Getting in tune with my emotions
September 26, 2012 8:46 PM   Subscribe

I am seeking to understand emotional intelligence - how do those who are more emotionally intelligent see things differently?

I like this definition of emotional intelligence as consisting of four attributes:

Self-awareness – You recognize your own emotions and how they affect your thoughts and behavior, know your strengths and weaknesses, and have self-confidence.

Self-management – You’re able to control impulsive feelings and behaviors, manage your emotions in healthy ways, take initiative, follow through on commitments, and adapt to changing circumstances.

Social awareness – You can understand the emotions, needs, and concerns of other people, pick up on emotional cues, feel comfortable socially, and recognize the power dynamics in a group or organization.

Relationship management – You know how to develop and maintain good relationships, communicate clearly, inspire and influence others, work well in a team, and manage conflict.

For those of you who are good at this, can you try to explain how these processes happen for you? I'm particularly bad with identifying and understanding my own emotions, but I'd like to hear about all of them.

Thank you!
posted by mossicle to Human Relations (28 answers total) 66 users marked this as a favorite
Some people have an intuitive sense for some of this. For some people, certain features also develops somewhat naturally in nurturing environments that cater to things like discussing and processing emotions, etc. A very large number of us, however, have missed pieces of the puzzle and are trying to compensate for them later in life. And considering that much of our childhood (I think) hard-wires a lot of future internal posturing towards the world, I have not yet determined to what extent that can be fully recaptured, or whether we simply come up with survival mechanisms that allow us to mimic and grow in understanding, even if we are never fully comfortable with those things.

In any case, trying to catch up later is likely an issue of watching, evaluating, and then practicing over and over and over again. For example, I was pretty shy growing up, partly due to social dynamics in my house, so I was never really comfortable socially and missed many important social clues. But I've learned to do it much, much better over time by just getting out there, watching, talking, learning, and getting feedback. It'll never be my favorite thing, probably, but I definitely get a passing grade now, and it's definitely increased the quality of my life (by virtue, I think, of a deeper emotional stability in this area).
posted by SpacemanStix at 8:56 PM on September 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I am sorely lacking in the first two, but the third and fourth I have down. I think my skill at both social awareness and relationship management stems from the love I have for listening to and observing people in even the most mundane circumstances (downside: I am nosy as hell). I am fascinated by people and how people relate to each other, and something about that has made me practiced at knowing what to say to others and guessing accurately what other people are thinking and feeling underneath what they say. Maybe it's due to the fact that if you both consume a lot of the culture (books, films, television, etc) that influences how people speak and think and listen often to what people say to each other, you become fluent in how people express themselves when they feel a certain way.
posted by sallybrown at 9:08 PM on September 26, 2012 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Blunt, no snark: don't try to develop these things sitting in front of your PC looking stuff up online. It's a practical skill. If you want to build these attributes up, go to a bar, or volunteer at a hospice, or something that will let you get "field experience" dealing with people of all levels in mundane to complicated situations.

I got into the habit of substituting PC time for People time a while back to try and address issues I had with this stuff. Even at work, that hour or so a day hanging by the watercooler instead of browsing tech news sharpened me up pretty quick in this respect.
posted by bemetta at 10:08 PM on September 26, 2012 [6 favorites]

There is a difference in knowing these skills and how they work and using them. In theory, I know a damn lot about it, but I simply don't use it in day to day life because I have no desire to "manage relationships", for example. I also have the theoretical knowledge of your third point - I can "read" people, yet I usually don't care to. Does that make me emotionally more or less intelligent?
I think bemetta has it - if you want to increase your social competence and use these skills, no reading about them will work. It's like diving; you can read a million books about being underwater, it won't give you the slightest idea of what that really feels like.
posted by MinusCelsius at 10:40 PM on September 26, 2012

Best answer: My partner calls me the entailment police because I am very good at predicting what someone is going to say before they say it on the basis of the vibe they're giving off and subtle hints in things they've already said. Sometimes this is really advantageous (stepping in to defuse an incipient tense situation before anyone else even notices that it could become tense!) and sometimes it's terrifically confusing (if a person is about to say something deeply nasty and I know it, it's tough not to become an ice queen; if someone says something that is grievously insulting by implication, they may not know why I am suddenly upset with them and I may decide it is not even worth sticking around to explain!). I am getting better at giving people a break and affording them opportunities to step back from mean implications, but it can still sometimes be difficult to articulate why I am suddenly bristling.

I got much better at your #1 and #2 during therapy after some trauma, when it was all of a sudden pretty important for me to actually feel my feelings. It took a lot of practice to be able to notice impending sadness or anxiety and divert it, and to be able to know what my limits are and which ones are flexible. A few years later I still have a brief mental checklist I run through a few times a day to stay on top of shifting moods. (Actually it's not even a checklist: I just ask myself, hey how are you feeling right now? and then give as honest an answer as I can. Right now e.g. I am feeling blissed out from a crush and slightly apprehensive about a project I would like to work on tomorrow and fuzzy with sleepiness around the edges.) I also have a pretty long list of strategies for cheering up or calming down; they range from things that take a couple of seconds to do and are invisible and good for in public or during meetings or whatever (recall a few bars of a favourite symphony) to longer projects (hourlong walk through falling leaves during the transition from twilight to dusk! day trip to the mountains!).

Those strategies work for me when dealing with basically any stressor, not just trauma-related ones they were designed to handle. At the end of last week I quit a job that had been making me unhappy, felt my disappointed feelings for a little while, went for a twilight walk, and was back at my usual feeling good about the world equilibrium in not too long at all.

Another therapy thing that took some work but now is basically automatic: when I have an interpersonal encounter that frustrates or irritates or upsets me, I try to detach what I think happened (ugh that asshole totally snubbed me, what a jerk!) from other plausible interpretations of the event that are more charitable to the other person (she never showed up for our coffee date because something probably came up at the last minute as things tend to, and didn't text because who doesn't forget to charge their phone before they leave the house sometimes?). Tending to be in a genuinely sympathetic mode around other people makes me a way more comfortable person to be around than if I am assuming the worst of people all the time with no evidence.
posted by bewilderbeast at 10:52 PM on September 26, 2012 [20 favorites]

Having emotional intelligence, to me, is a skill that can only be learned over time through practice. To put it simply, what are your emotions? I mean what are they really? How do you experience them? How do you know when you feel one emotion and not another? What comes before the feeling? What comes after? Can you locate them in an imagined map of your mind or body? Does an emotion have a color? Start by deconstructing your emotions on a regular basis. Over time you will notice more detail, more nuance. You will have more intelligence about your own emotions. And the other things you list will follow from that, because the better you know yourself the better (for you) the choices you make in those areas will be.
posted by univac at 11:51 PM on September 26, 2012

People are inherently self-interested first. Maybe that will come across as a cynical thing to say, but it's true. In most situations, people do what is going to protect themselves and make them feel secure before they do anything else.

Most of the times in my life that someone has done something awful to make my life difficult, it's just been because they're trying to make themselves feel secure. Either by reaffirming some social identity, protecting their job, or protecting themselves emotionally. Entirely hypothetical examples:

- Your boss punishes you, over-reacting to a seemingly insignificant mistake you made on a project. (She was just trying to look harsh to her superior, who is far more harsh and unreasonable, and to feel that she has control over the people she is responsible for.)
- Your girlfriend gets upset about an innocent comment you made. (Her last boyfriend cheated on her, and she's still working through the loss of trust.)
- Your father is infuriatingly critical of your career plans. (He is being protective.)

So basically, when somebody does something that sets off your "but that's not fair" alarm, stop and "zoom out" of the situation. Try to think about it from their perspective. What is at stake for this person? How is their behavior making them feel more secure, and what does that say about their motivations? You can still be pissed off when people rain on your parade, but now you're being mindful of why they're raining on your parade.

One interesting outcome of this way of living is that you start to realize there really are very few people who are "evil" in the sense of being jerks for no reason at all or because they enjoy inflicting pain. Jerks are really just people who have very little understanding of why they feel the way they do. They are more confused than malicious.
posted by deathpanels at 11:56 PM on September 26, 2012 [11 favorites]

Best answer: I'm particularly bad with identifying and understanding my own emotions,

I tend to make an non-emotional analysis of how I think I should feel if I was the perfect person I wish to be, based on all the factors that would be legitimately relevant to the situation if I was all that, and I compare the end result to how I actually do feel. It highlights discrepancies - for example part of my response to someone's action might be feeding off baggage that whn put under a spotlight, is unreasonable to apply to that person or the situation, and this sort of comparison makes it easier to become aware of that... and maybe try to bludgeon things back into line... :)

I do it habitually enough that I can ask myself how I think I ought to feel, and I'm pretty good at feeling that way.
posted by anonymisc at 12:06 AM on September 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you ever find yourself thinking of a person as an asshole, or irrational, check yourself. That's not what the decision felt like to them.
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 1:13 AM on September 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

I was thinking about just this thing last night as I got sucked into 3 episodes of LA Ink. Now I realise that part of this is due to editing, but these people on the show are so phenomenally lacking in emotional intelligence. They actively ignore, bury or deny their emotions, even when it's very's a systemic problem and so it is working levels high and low, big and small. They take action *against* what it is they want, think, or feel because they don't recognize or acknowledge their's a systemic problem. They create new situations and conflicts that are destructive or counterproductive to their social management goals because they don't understand what those goals are (what it is they want) or how to achieve's systemic.

While watching the show last night, I started simply labeling the emotions people seemed to be experiencing through their microexpressions. You'd get something like: hurt, hurt, anger, spite, disinterest, boredom, flash of sadness, hurt, hurt, anger, anger, anger, rage, RAGE, disinterest. Repeat. It was interesting because all of this 'drama' was rather unnecessary. If, at the first instance of hurt, the person acknowledged and accepted it and chose to attempt something productive that would actively avoid a blowup or further conflict, all of these other energy-depleting emotions could have been spared. But instead, the characters were just bouncing off each other in active attempts to escalate their own personal cycles of emotional release. It's horribly inefficient!

I think emotional intelligence is about recognizing this whole dynamic system and how it works. You gotta start with understanding a small part of the system; you can't take on the whole thing at once. So 'following' one person, or one emotion, or one goal and see how that all pans out over time. It's also very hard to fix a chair that you're currently sitting in, so look to understanding this problem by observing others. Not necessarily what they tell you about how it works, but what you can see about how it works (or doesn't work). I really do think you can learn a lot by observing communication going off the rails*, perhaps just as much as by watching people getting it right. Later you can apply it to your own emotions, actions and goals.

I am NOT suggesting you watch LA's truly a crap show.

*There doesn't need to be major fallout for communication to go pear-shaped. Oftentimes, two people walk away from a situation with neither of them the wiser that anything was amiss. There are many forms of off-the-rails communications that are completely normal and societally acceptable these days. Try to spot those...start with the big obvious miscommunications and then work your way down to the more subtle stuff such as manipulation, gaslighting, coercion, etc.
posted by iamkimiam at 1:37 AM on September 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

According to your list I am probably not emotionally intelligent (stupid?) nor are my nearest and dearest, but the description you posted sounded more like an extrovert/management/sales type(good) compared to an intellectual/techie/introvert(bad), than anything else. Is it really possible to be this person if you are not? I think we can all improve certain skills and try to be more empathetic to others and more forgiving of ourselves, but for some of us it is an ongoing struggle. People and personalities are different, we can't all be one type, and this sort of definition of "emotional intelligence" just sets up another box to fit into like the much maligned idea of IQ or intellectual intelligence.
posted by mermayd at 4:05 AM on September 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Identifying and understanding your own emotions:

- Knowing generally the name of the emotion (grief, happiness, resentment, elation, etc)

- Knowing when in the past you have had the same emotion

- Knowing typically how long it lasts

- Knowing if it is likely to change to something else (e.g., I'm angry now but I know I'll calm down... I'm feeling in love now but I know I'll be more rational in the morning)

- Comparing with other unrelated, but insightful, situations when there are similar emotions (This friend just betrayed me, it's similar to if a business partner stole my money, how would I feel in that case and what would I do?)

You can practice all those and get better at them. If you spend some time on this in a journal, it gets easier.
posted by kellybird at 4:07 AM on September 27, 2012 [4 favorites]

the description you posted sounded more like an extrovert/management/sales type(good) compared to an intellectual/techie/introvert(bad)

I disagree. The entire list is applicable to everyone and isn't just a list of "salesmanship" skills. I can see how the last (relationship management) kind of comes across as corporate-speak, but the fact that you have "nearest and dearests" indicates to me that you have relationships that require maintenance and communication. Even introverts have those.
posted by deanc at 5:21 AM on September 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It is being emotionally available enough to feel and empathize with what is happening in the present but detached just enough to not let it dictate your response.
posted by dgran at 5:22 AM on September 27, 2012 [10 favorites]

deanc said:the fact that you have "nearest and dearests" indicates to me that you have relationships that require maintenance and communication. Even introverts have those."

Ah, I don't think you can imagine how low maintenance , lacking in drama, and full of silence and unspoken words some loving relationships can be:-)
posted by mermayd at 6:00 AM on September 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

>>can you try to explain how these processes happen for you?
I think the best answer I can think of is simply get older. It's something that happens as you age, in this case I mean YOU, if you're asking these questions now you'll slowly find the answers as you get older and spend time with more people, and more different people.
posted by Blake at 6:01 AM on September 27, 2012

I find that a lot of what I do is similar to what was done at the fraud department at the insurance company where I worked: I believe my eyes over my ears, I watch for patterns of behavior, I try to infer motive or intent based on the bigger picture if anything seems to not jibe, etc.

I also learned a lot in that job about weighting evidence which firmed up my ability to draw good conclusions with a high degree of confidence (both statistically and emotionally). In other words, some details are much more significant than others in drawing a conclusion. Knowing what those are tends to be context specific. In short, if you have one strong (in terms of reliability) indicator that says "go left" and three weak indicators that say "go right", then "left" is the way to bet.
posted by Michele in California at 8:05 AM on September 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Since you say you aren't good at identifying or understanding your own emotions, I will add that I apply those standards to myself as well. If I notice a pattern in myself that doesn't quite seem to jibe, I wonder what is behind it and try to infer my own motive. When I was younger, it took a lot of time to sort such things out. These days, it usually takes very little time for me to figure out what my major malfunction is.
posted by Michele in California at 8:13 AM on September 27, 2012

Best answer: My emotional skills are almost exclusively utilized for social interactions, but maybe this will help:

I regard emotions highly as a key to understanding others and myself. If something triggers an emotional response, I tend to consider my mood beforehand, the emotions of anyone I was interacting with, my personal baggage and emotional attachment to the subject, and my reaction. I analyze all of these things and by doings so, I have a framework in order to predict, and possibly modulate, my own responses to similar events in the future. I also tend to run hypothetical scenarios in my mind in order to prepare myself. I imagine how I would react to a situation and then try to re-route to a better reaction or several possible reactions if my first instinct is socially inappropriate. This works especially well with upsetting or embarrassing situations. This exercise allows me to "react" to a situation with a practiced response rather than a true expression.

I tend to organize info bits about the people I interact with in order to understand them as well. I prefer analyze how their actions relate to this info and make inferences about related subjects. I use this to avoid conflict and to ingratiate myself on occasion. Less than half the info is verbal or gossip, I rely heavily on body language, voice quality and facial expressions. Professionally, I notice that these skills are always enployed by the best bosses and the most successful professionals. They network and manage more effectively and can predict or avoid drama more easily. I tend to work very well in teams but I dislike being the leader. I am skilled at managing the project, but I prefer subtle means of motivating or influencing team power struggles rather than direct leadership.

Unfortunately, I am an extreme introvert so relationships are difficult. I keep an informal time limit, different with each person, on how long I can stay out of touch before our relationship begins to degrade. I tend to maximize interactions with people by socializing about their most important subjects in order to build up a buffer until the next time. I have several friends for pleasure, but I have many more for networking/social capital/gossip. Every person I spend time with has their own mental file with bits so that I can avoid any sensitive subjects, modulate my manner and body language to match theirs (if they respond to that), recall personal details to form a deeper connection and give me some idea about where I want our interaction to lead. It was a conscious decision to use this method when interacting with others and it is a skill I constantly strive to refine.

I think my background had a lot to do with this:

I was raised in a family that talks frequently about emotions, even the men. We respect emotions like opinions, inherently personal but can be unacceptable at times, and when we ask, "how are you?" we always mean, "how is your emotional state?"

"People watching" is a competitive sport between my mother and I. We enjoy taking small details about an acquaintance/stranger/celebrity/public figure and creating a narrative. ("See how she's holding the menu up so she doesn't have to look at him and he's checking out the waitress after ordering a second drink already?" "Yeah, and they didn't touch at all when they met each other. It must be a first date and it isn't going well." "Blind date more likely, she's frowning at her text message as if she's mad at a friend.")

I also vividly remember a time in 3rd grade when I decided that I loved being "smart" but I also wanted to have friends. That year an amazingly intelligent girl was in my class. She was leagues ahead of me intellectually, but very socially challenged (which is probably why a genius-level child was enrolled in public school). She and I were friends, but we didn't connect on the same level as I had with others. I realized how much there was to know about how people think and interact and I made a conscious decision to excel at it. It was a simplistic concept in my child mind, but considering that at that particular age our brains are starting to specialize, it possibly had a real effect on my development.

/On reflection, everything I know about friendship, I learned from The Sims. Whoops.
posted by Vysharra at 8:27 AM on September 27, 2012 [8 favorites]

Best answer: I, too, was pretty bad at identifying my own emotions, especially negative ones. Therapy helped a lot with awareness, because my therapist could help me identify them. At first I swear all I could do was guess: "I am angry? Sad?", but as time went on I was better at identifying emotions, and better at finding finer gradations like ashamed or disappointed. The other thing therapy helped with was the (incredibly hard) task of Feeling that emotion, not trying to make a joke or discount it or change the subject or even just Solve the problem right away.

Now that I'm not in therapy anymore I tend to do freeform journaling on the computer when I notice telltale signs that I'm probably repressing emotions (spending all day trying to distract myself with "fun" computer time, etc). I can usually explore the feelings and identify what I'm feeling and why and move on from there. So awareness is the first key, in my book!
posted by ldthomps at 8:45 AM on September 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

I'm really, really good at numbers two and three, and okay at number four. Still valiantly trying to improve at number two.

For me, these processes are not something I actively work at. I was raised by a mother with Borderline Personality Disorder. BPD people (especially BPD parents) can rapidy switch from one emotion to another. I think I developed a lot of my emotional intelligence by being on the lookout for triggers or indicators that her emotions might be changing - for example, if she was angry about something but not talking about it, she would hit the turn signal with force while driving. If I knew what her emotions were, I knew how best to interact with her without losing my mind.

As far as knowing and understanding my own feelings goes, therapy helped a lot with that. I was in therapy for about four years until recently, and went when I was younger, as well. The easiest way for me to think about it is to stop when I'm feeling an emotion and take the time to ask myself why I'm feeling this way. Knowing why I'm feeling a certain way is far more important to me than just recognizing an emotion. I need to know what the trigger is for that emotion and then I can figure out how to deal with it.

This isn't necessarily what you asked, but the downside of emotional intelligence (to me) is that it's difficult to turn off. I would imagine that a lot of folks like me are INFJs. I'm so affected by other peoples' emotions that I'm tremendously sensitive and prone to depression.
posted by anotheraccount at 9:00 AM on September 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: These tend to be strengths of mine, especially since I am generally very observant of details going on around me. I tend to constantly integrate very subtle behavioral data about others and I very often reach conclusions long before people think I will. This can actually be off-putting to others and I frequently find myself feigning naiveté when people tell me things.

I think the absolute #1 tip I can give you is to always, always be aware of the reactions you project to others as you are interacting with them. This can absolutely be learned.

For example, if somebody tells you something about themselves that is embarrassing or scary, and you react with fear or derision - even if your face shows it for a SPLIT second - they will never want to talk to you about those kinds of things again. You won't be trusted. You need to learn how to stop your own knee-jerk emotions from being expressed on your face, body language and speech the instant you feel them. You should NOT try to suppress your own emotions - they deserve to be processed, same as anyone's - but a huge part of making people feel comfortable is giving them space to be who they are without dealing with your fear, disgust, amusement, or whatever.

On a practical level, this involves controlling your physical reactions to what people say and consciously projecting care and interest. This is not "faking it" - many times, we WANT to be calm and compassionate, but we feel nervous and panicky. Making choices about your behavior is not shallow or false.

You can also learn to react to serious news in an appropriate manner. Saying things like "wow, that sounds incredibly painful" or "you must have been so scared" rather than "that's the worst thing I've ever heard" or other expressions of disbelief/fear.
posted by Cygnet at 11:07 AM on September 27, 2012 [7 favorites]

I do feel like I'm good at this, but I also feel like the skills were learned mostly in my 20s -- they may have derived from my upbringing, but not in a way that was overt. Specifics thoughts:

1) Self-awareness -- I think this one comes by analyzing events after the fact. Why did I overreact to that small incident -- was I already in a bad mood? did it "push a button" for me? (if so, was that an old one, so current person not to blame, or was it a newish one, revealing something about this circumstance/relationship?) This is sort of like the tactic suggested above of looking for discrepancies between how you feel and how you "ought' to feel, except that I'm not sure there's really an "ought" for every situation. But if you treat your feelings as always valid (even if not always rational), you give yourself permission to figure out where they're coming from. Sometimes the clue comes from recognizing a pattern, rather than being obvious from a single incident.

2) Self-management –- I suppose that simple impulse control could be a character trait, but otherwise a lot of this derives from (1). That is, if you understand how you respond to various factors, then you can make better decisions about whether or not to do certain things (I'm too tired or grump to participate productively; this is just what would get me over my funk, etc.), how to handle emotional events (how to explain yourself to a significant other afterwards, how to prepare for hard things, how to structure your time to give yourself a break, etc.), generally how to work *with* your own nature rather than against it.

3) Social awareness -- I could see this being something that derives more from upbringing, but it's also something that should yield well to both applied observation and occasional querying of friends or relatives. It might be easy to tell when somebody is mad, but hard to know what to do about it (stay out of their way, offer chocolate, postpone a big meeting), and it can help to find out who in the milieu might have more insight. I still remember my surprise at being told that a supervisor probably needed more "face time" with me, even though he thought my work was fine -- I wasn't aware that that was a factor in that work environment, but after being told, I picked up on a host of related dynamics in the group.

4) Relationship management –- these are very much skills learned by practice. Helpful if your family had rational/constructive structures for conflict resolution, but that's really rare. Is possible to read about, talk about with the relevant friends/SO's, and experiment with. Hard to do this without proper motivation -- that is, actually caring about other people and wishing them well. If you have that, then you should be able to find your way, through trial and error, direct feedback. "Inspire and influence others" is a pretty weird thing to include in the definition here, and doesn't really apply to most people, except maybe in the sense that sometimes your friends go see *your* movie choice, heh. I wouldn't sweat that one. Probably if you have some compass of your own -- goals, principles, things that drive you, other people will find that interesting and "inspiring" in that regard.

Anyway, all of this is lifelong learning, as the Self is not a steady target and the circumstances in which you are applying 2-4 are ever-changing. Got yourself and SO in a good balance? How about parenthood to demand that you be a good version of yourself 14 hours per day, on insufficient sleep and personal time? Blah blah, there's always something. Keep at it!
posted by acm at 11:34 AM on September 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

anotheraccount is on to something there. I'm INFJ as well.
posted by Vysharra at 12:48 PM on September 27, 2012

Self-awareness: I find that if I want to identify a specific emotion, it helps to feel what that emotion is doing to/in my physical body. If I'm excited, I have a specific set of physical reactions. Fear has a similar set of reactions, but I also get a strange "open" sensation in my solar plexus when I'm scared, which helps me differentiate. Paying attention to what my thoughts are doing helps as well, as they're often following the lead of my emotions - if I'm angry at someone, I'll be very focused on them and what caused me to feel angry. If I'm having a hard time feeling an emotion, then I find that putting myself in a situation where I intensely feel that emotion helps. It seems to help me break through the barrier if I turn the volume of that emotion up to 11.

Self-management: being honest with myself is important to me with regards to this. I used to start projects thinking that I'd complete them because I started them, but that really doesn't work for me. Now, I ask myself "why" a lot. Why do I want to take up skydiving? Is it because it's exciting? Or is it because I'm bored and need some kind of stimulation? Usually it's the latter. If I catch myself justifying something to myself, I know that it's not the real reason. I'm generally a calm person rather than an emotional one, so this might not help you, depending on which angle you're coming at this from, but I find that allowing myself to feel an emotion helps. The more I try to not-feel it, the more unpredictable it seems to become.

Social awareness: Look at people's faces. It took me a long time to figure this one out, because I thought I was looking at people's faces, but I was just making eye contact. Faces give out a lot of information and it's much easier to see if you look at them as a whole, rather than just individual bits. I find that when I do that, I can think through what emotion I'd be feeling if I was displaying that particular muscle configuration. Also pay attention to body language. Gently mirroring the person's stance can help you get into their head more easily. This is more difficult in a group of people, but if you're looking round the group, you can generally get a feel for how what is going on.

Relationship management: be honest and be assertive. Make your notions clear and people will respect you for it. It also helps to be sympathetic and listen to people rant. They'll associate being around you with feeling better, especially if you make it clear that you understand. People don't generally like to be alone, or the only one feeling a given thing.

I'm finding compassion meditation helpful for understanding and learning social cues. I'm finding that it enables me to be less about me when interacting with another person, and more about the other person. I relate what they're saying to me much less, so I have more brainpower left over to handle the conversation and focus on what they're saying. It also has the affect of enabling me to be more interested in what they're saying, which people seem to like.

The thing that I found most unhelpful is thinking about emotions. Instead of just going with the flow of feeling [whatever], thinking about it seems to make me make the emotion jump through hoops, sort of like "anger can't feel like this, it should feel like that or the other", which is unhelpful when trying to identify what is going on. I've had to learn to take a step back and just allow whatever emotional process is going on in a given moment. Analysing it afterwards is OK, but in the moment, I just have to let it happen. As I do that more and more, it gets easier to identify what is going on.
posted by Solomon at 1:17 PM on September 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

This would actually make a great book-- various peoples' ideas of emotional intelligence. Maybe for "emotional" intelligence it would defeat the purpose to have right and wrong answers.

Is emotional intelligence like regular intelligence? This is something I've been wondering all day since reading this question.

I've heard intelligence defined as "the ability to adapt to an environment."

But maybe in a broader sense, one can be pretty intelligent and never really hit on the truth.

Maybe emotional intelligence is something similar, but I think not.

In my opinion emotional intelligence means being a good person. Trying to hit upon the moral truth, even when it's hard.

Yeah sure, is this process helped along by good relationship skills, the ability to read social cues from others, and manage one's own reactions? Definitely.

But those things are instrumental, and I don't think really capture the big picture.

I agree with the basic breakdown above. If one were to try to improve one's emotional intelligence, the first step would be getting good at recognizing facial, body, and verbal gestures ...Eyes as the window to the soul, etc.

Relationship management.... especially managing conflict. It's a complicated thing-- I think this grows with self confidence and good boundaries.

The third part, which is what what I have seen touted as a benefit of so much emotional intelligence literature, is really maintaining an even keel and not reacting to events.

I doubt it's a linear path for anyone. Me, I'm not so gifted in some of these areas. But I find them interesting to think about and just anedcotal evidence, working on them (journaling, socializing, analyzing people dorkily as they socialize etc.) has helped.

I think there are several components and some are based on relationship management and others are based on something much more complex and hard to hit upon (and unfashionable).... which is just being able to live one's truth. There are so many rights and wrongs, so many competing interests in this world that ultimately, emotional honesty and integrity can NOT be like the bubble-wrapped happiness that the media wants to portray it as. I see emotionally wise people around me and they're like SOLDIERS. They're like people who pushed through 10 metric tons of wreckage. Others are just born "with it."

I guess it's luck to some extent, but the nice thing about it is maybe there's no wrong place or perspective to start from with this stuff.
posted by kettleoffish at 4:18 PM on September 27, 2012

Self-awareness – You recognize your own emotions and how they affect your thoughts and behavior, know your strengths and weaknesses, and have self-confidence.

Self-management – You’re able to control impulsive feelings and behaviors, manage your emotions in healthy ways, take initiative, follow through on commitments, and adapt to changing circumstances.

Meditation can change your life in regards to these two.
posted by corn_bread at 9:51 AM on September 28, 2012

Response by poster: Thank you for all the thoughtful answers - I marked those that were most personally helpful as best, but I'm sure many of the others will be helpful to those in different situations.
posted by mossicle at 4:59 PM on September 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

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