When I mention Emotional Intelligence to people they tend to back away slightly. “Oh, I never get emotional at work”, they tell me, “There’s no place for crying in the office!”
But that concept is very far away from what Emotional Intelligence is.
Let me explain the neuroscience behind it.
As humankind developed as a species, the brain developed. The oldest part of the brain is the Reptilian brain and controls our fight, flight or freeze responses, as well as such automatic functions like breathing and heartbeat.
Out of that grew the Limbic system which controls our emotional responses, values, memory and attitudes.
And finally the Neocortex, which is the “thinking” part of the brain.
When our ancestors were faced with a threat, their immediate response was one of survival – run from the tiger, fight it or stand still and hope it doesn’t notice!
If you count to ten like your Granny told you to, you allow the logical part of the brain to catch up on the emotional part, and to contribute a more logical response.
Nowadays, we are not faced down by the sabre-toothed tiger too regularly, but the reptilian brain stills scans our environment for threats and still leaps into that fight, flight or freeze response.
So, when that car cuts you off at the traffic lights, that can be perceived by the brain as a threat encroaching on your territory and the fight response jumps in within milliseconds!
This is called the Amygdala Hijack – where your responses are literally hijacked by the emotional part of the brain (the amygdala). Usually those situations are followed by regret at things done or said.
If you count to ten like your Granny told you to, you allow the logical part of the brain to catch up on the emotional part, and to contribute a more logical response (maybe they’re late for their flight..).
But emotional responses are not just relating to anger. You might be asked to do an important project at work and your knee-jerk response might be “Oh, I’d never be able to do that”. Self- confidence is an EQ competence.
Or perhaps when a new system is being implemented you keep saying “Wasn’t it fine the way it was. We’ve always done it like that”. Adaptability is another EQ competence.
Understanding your reactions and allowing yourself the time to choose a different response delivers a powerful punch in decision-making.
The extent to which the “emotional” brain and the “thinking” brain communicate is at the core of emotional intelligence. The neural highway between them can run very smoothly. Tuning in to your triggers and responses, understanding your reactions and allowing yourself the time to choose a different response delivers a powerful punch in decision-making and as a consequence delivers the actions and results you actually want.
With the increased demands on us, both professionally and personally, the ability to manage ourselves and our relationships with others is more critical than ever. As a leader, you cannot afford to ignore the results that a higher EQ brings, if you are serious about business performance.
Emotional Intelligence is not set, in the same way that IQ is. Rather, it can be grown and developed through practice and repetition. This has the impact of developing new neural pathways in the brain which can kick-in instead of the old behavioural ones.
Studies of successful business leaders have shown that they possess 10 core Emotional Intelligence competencies. Newman’s model below shows us the particular skills demonstrated in these studies.
So, while Emotional Intelligence might have the sound of something teary-eyed and uncontrolled, in fact, the opposite is true.
How we manage ourselves, our relationships with others and our social interactions are all key to our performance every day, and to the results we actually deliver to the top and bottom lines in our organisations.
Over the coming weeks, we will look into each of the key emotional intelligence skills in more depth to help you become a better leader. Stay tuned!
About the Author
Barbara Nugent is a Leadership Coach who specialises in the teaching of Emotional Intelligence as a tool to drive business results.
If you want to improve that “neural highway” between the emotional and thinking parts of the brain and to measure your own EQ, visit www.eq.ie