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What is Emotional Intelligence?

Emotional intelligence (EI) is the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.  It speaks to each of our capabilities to recognize our own emotions and those of others, discern between different feelings and label them appropriately, to use emotional information to guide our thinking and behavior, and manage and/or adjust emotions to adapt to environments or achieve our goal(s).  In a nutshell, it is our ability to understand how we feel, and to regulate how it affects our thinking and behavior.

EI plays a significant role in nearly every part of our lives.  This life condition is true simply because of the human condition: emotions exist.  They influence our thought processes and decision-making abilities, and the level of development which we devote to understanding EI enables us to act and react with clarity, confidence, empathy, and compassion.

Examples of EI – and a lack thereof – are relatively common.  Infamous examples of this are viewable globally across entertainment channels, social media, and news programs.  When we see an occurrence of explicit emotional intelligence, does it resonate?  When we witnesses a lack of EI – particularly at another person’s expense – how do we relate to it?

Research has repeatedly shown that EI is the development of practices and understanding which provides individuals with an understanding and conscious intuition of oneself.  This is to say that it is built upon self-awareness, and offers us the insight necessary to anticipate how we may react to certain situations, stimuli, people, and environments.  Armed with this knowledge, people with high EI may then navigate troubling situations and exploit opportunities with a degree of certainty and ease, while emerging from them with an increased sense of self-assurance and confidence.

Lacking Emotional Intelligence

Individuals lacking emotional intelligence are relatively common.  It is certainly true that even those of us who have attained high emotional intelligence (EI) quotients are prone to moments of weakened EI – even the best of us have breakdowns – and we live in a world where they quickly become media fodder.  An extreme example from a hockey match: Coach Martin Tremblay of the winning team took part in a post-game handshake line.  Upon passing a young boy on the opposing team, he deliberately tripped the young man, causing the boy to fall and break his wrist https://youtu.be/hu9jt8UQXfQ .

Another example which we may all be familiar with, famed talk show host Bill O’Reilly was caught on camera reacting to information that he deems unhelpful during a recording session, and screams profanity at the production cast, while storming off of the stage https://youtu.be/Qy-Y3HJNU_s

While these are extreme examples of people losing their cool, we all know what it’s like to have our emotional state influence our thinking and behavior.  In every such case – Tremblay and O’Reilly included – we behave differently than we would normally behave such that we are judged by our behavior rather than the content of our character.  And even when we acknowledge these mistakes with people who know our character, we are still accountable for our actions and how they impact those around us

The Principles of Emotional Intelligence

There is an interdependency of character attributes which constitute a healthy level of emotional intelligence.  Among these are empathy, self-awareness, emotional self-control, influence, self-confidence, and an accurate self-assessment.  In instances where EI is lacking, it becomes easier to define those traits which were lacking, and we can better see how an event could have happened differently.

Those unfamiliar with EI principles could easily say, “Coach Tremblay should not have tripped the player.”  Or, “Bill O’Reilly should not have lost his temper.”  However, we seek a deeper understanding of what’s lacking.  While Coach Tremblay’s actions don’t tell us much about him, we can understand that his emotional self-control was lacking, as was his sense of empathy.  In the same breath, we can see how he lacked an understanding of the example that he set for his players, the opposing teams’ players, the parents, and other spectators.

This lends itself to a discussion about the nature of our self-confidence and accurate self-appraisal.  Self-confidence is that part of character which allows us to move forward in the face of adversity with the belief that we will persevere, or that the cause is worth attempting.  There is, of course, a reciprocal relationship between healthy self-confidence and self-esteem.  But what is the difference between ego and self-esteem? Put simply, self-esteem embraces respect for others through empathy, while ego drives self-interest as a motivating factor – devoid of any tangible sense of empathy. 

What can we learn personally from examples of high emotional intelligence?

In a world of modern media we are all exposed to individuals’ failures rather than their successes.  So it can be difficult to find examples of high EI in a public figure, but in research one figure comes up: Pete Carroll of the Seattle Seahawks.  Coach Carroll has one word that he seems to use more often than any other: development.  He uses it when speaking about team structure, players, and of himself.  In fact, when speaking of his players he has gone so far as to say, “I’m hoping to help them find their way.  To help them be the very best that they can possibly be,” (Carroll, 2013). 

What is unique about Coach Carroll’s approach is that he speaks of the development of the players as individuals rather than the development of players as part of the team.  He focuses attention on communication, individual development, and mindfulness approaches to success that are often scoffed at in professional sports.  His coaching approaches commonly include yoga, meditation, regular meetings – as a team and individually – with psychologists, and team and individually – with psychologists, and team building events outside of the practice field.

What makes Coach Carroll different?  High EI quotients through empathy, self-awareness, social awareness, self-management, emotional self-control, self-confidence, and an accurate self-appraisal.  His success can be measured in different ways: in his collegiate coaching career at the University of Southern California (2001-2009) his team won the National Championship twice (2003, 2004) and the Pacific Ten conference title six times (2002-4, 2006-8).  As a head coach in Seattle since 2010, his team won the Super Bowl in his third year as coach.

Perhaps more significantly, in 2014 an anonymous and voluntary ESPN poll taken of professional football players, the question was posed: which (NFL) head coach would you most like to play for?  Of those responses, Coach Carroll received 61% more votes than the second-ranked coach.  Players are often quoted describing Coach Carroll as “respected”, “honest”, “passion[ate]”, and “principled”. 

How emotionally intelligent am I?

Maybe a better question ought to be, “How emotionally intelligent do I want to be?”  The point is that we all strive to be better at certain things – at work, at hobbies, at sports, at parenthood, at school, and so on.  But how much attention are we paying to being better versions of ourselves?  How much time do we devote to being more compassionate?  More loving?  More kind?

In the current pandemic we are forced to confine our lives to smaller environments and sometimes with the people in our lives whom we love the most.  Under the best of circumstances this can challenge the emotionally healthiest among us.  But it also provides us a unique opportunity to look at ourselves: how much energy do I devote to being a better me, and developing a healthier sense of emotional intelligence?

The distinction is the way in which each of us contributes to the environment in which we live, and the effect that we have on those around us.  By focusing on understanding ourselves better we have the opportunity to increase the character traits which make us happier and healthier human beings who have a positive impact on the people we care about the most. 

In other words: in a world of Coach Tremblay’s, we ought to strive to be a Coach Carroll.  

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