How do you get (emotionally) smart?
December 29, 2010 3:35 AM   Subscribe

How do you increase your emotional intelligence?

From this Economist article:

Neurotic people are not just prone to negative feelings: they also tend to have low emotional intelligence, which makes them bad at forming or managing relationships, and that in turn makes them unhappy.

That doesn't sound like much fun, and it seems like a good way to improve upon a neurotic personality would be to improve one's emotional intelligence.

So, how would do that?
posted by schmichael to Human Relations (17 answers total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
There are plenty of books and programs out there with the purported outcome of increasing emotional intelligence. One fundamental question that deserves contemplation is the role of personality in EI. Some view aspects of EI as being trait-based in personality and therefore beyond our ability to manipulate cognitively. Others view some or all of EI as capability-driven, and capable of being learned.

I fall into the latter camp myself, and I believe that much growth can occur through a disciplined and sponsored approach to learning mindulness and meta-cognition. This can be taught in a secular therapeutic environment by a counselor that has experience in using mindfulness in their practice. Or, you may consider a more traditional spirituality-based mindfulness practice like Buddhist metitation.

There's plenty of reading, recordings, and such out there on mindfulness. Returning to the world of psychology (as EI is effectively a label developed by psychologist Daniel Goleman), you may wish to read more about MBSR, MBCT, and DBT.

If you're looking for a single book aimed at teaching the meta-cognition associated with higher emotional intelligence, consider Constructive Thinking by Seymour Epstein.

Whatever path is taken, be prepared to put in the sweat equity of journaling and living in mindful awareness. I think the rewards outweigh the cost of the work, but there is heavy cognitive lifting involved.
posted by SenorJaime at 4:18 AM on December 29, 2010 [4 favorites]

Therapy, growing older, etc. Some people are emotionally immature and can hope for moderate improvement but will never become emotional geniuses, as it were.
posted by JJ86 at 6:14 AM on December 29, 2010

So, how would do that?

- Stop thinking about yourself.
- Stop talking about yourself.
- Listen hard to others, feel what they say.

That's all.
posted by mono blanco at 6:18 AM on December 29, 2010 [3 favorites]

Emotional intelligence are, imo, just codewords for maturity.
posted by edgeways at 6:41 AM on December 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

Live consciously.

The idea that "emotional" intelligence (or is that "intelligence") is a quantifiable concept is just as silly (and increasingly as pernicious) as the idea that it can be distinguished from general intelligence, or that intelligence is a directly quantifiable property of mind rather than a very complex abstraction of many discrete properties, faculties, capacities, and disabilities that do not interact in mechanical ways.

You have the causality backwards, I think. Neurosis is the easier abstraction to treat as a target for self-improvement. Get a handle on your neuroses, whatever that means for you, and you will become a more emotionally intelligent (because more other-directed) person.
posted by spitbull at 6:55 AM on December 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

I've actually found that reading Ask Metafilter a bunch helps, especially relationship-filter. Really, any exercise where you're stepping into someone else's thoughts and learning to think from their perspective is going to help you better understand human emotion.
posted by estlin at 7:16 AM on December 29, 2010 [12 favorites]

This earlier comment of mine might be relevant.
posted by tdismukes at 7:37 AM on December 29, 2010

spitbull has it right on. People invent these terms to sell books and tests for the alleged quality with abstract existence.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:55 AM on December 29, 2010

Living until old(er) age seems to be the only thing that I have found to do that. Making every possible mistake, albeit once or twice. Realizing one's finiteness and accepting it.

As Leonard Cohen said,

I raise my glass to the awful truth
Which you can't reveal to the ears of youth
Except to say it isn't worth a dime.
posted by Danf at 8:29 AM on December 29, 2010

I agree with the commenters above that the construct of "emotional intelligence" has been co-opted and sold as a managerial buzzword, but my reading of the academic literature suggests there is also a lot of good science behind the construct. Abundant evidence exists that people vary in their ability to (1) perceive what other people are feeling, (2) legibly express their own emotions, (3) understand why they feel a particular way at a particular moment, and (4) understand why other people feel how they do. Marked deficiencies along any of these dimensions makes even simple social interactions extremely difficult.

Although these four dimensions of emotion skills are framed as intelligence, you can become more (and less) emotionally intelligent over time. Acting classes could probably improve you ability to express emotions, imitation will help you perceive emotions (smile when other people smile, don't inject Botox in your face), and focusing on your inner state/the emotional states of others might help with emotional understanding. To be honest: researchers have a lot of work left to do on developing proven techniques that improve emotional intelligence.

With all that said, the neuroticism / emotional intelligence link is not very strong. If you don't like being anxious, I would focus on treating the anxiety instead of focusing on one of its correlates.
posted by eisenkr at 8:52 AM on December 29, 2010 [8 favorites]

At least some parts of emotional intelligence are skills you can learn - I realized in college that I was a social idiot (when someone told me so, rudely) and spent time observing people and paying more attention to social interactions in novels. I'll never belong in sales, but I'm better.

More recently, I used Mood Gym for some cognitive behavioral work. It's all online, and free, and will help you figure out if CBT is right for you. It might be helpful if your concern is about thinking other people dislike you or lacking confidence in talking to people (i.e., help dealing with the negative feelings).
posted by momus_window at 8:54 AM on December 29, 2010 [3 favorites]

This may or may not answer your question, but I read that very same article, and when I got to that sentence, as a very neurotic person, my reaction was not "shoot, I must have low emotional intelligence," but "whaaat?"

I believe what the author meant was that people who tend to be negative and worry about things rather than focus on the positive, and people who tend to stir and overthink things rather than take action, may very well likely tend to talk a lot about these things with people, share their negative feelings, without understanding that not everybody thinks or feels the same way, and with little regard to how offputting that negative, overthinking worry can be to some people.

Or maybe they meant something else, but I think that's what they were going after. Neurotic people do have a reputation for being annoying, for example, see anybody in a Woody Allen movie, ever.

I'd say if you're genuinely concerned about that statement, though, that what you should do would be:

1.) Make a concerted and focused effort not to overthink things or worry about things you can neither control nor can you be sure they will come to pass.
2.) Try to focus on what you have to be positive and happy about rather than that which is negative - do this for yourself and for others
3.) Live by the golden rule

Voila, emotionally intelligent (whatever the hell that means).
posted by pazazygeek at 9:01 AM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

This book is a really interesting read.
posted by allelopath at 9:08 AM on December 29, 2010

As someone who ages ago tested with a very low EQ, but these days tests at least in the normal range (if not better), my feeling is that EQ doesn't correlate very well to IQ. IQ is a more or less fixed quality which you can do very little to affect, although you can learn how to maximize what you've got.

EQ on the other hand is more a case of caring how other people feel, and why. If you make it a priority to understand and work with other people's feelings, you start paying attention to them. The more you study other people's situations and emotional states and reactions, the better you get at it.

The improvement happens quite quickly, too. Human beings are hard-wired to be good at this kind of thing. Your brain wants to do this.

Look outwards, is what I'm saying.
posted by ErikaB at 10:50 AM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

One method that is very effective and enjoyable, though slow, is to read a lot of fiction, good memoirs and biographies.
posted by Corvid at 11:05 AM on December 29, 2010

Read David Foster Wallace's Commencement Address at Kenyon College. The rest is putting it into action.
posted by j1950 at 6:32 PM on December 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

Thank you j1950.
posted by OwlBoy at 3:53 AM on January 21, 2011

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