Tuesday, October 21, 2008

What is emotional intelligence?

I’ve been exploring the field of emotional intelligence (EI) for a while now but still ask myself fundamental questions such as—what do I mean by Emotional Intelligence? I know some standard answers. I can spout out skills and competencies to be taught or assessed. Still, deeper questions linger.

My husband, Rick, is struggling with an angry colleague at work. “Jim” recently raised his voice at Rick, saying, “I’ll get to it!” While the words themselves were not abusive,
Jim’s angry delivery upset Rick. My husband walked away, enraged and confused. As we talked about the episode, I scoured my mind for helpful exercises. Rick could examine his thoughts and see how they led him into a habitual pattern of withdrawal from confrontations. He could look at his own “reaction cycle” and practice other responses to the often-unpredictable Jim.

We both agreed that Rick needed to stand up for himself more. Ideally, he could strongly but calmly let Jim know that his behavior was unacceptable. But, knowing Jim, and knowing the often brutal company culture, would this work or even be the best option?

Rick could fight fire with fire. He could throw back strong language and a fierce delivery. Would this be a more emotionally intelligent action under the circumstances? There are no clear-cut answers in this work (one reason I love it so much). Brutal self-honesty is necessary to help discern what is ethically responsible and emotionally intelligent.

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