I don’t like the term ‘emotional intelligence’, or EQ, for several reasons; it is only one aspect of a more substantial area of psychology – social intelligence – that has been around since the 1920s; it is a cleverly marketed but shallow treatment of a complex subject; it implies that it can be measured and that there are therefore ‘norms’ to which people can be compared; and, as it was originally defined, it is highly manipulative of others. I prefer the educational psychologists’ term ‘emotional literacy’ – which I see as a fundamental stepping stone to social intelligence.
Developing emotional literacy in adults can’t be reduced to 10 simple steps. It involves a great deal of self-study. It isn’t something you simply learn and then use – instead you have to go through many iterations, thinking you have got the message only to have to re-visit and re-do the thinking. Slowly, unconsciously, you change. It isn’t sudden or conscious. You don’t simply take something on-board and then behave differently – the things that determine how you behave are too deep-rooted. You can change though and this guide offers a few approaches to help you.
NB If you would like a pretty formatted copy of this guide, click HERE.
1 There are no quick fixes
Developing your emotional literacy means investing time in yourself – observing, interpreting and acting on, your behaviour. You need to invest and to accept that some of what you discover may be painful until you ‘deal’ with it.
2 Keep a personal journal
Almost every ‘expert’ or ‘path’ expects you to keep a personal journal of your observations, tentative questions, analyses, and interpretations, with details of your successes and failures along the way. Write a few words every day or so. It isn’t a ‘diary’ or a biography – it’s a place to record your feelings and your interpretation of them. Use it as a place to ask yourself questions.
3 Describe your personality today
Try describing your personality as it is today. Ask friends, colleagues, or people who see you from a distance, for honest feedback. Family are usually part of the reason why you are the way you are, and rarely dispassionate. It may seem unusual, but if you don’t feel comfortable asking others, then start with an astrological description – you can usually find a description on the internet of your star-sign. Don’t accept all it says, but ask if you feel it fits?
4 What has shaped you so far?
Look back over your life and ask yourself where these characteristics came from. Most originate in childhood, so what do you think led you to be like this? For instance, if you feel you’re shy, when did you first feel this? Were you ‘always’ like it or did something happen that so embarrassed you, that you avoid attention at all costs? Did you live in the shadow of an older sibling? Again, you need to keep returning to this step.
5 Recognize your emotional buttons
What makes you uncomfortable? Build up a list of things that make you feel uncomfortable. These may be things you do not like doing or feel uncomfortable doing. Think how you would know – apart from simply putting off doing them, does your jaw lock, do your fists clench, do you become ‘grumpy’ or break out in a cold sweat? Common ‘buttons’ include: public speaking, writing letters, confronting people, borrowing from people you know, shopping for clothes, dancing, dating, sex… Go through step 4 again – where do these things come from?
6 What makes you happy or not?
Which aspects of your life are you happy with and which less so? Look carefully at what they tell you about yourself. EG: If you loathe commuting to work, what led you to a job that involves a commute? What is stopping you from doing something else? We’re not interested so much in the practicalities as the emotions and the arguments behind them – many of which will be flawed.
7 How authentic are you?
Do you wear a mask? Many people do, yet those we respect for their wisdom don’t – they are authentic – what you see is what you get regardless of the circumstances. We often wear two or more masks – such as one at work and one at home. A supposedly very emotionally-balanced ‘spiritual guru’ (who often spoke of the need to stop our egos controlling our lives) had photos of herself and copies of her books displayed all over her house. She was wearing two masks. Would anyone get to know her? Draw your masks – whether in words or images – and go through step 4 again.
8 Draw on your intuition
Do you draw on your intuition when making decisions? People are frightened to admit that they have no rationale for a decision. Companies imply that it’s bad not to justify something rationally. Yet we all make intuitive decisions. Behind most decisions is an intuitive element. Emotionally literate people recognise this, are comfortable drawing on their intuition, and accept emotive reasons as just as valid as rational ones. Decisions are not all major and life-changing nor are they often about right or wrong, so try asking yourself more often what your ‘gut-feel’ is or what you would like to do rather than what you feel you have to do.
9 What can you learn from others?
Do some people “push your buttons”? What is it about them that gets you going or makes you clam up? They often represent something about ourselves. Whether they come across as patronizing, flippant, overly friendly, controlling, ‘in your face’, flamboyant, or dogmatic, there is usually someone from our past who had similar qualities or they are qualities we’re afraid we have ourselves. Go through step 4 again!
10 What happens when you feel threatened?
We may deny that we feel threatened, or draw on a complicated repertoire of ‘coping strategies’. This would be fine, only we acquire these when we were a child (NB go through step 4) and they have often ceased to work in adulthood. Probably the commonest is ‘sublimation’ – we throw ourselves into something highly absorbing, such as a hobby or committee, rather than examining what else is missing from our lives.