Why Emotional Intelligence matters, and how we can develop it in our children

In the first of a four-part series, Brett Borbely explores the importance of Emotional Intelligence in shaping our relationships, and how it can help us build successful lives.

Because emotional intelligence is so vital to our success and ongoing happiness and wellbeing, the focus for this article is on deconstructing and sharing practical ways to develop greater emotional intelligence. 

Our modern understanding of emotional intelligence, or EI (sometimes referred to as EQ), is largely built from the work of Daniel Goleman, a science journalist and author. In 1995, Goleman literally ‘wrote the book’ on the subject and entitled it, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More than IQ. Since then, our understanding of how our emotions contribute to our success and happiness in life has been ever deepening and unfolding. Since Goleman’s first book, other authors, academics and psychologists have also sought to understand the elements of EI and to outline practical ways to develop these aspects of our intelligence.

Although the term ‘emotional intelligence’ was first used in 1964, Goleman’s 1995 definition of it has become the leading reference for the study of EI today. Goleman originally defined it as ‘the array of skills and characteristics that drive leadership performance’, and thus, unilaterally, drew focus to the role that emotional intelligence plays in our ability to effectively cultivate relationships and to build successful lives.

'IQ offers little to explain the different destinies of people with roughly equal promises, schooling, and opportunity.'

Harmonising head and heart

From the beginning, Goleman has argued that IQ equates to somewhere between 6-20 per cent of the factors that determine life success, and that emotional intelligence can contribute to anywhere from 80-94 per cent of the remaining factors. Goleman puts IQ in perspective when he writes, ‘IQ offers little to explain the different destinies of people with roughly equal promises, schooling, and opportunity’. In other words, IQ may help you get the degree, but EI gets you through the interview, lands the job, accelerates the promotions and sustains the career. Of course, the success offered by emotional intelligence also extends past the workplace into personal fulfillment and intrapersonal relationships as well.

As psychologists set out to more deeply understand the relationship between the rational and emotional parts of our brains, Goleman directly connected them. He wrote, ‘The old paradigm held an ideal of reason freed of the pull of emotion. The new paradigm urges us to harmonise head and heart. To do that well in our lives means we must first understand more exactly what it means to use emotion intelligently’.

'Simply, emotions are a way for our brain to communicate something to us that will help us survive, both physically and mentally or help us connect with others.'

Seeing emotions as sign posts

So, how do we use our emotions and feelings wisely? To begin with, in his book, Permission to Feel, Professor Marc Brackett encourages us to think of emotions or feelings as ‘signposts’. Simply, emotions are a way for our brain to communicate something to us that will help us survive, both physically and mentally or help us connect with others, which as Dr Brené Brown puts it, ‘we are hard-wired’ to do. For example, joy encourages us to keep engaging in the activities we like so that we want to get up in the morning; fear keeps us safe and helps us avoid life-threatening or socially-threatening activities; sadness actually signals our gratitude and empathy and builds human connection; and anger informs us of injustice and inequity. Once we train ourselves to see our emotions as explanations for how we interpret various life events, we have the ability to take control of our responses to those situations and to conduct ourselves in ways that align with our values and goals in life. It is for this reason that our level of EI impacts our lives so profoundly.

The five elements of emotional intelligence

Throughout his life’s work, Goleman has identified and outlined the five elements of emotional intelligence. These five elements are self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social management. From birth, each element is initially developed one at a time, but by four or five years old, individuals start to develop each skill both independently and conjointly. When babies are born, their main focus is self-awareness. They express their immediate needs by crying when they are hungry, soiled their nappies or tired. After a while, they learn to control some of those impulses themselves; such as, they might develop some self-soothing strategies and techniques to help them sleep longer each night. 

For a while, when children first have play dates with friends, they actually play next to their friend, as opposed to with their friend. However, as they learn about the fun they can have through interactions with their peers, they become motivated to engage in activities with others. It is after this that they are in a position to build empathy because they start to learn and identify emotions in other people. And lastly, they start using their awareness of others’ feelings and behaviours to guide their own behaviours around those individuals. Once in primary school, the five elements of EQ continue to grow like a spiral, both horizontally and vertically.

Over the next few weeks, I will endeavour to explain and unpack each of the five elements of EI, and will be offer practical ways we can all continue to strengthen our emotional intelligence.

Like this post? Please share using the buttons on this page.

References

  1. Goleman, D. (1995). Emotional intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ. New York: Bantam Books.
  2. Brackett, M. A. (2019). Permission to feel: Unlocking the power of emotions to help our kids, ourselves, and our society thrive.
  3. Brown, B. (Starring In) & Restrepo, S. (Director). (2019). Brené Brown: The Call to Courage [Special]. Retrieved from https://www.netflix.com

About the author

Brett Borbely is Director of Student Wellbeing at Ivanhoe Girls’ Grammar School.

This article first appeared on the school’s website. You can read the original here.

We thank Brett and the school for allowing us to share this series on The Parents Website.

Subscribe to The Parents Website