Emotional Intelligence

Lesson 5

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Emotional Intelligence

Lesson 5

We’ve learned that angry behaviors and reactions stem from childhood, picked up from influential people that surrounded us during our youth: parents, siblings, friends, role models.

Childhood is also the place where we accumulate emotional intelligence.

It is easy to spot people with emotional intelligence. They are generally warm, friendly, good at empathizing and listening. They appear to value our opinions and feelings. They are team players. Generally, they lead pretty successful lives, maintaining fulfilling relationships and gaining meaning from existence. They seem to navigate bumps in the road, such as loss, stress, and hurt with grace. They are also skilled at giving themselves permission not to be perfect. They know it’s okay to fall apart from time to time. These people were probably raised around others with high emotional intelligence. They are self-aware of their emotions and curious about the emotions of others.

Anger becomes a problem when there is a disconnect between yourself and the feelings of others and, crucially, between yourself and your own feelings. The good news is, you are always capable of gaining and growing your self-awareness and, consequently, your emotional intelligence.

Developing Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence has a few main components. As you can probably guess, the biggest one is awareness.

We discussed previously that awareness of others helps develop empathy. Empathy is the ability to try to understand what another person is feeling in any given moment. When we are practiced at empathizing with others, it allows us the ability to approach a situation objectively. Empathy allows us to see things from another’s perspective. It also opens up our thinking, which allows us to notice more details in a situation. Finally, it allows us to see options that may have been hidden from us because of our limited perspective.

Self-awareness also aids greatly when it comes to self-control.  Knowing when and why you are getting angry gives you a choice in how to respond to a situation or conflict. This awareness allows you to regain control and responsibility for your anger, no longer giving it the power to take you over or reach you by surprise.

Self-control means a reduction of impulsive reactions, and the ability to translate conflict into effective assertive communication.

Assertive communication starts with how you communicate with yourself: labeling, in your thoughts, how you are really feeling. For example you may tell yourself, “I am feeling angry and sad.”  It then requires self-reflection to understand which thoughts, beliefs, needs, or stressors may be contributing to these feelings. Lastly, it requires you to move out of your interior thoughts and communicate your awareness clearly to others, sharing what you need or how you are planning to go about changing your situation for the better.

Consider the following:

Oleg recently completed a very large workload that was vital to his company. He felt proud of this completed project, which included two other coworkers’ collaboration. Nina was one of those two coworkers, but she never really pulled her weight for the project. Olaf had to pick up her slack.  A few days after completion, the boss congratulated the team for the project and promoted Nina to be Oleg’s manager.

Oleg feels himself getting extremely angry. His body tightens and he feels hot all over. He realizes this and is quick to bring his mind to what is happening. He takes a few breaths to regulate his rush of adrenaline. He even goes out for a walk, stepping away from the office to take a deep breath and think. Next, he tries to empathize with his boss, and with Nina. She is usually a hard-worker, and Oleg guesses maybe this was just an off-week for her. Maybe his boss sees her overall performance. Oleg realizes that he can see it, too. By the end of the day, he congratulates Nina sincerely on her promotion. That evening, Oleg calls his friend Stan to talk about the situation and how he handled it.

The next day, Oleg takes his boss to the side, and asks directly what he can do for a promotion. His boss is happy to talk about Oleg’s options for moving up in the company.

When Oleg began to get angry, he had an array of doors fly open for him. He could have slammed his fist on the table, he could have quit, or he could have spoken punitively to Nina using sarcasm. He could have also tried to stifle his anger, brush it off, not bothering to follow up with his boss after or reach out to his friend Stan, and eventually allow the anger to seethe and arise later, most likely in an inappropriate form.

We will be exploring and practicing each of these components of emotional intelligence in more depth in the upcoming sections. In the meantime, be sure to keep these concepts in mind:

  • Awareness
  • Empathy
  • Self-control
  • Assertive communication

Exercise

In the previous exercise, you spent some time familiarizing yourself with being present in your body while angry.

Let’s take this a step further. Today, practice awareness in a non-stressful situation. Try being self-aware while brushing your teeth or washing the dishes. Try to be fully aware of how your body feels, perhaps tight from sitting too long, or maybe your shirt tag is scratching at the nape of your neck. Maybe there is a pleasant, cool breeze coming from the window. How quickly or slowly are you breathing?

Now gently bring your mind to any thought or emotion you are processing. If you were listening to your body with rapt attention, chances are your thoughts are completely enveloped in the present, with little feeling of being overwhelmed.

Repeat this practice throughout the day. You can decide how much time to spend – maybe a minute, maybe ten minutes, maybe longer.

Continue to keep track of when you feel angry, why you felt it, and what happened. If the result of the anger wasn’t ideal, list possible ideal solutions. Also, begin thinking about rating your anger. Did some event cause you to feel especially angry? Were you only mildly frustrated? Track these events in your journal.

Exercise Review

While not in a conflict, try to avoid using criticizing or negative judgmental words when thinking about people or events. Think instead of possible unmet needs that may be leading you to critical or negative thoughts about others. Switch perspectives. What’s life like in their shoes? Is the situation different from their perspective?

Look back to the conflicts you have recorded from earlier exercises. Did you have any criticizing thoughts surrounding these situations? How can you translate these negative thoughts into simple, unmet needs?

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