Written by Eric Pennington, Partner, Spirit of EQ
Photography by Lauren Pennington
“Emotional intelligence can be defined as the management of our thoughts and our emotions to make optimal decisions.”
– Eric Pennington
When many people hear the term “emotional intelligence” they may think of it as a term that came out of corporate America. The reality is, emotional intelligence is something much deeper, and much more real.
Emotional intelligence, or EQ, can be defined as the management of our thoughts and our emotions to make optimal decisions. Ask anyone you know if they want to go through life making good decisions, and you’ll find virtually everyone desires that. The tough part is that it’s easier said than done. We must understand that emotions are what drive people and people drive outcomes.
Some years ago, when I worked in the corporate environment, a fellow manager complained to me that he wished people were less “emotional.” I remember at the time thinking, “Wow, that makes total sense. We should be more rational.” I didn’t understand at the time, but emotions are not something that we are—emotions are chemicals in our brain that communicate with us. And typically, the communication is designed to get our attention to pay attention to something that’s important. In America, we’ve mischaracterized what emotions are. There are several people who think of emotions as either good or bad. They may think of emotions as something to avoid. When you begin to see emotions as an ally, things start to change. You begin to become more curious instead of more judgmental. You become more empathetic to others and to yourself.
“When you begin to see emotions as an ally, things start to change. You begin to become more curious instead of more judgmental. You become more empathetic to others and to yourself.”
The role of EQ in our relationships are vital—both in personal or professional relationships. There’s no greater example than the interaction that you have with someone that you’re very close to, such as in a romantic relationship. A relationship like that may have areas of vulnerability, areas of past hurt that can create and elicit certain emotions. Fear is common in this example. The fear of being hurt when feeling close to someone is powerful. The emotion of fear if left unchecked can lead to bad decision-making. It can lead to you potentially exiting the relationship because you’re trying to protect yourself from something you feel could be devastating. Emotional intelligence can aid us in navigating these types of waters.
Walt Whitman is credited with the phrase, “Be curious, not judgmental.” And the work that we do at Spirit of EQ. That’s a consistent message that we give our clients. It applies in work and life, in personal and professional relationships. For example, when someone in a close relationship says something to you that you interpret as an insult or a slight, the easiest thing to do is to be offended, get angry, and react irrationally. If we can begin to be more curious, then we can put ourselves in a place where we can slow down and allow the executive function of our brains to kick in and begin to ask questions for understanding.
When I was growing up, I had issues in my home with abandonment. And it wasn’t a case of full and total loss of family and living situation, but there was a time where abandonment was very real to me. What I found is that like many people, I carried that on into my adult years. It impacted my personal relationships, and then impacted me and my marriage, impacted me as a parent. My issue was rooted around the idea of fear of abandonment. It wasn’t until I began the process of looking at things from a more curious perspective that I began to see it in a different light. The curiosity led me to a place of understanding of where the emotion came from. It helped me understand the need to conclude that, not all of my relationships carried a real risk of abandonment. My wife and my kids were not the people from my childhood, so to judge them as being the same would not be fair.
I learned the importance of exercising that idea of curiosity. And you can see how it partners up with emotional intelligence and positioning yourself to be able to manage through it. The problem in emotional intelligence is rooted in our unwillingness to work on ourselves.
Take for example an employee or an employer asking you to complete a vitally important project for the company. There will be partnerships, collaborations and opportunities for you to shine. Most everyone would sign up for that and readily jump in, giving their mind, body and soul to the project.
What’s interesting—and the great irony—is that when it comes to working on ourselves, our physical, mental, spiritual and emotional selves, we either ignore it or we’re reluctant to invest the time and maybe money to make that part of our lives better.
“The great irony is that when it comes to working on ourselves, our physical, mental, spiritual and emotional selves, we either ignore it or we’re reluctant to invest the time and maybe money to make that part of our lives better.”
When we work with clients, especially in the early stages, we always warn them— the only people that will not get any results will be those that are not willing to work on themselves. If a person or an organization is willing to work on themselves, they will get results because emotional intelligence is a learnable skill. It is a skill that anyone, regardless of their position or background, can attain.
If you work or live in an environment where it is not encouraged, it may be difficult for you. We have built up many different types of neural pathways over time— these are the things that our brains have created to help us navigate life. Our brains have established wonderful methods to protect us, to give us order and efficiency. It’s designed ultimately as a positive process. The downside and the challenge is the upfront pain and resistance we feel to the change, sometimes in a big way.
When we decide to make a change or when change is thrust upon us, our brains will resist at first. But, if you’re willing to stick it out, if you’re willing to work through that upfront pain, your brain will begin to adjust. Our brains have an amazing amount of neuroplasticity. The brain becomes your ally again. It begins to see the new change as the best way to go. This is the place emotional intelligence bears its greatest fruit.
How then can you make emotional intelligence a strong ally in your relationships? What’s something practical that you can do? Well, there are all kinds of assessments out there that you can take to measure emotional intelligence. There are some books written about the subject of emotional intelligence. Daniel Goleman is one of the better thought leaders on the subject. Podcasts are a great resource as well. At Spirit of EQ, we have a podcast with lots of education and insights into emotional intelligence. Regardless of the path you choose, remember all relationships benefit mightily from emotional intelligence.
About Eric Pennington
Eric is the managing partner at Spirit of EQ. He leads the strategy for keeping the mission moving and growing. He is also responsible for all upfront client interaction and onboarding. Eric is a certified practitioner in varied emotional intelligence and neuroscience tools and has over fifteen years of entrepreneurship and leadership experience in both small and large organizations.
Eric is also the author of the eye-opening book, The Well-Being Guide: Making the Most of Life and Work. Based on personal experiences and as a follow-up to his 2008 book, Waking Up in Corporate America, the guide is practical and offers readers the opportunity to evaluate their own lives through self-discovery.