First things first
In recent years, emotional intelligence has been in the spotlight and is publicly gaining prominence. This concept is not so old because it was recognised only in 1990 by psychologists Peter Salovey and John Mayer.
This principle refers to “the ability to recognise, understand and control one’s own emotions and to deal with the emotions of others”. According to Peter Salovey and John Mayer, it has two main dimensions. The first, “experiential”, is the ability to distinguish, handle and react to emotional information without necessarily understanding it. The second, “strategic”, is the ability to understand and manage emotions without necessarily fully grasping or feeling them.
To fully understand this notion, it is important to know that we are armed with four different types of mental operations: motivation, emotions, cognitions and consciousness. In short, motivations meet our basic needs, such as hunger, thirst, need for social contact and sexual desire. Concerning emotions, they appear to signal changes in the relationships between ourselves and our environment in order to provide an adequate response. For example, anger appears due to a form of intrusion and fear in response to danger. As for cognitions, they allow us to learn from our environment and to solve difficulties in new situations. Thus, emotional intelligence is at the intersection of emotions and cognitions.
From these foundations, many studies and research have been established around this concept of emotional intelligence. However, the five base pillars have been defined and are the following:
3. internal motivation
4. social consciousness/empathy
5. relationship management/social skills
Empathy, for instance, is one of the hottest topics at the moment, especially in product or service development teams. It is at the heart of design thinking but also more generally, of innovation. It is a crucial leadership skill as well.
The second concept to be introduced is mindfulness. It was introduced in 1979 by the American doctor and researcher Jon Kabat-Zinn. Mindfulness is the intentional attention to the internal (feelings, emotions, thoughts, states of mind) or external experiences of the present moment, without judgment. Originally, the idea was to treat stress and reduce the intensity of pain. Beyond the positive health benefits, mindfulness allows us to open up and accept the current experience as it is. This helps us to develop emotional skills, such as calm and resilience.
So let’s take the time to breathe in… and breathe out… to be aware of what’s happening right now. The major asset of the human being is his brain’s ability to reason, to analyse his environment and to communicate. So it would be a shame to fly over our daily lives and act mechanically like a robot, wouldn’t it?
Not necessarily easy, but beneficial
In concrete terms, it is all about noticing things as they are and actively seeing new things. Emotional intelligence and mindfulness are therefore concepts that work hand in hand. It is important to be attentive to our feelings and emotions. Even in difficult times, the trick is to accept them and recognise how we function.
“When you can’t control what happens, challenge yourself to control how you react to what happens. That’s where your power is.” - unknown
Secondly, to accept that our perception is not absolute. Above all, we should not avoid this emotion, but rather alter it by relativising it and acting in accordance with our values. Not doing things mechanically and becoming immersed in what we do is probably the main principle of the state of mindfulness. Therefore, giving meaning or purpose to what we do helps to connect and appropriate a task. It becomes more rewarding and improves our performance. By being anchored in the present moment and being aware of our environment, it becomes easier to pay attention, we become more creative and more open to opportunities. In addition, we appreciate people more because we are less in judgment. We live while being open to others and to what is happening. By breaking out of our mechanical patterns, we are also better able to innovate. This means not being afraid to fail because everything is relative — it depends on the context and how we perceive it. By applying mindfulness and developing our emotional intelligence, we also tend to be more spontaneous, more authentic and therefore develop a certain charisma.
Sometimes we tend to let our minds wander when someone talks to us, or to think about what we are going to say when it is our turn to talk. A concrete and rather effective exercise is attentive and authentic listening. Focusing our attention on a friend, for example, on his emotions and the message he wants to convey to us, without judgment, makes the moment more qualitative, deeper, more empathetic and heartwarming. Leaving room for the other and not bringing back what he expresses to ourselves is also a proof of respect, appreciation and a much more constructive form of dialogue.
A healthy mind for a healthy working environment
The relevance and application of these two practices have spread very clearly, even in our workplaces. This is one of the biggest changes since until now, it has been the norm to leave our emotions at home or even to deny them. On the other hand, we should be careful not to consider these approaches as modern management tools aimed purely at the productivity of existence. These practices are aimed at the well-being of everyone first and foremost. In order to cope with everyday situations, they are good tools for managing them in a caring way. Even if the context seems unmanageable or the state worsens under strong pressure and stress, it is important to keep a cool head and welcome these emotions as they are. It is much more complicated if not impossible to act properly when we are out of reach. Let us keep in mind that showing that we are vulnerable is not a sign of weakness, but rather a sign of self-awareness and trust in others, such as our colleagues.
Moreover, emotional intelligence is already a skill that is sought after and analysed nowadays, for example during a job interview. Our education or character does not necessarily make us a good boss or a competent colleague. The University of Geneva has recently developed GECO, a system to test an employee’s emotional intelligence, to assess his or her abilities in a professional context and leadership skills in interpersonal relationships. Indeed, emotional intelligence is mainly reflected by greater empathy, greater openness towards others, respect for moral rules and overall a positive temperament.
“Being both soft and strong is a combination that very few people master.” - Yasmin Mogahed
By all becoming more emotionally mature, it would allow us to function better together and benefit from the positive consequences. In fact, The School of Life has developed a book and programs around 20 core emotional skills that they believe every employee should learn to better contribute and thrive in the workplace. The 20 skills listed are the following: adaptability, calm, charm, communication, confidence, creativity, decisiveness, diplomacy, effectiveness, eloquence, empathy, entrepreneurship, innovation, leadership, objectivity, playfulness, purpose, resilience, self-awareness and supportiveness.
Indeed, that is a lot and there are probably others. However, the goal is not necessarily to master them all, but at least to become aware of them, and to reflect where and how we can improve.
Since we spend almost a third of our lives at work, ideally, our job is more than just a livelihood — it is also space where we can personally develop ourselves. Therefore, we can imagine that the principle of “work-life balance” is obsolete because it means that they are divided and incompatible. Because in fact, they are simply things we do in our lives with their share of stress and elements to respect. People may have taken too much of a reflex to separate them. If we harmoniously integrate everything we do, there is no need to talk about balance. It is all about basing ourselves on our values and prioritising according to them. Life is a set of moments — so if we make every moment count, everything counts!
A strategy for today and tomorrow
We live in times of great change and uncertainty. The work paradigm as we know it is evolving — new technologies and automation being the main causes. In the future, technological skills will probably be less valued since robots will be more efficient in this field. However, it is an opportunity for us to emphasise human and personal strengths. Some skills will be key elements in a more automated world, such as mental elasticity, complex problem solving, creativity, critical thinking and interpersonal skills. We can, therefore, imagine that it would be relevant to introduce and integrate a soft skill, such as emotional intelligence, into the school system already. This could help children to develop themselves and build more positive relationships with their families and environments.
“Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.” — Aristotle
Emotional intelligence and mindfulness are therefore a path where their benefits can have a great impact. However, like any good tool or advice, we should not make an exact recipe out of it or use it in all kinds of ways without asking ourselves questions. Let us never forget that each individual has a different perception, background and needs. The key is to find our balance, in our own way!