition of EI
Our definition of emotional intelligence at The Coaching Project is as follows:
“Being aware of, and able to manage your own emotional state whilst also being aware of the impact of your emotions on others and how to make that impact a positive one.”
A key part of emotional intelligence is, therefore, what we call state management. The ability to manage your emotional state even if you’re struggling to manage your stress. It’s the ability to hide your stress or anger or frustration from your team. To avoid them going into survival mode and displaying unproductive survival behaviours such as defensiveness or protectionism.
It’s also an awareness that emotions are contagious and that as a leader, your emotions really count. We all know how hard it is to be sad in the presence of happy or even joyous people. We all know how infectious laughter is! Equally we know how easily we can be dragged down by someone’s low mood or general grumpiness.
Last but by no means least, it’s an understanding that emotions or ‘e-motions’ are our energy in motion. They are what drive our behaviours.
Positive emotions (or attachment emotions) create towards motivation. Think love, trust, joy and excitement. These emotions give us a natural surge of energy and forward momentum. It’s that chemical rush you feel as hormones and neurotransmitters such as oxytocin, noradrenaline and dopamine are released into your system. This makes working with others and achieving tasks easy and enjoyable.
Survival emotions such as fear, anger, disgust, shame and sadness create away from motivation. They trigger the release of adrenaline and cortisol, the stress hormone, preparing your body to fight, flee or freeze. Again, you feel this physically in your body as butterflies in your stomach or palpitations in the heart, for example. Panic attacks, that many people have experienced for the first time in their lives in the last 18 months, are an extreme manifestation of this.
So clearly the ability to manage your own emotional state and create a positive impact on those around you is an immensely valuable skill and fundamental to your sense of wellbeing.
Key Aspects of Emotional Intelligence
Many people think of emotional intelligence as interpersonal skills and that is one key aspect. However, much of it is intrapersonal too.
The EQ-i 2.0 and EQ360 psychometrics which I use with my clients explore 15 different aspects of EI within 5 key areas:
- Stress management
But what makes us say they are all so crucial to wellbeing?
How you see yourself and hence feel about yourself has a huge impact on your sense of wellbeing. Low self-esteem and self-belief undermine your self-confidence which in turn undermines your motivation and drive. If you don’t believe you can achieve something, why bother persisting?
It might also mean that even when you do achieve things you fail to own and acknowledge your strengths or celebrate those achievements which acts as a negative spiral.
Conversely, if you feel good about yourself, own and acknowledge your strengths, celebrate your successes and find meaning and purpose in your life you will feel more positive, more grounded and more optimistic about the future – all key elements of wellbeing and resilience.
A lot of people find expressing their emotions hard. And yet expressing your emotions in a constructive way is hugely important for everyone involved.
The psychologist Dr Martin Seligman first coined the phrase ‘name it to tame it’. Essentially, when you name an emotion, you have to access the language centre in your brain which resides in the pre-frontal cortex or rational part of the brain, switching off the emotion. So, it’s a great way to avoid the emotion overwhelming you.
Moreover, people in your team want and need to know how you feel. If you don’t tell them they will make it up for themselves. And, typically, we think the problem lies with us.
As an example, say you come into work in a bad mood because you got stuck on public transport for two hours. You don’t say good morning to your team, you walk around the office with a furrowed brow and you’re a bit terse in your communication. Your team will read your body language and it will naturally worry and unnerve them. They might think they have done something to upset you or there’s been some bad business news such as losing a client or a deal.
If you had come into the office and said:
“Hey guys, just want you to know that I’m feeling a bit stressed and grumpy right now. I’ve been stuck on the tube for 2 hours, I’ve missed a client call and I feel like I’m way behind with my to-do list. But just leave me in peace for an hour or so and I’m sure I’ll snap out if it!”
Imagine the difference in the atmosphere in the office. No second-guessing, no anxiety, no fear. Hopefully just a bit of empathy and support for your situation. Relief all round!
Every piece of research into resilience and wellbeing cites the importance of having strong relationships, a good support network and a willingness to use it.
Thus, building positive, mutually beneficial interpersonal relationships based on respect and trust are at the very heart of your wellbeing with skills such as empathy fundamental to this.
People like people who are like them. It makes them feel comfortable and validated. Showing understanding, finding common ground and listening without judgement are ways to make people feel seen and heard.
Moreover, when you do the opposite – judge or label others – it typically makes you feel angry and frustrated. Think of labels you might use:
And notice the physiological responses in your body that occur when you do.
They make you feel bad, triggering non-verbal behaviours that will make the other person feel bad too. A lose-lose situation.
Productive relationships are at the heart of good business and are core to your sense of wellbeing. Working on these skills will yield huge benefits.
Ruminating about a problem and over-thinking things can be soul-destroying. How many hours have you lost over the years to procrastination and circular thinking?
It can make you feel stuck, stupid, ineffective, even helpless at times.
“I’m going round in circles. I simply can’t make a decision!”
Emotions take over, you lose access to your pre-frontal cortex or rational brain and you are unable to remain objective, to recognise feelings as feelings not facts and to keep a sense of perspective. A vicious downward spiral.
Recognising and managing those emotions, employing different problem-solving techniques and doing what I call a reality check (what are the facts here and what am I imagining or overplaying?) will dramatically improve your sense of control, self-efficacy and hence wellbeing.
Stress management is the area with the most obvious link to mental and emotional wellbeing. You have personally experienced hyper-stress at some time in your life, I’m sure. That sense of complete mental, and sometimes physical, overwhelm. You can’t think straight, you can’t focus and you feel unable to cope. Anxiety, depression and panic attacks are common manifestations of this.
Cognitive flexibility plays a big role here. It’s why Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is the clinically approved talking therapy for anxiety and depression. If you can change the way you think about something, you change the way you feel about it. And when you change the way you feel about it, this gives rise to different emotions and a different intensity of emotion. You can tolerate it more easily. Your resultant behaviour is therefore different. You can even choose your response rather than instinctively reacting or over-reacting.
Remember your e-motions are your energy in motion. They are your behavioural drivers. Overly-heightened emotions will cause a reaction and that behaviour is unlikely to increase your sense of wellbeing. Intelligently managing your emotions gives you access to far more internal resources and hence choices minimising your stress and maximising your sense of wellbeing.
Emotional intelligence and mental, emotional and physical wellbeing are inextricably linked.
Being aware (but not overly aware) of your emotions, being able to manage your own emotional state and being able to generate positive emotions in others creates a climate of wellbeing.
Working on the five areas of emotional intelligence cited in the EQ-i 2.0 model of emotional intelligence will result in happier, more positive, more grounded, more optimistic and more effective individuals, teams and organisations.
It’s why we say that emotional intelligence is synonymous with wellbeing.
If you would like to discuss developing emotional intelligence skills for yourself or teams within your organisation, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org