Inside the Book: Emotional Intelligence

Inside the Book - Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

This blog refers to the best 5 books I read in 2021 and goes deep on the matter. You can find the list of my best readings here.

Complete title – Emotional Intelligence. Why it can matter more than IQ

Author – Daniel Goleman

In 2019 I had the chance to facilitate a workshop about emotional intelligence and derailment factors in IBM. This was one of the topics for a soft-skills series for us employees, one that I attended two years earlier. Although I considered talking about coaching at first, I decided to embrace a challenge and discuss a topic I did not know much about. This was my manager’s suggestion, one that still today I am glad to have taken.

Back then, I knew almost nothing about emotional intelligence, systematically speaking. And for years, my philosophy put the cold-blood brain at the center of my decision-making – or so I thought. Then I got familiar with the work of Daniel Goleman, and my thinking went through a revolution.

Emotional Intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ” is the most significant work of Goleman: for the way it explains how our emotional mind coexists and usually override our cognitive brain; how emotions influence behavior and choices in life; and the cost of our emotional incompetence.

Daniel Goleman, Ph.D., dedicated his life studying the EQ (Emotional Quotient), and his findings are shared in the many books that followed the one we are about to explore. Goleman’s latest joint venture with his son Hanuman is the podcast First Person Plural: EI & Beyond.

Goleman’s research heavily influenced my philosophy of life ever since I went through the masterpiece he wrote, and here you are about to read why.

Here’s what you’ll find inside the book:

The genealogy of our emotions

To speak about emotional intelligence, Goleman begins to describe in detail our core emotions, the feelings they produce, and where they are coming from.

Many pages focus on fear and anger, which are discussed further in additional sections at the end of the book. Fear is the primal emotion: our defensive mechanism for self-preservation and directly connects to the freeze-flight-fight mechanism.

Fear has multiple facets, and so do anger and finally, anxiety: the most complex of them all, and a predominant one in our modern society. Goleman articulates the distinction between unhappiness as a motive, and worry as a state of mind that can evolve into melancholy and, finally, depression. The way these phenomena can be recognized, acknowledged, and dealt with.

Fear and anxiety in particular are topics I wrote abundantly in the past from the perspective of handling ourselves when listening to others, or when facing challenges to prove our worth.

Understanding our emotions to feel the others’

Whereas active listening is accounted for as a key skill of successful leaders and educators, usually it is correlated with empathy alone.

However, there is a higher degree of complexity when it comes to being in the other’s shoes. Empathy is more about connecting with the other person by understanding their emotions. And we cannot feel empathy at all times.

Sometimes we may confuse empathy for sympathy, that is instead to understand the other person’s emotions on a cognitive level alone. That is, acknowledging emotions while remaining detached from them. That empathic connection is missing.

There are also negative sides of empathy and sympathy, equally complex. We can experience the inability to feel emotions or lacking them when they should be triggered (apathy); and the inability to express them as we should (alexithimya). The inability to empathise with others is what we call sociopathy.

Emotional Intelligence as a “Social Art”

Conflicts are far from being rational, and are predominated by negative emotions – notably, fear and anger among the others. Misunderstandings and differences of opinions have also their roots in our upbringing, social and cultural background.

People who fail to connect to others are ones who usually are promoters of hate and rejection, and they tend to group – so that they find social acceptance in their quest for hatred.

Then again, other people connect just to receive social consensus, not because they really care. They agree with dominant groups to avoid conflict, or else they passively agree with anything, never showing their true self. Confident people aren’t afraid of conflict, and if emotionally competent, can manage their anger by adopting cooperative approaches to resolve.

Finally, the most important dynamics of emotional intelligence are probably the ones that shape our most intimate relationships – with our family, our parents, and our children. Love can transform into hate when blame prevails over healthy feedback and mutual trust. These are, in turn, affected by a cultural heritage that sees the men being men (that is, emotionally unresponsive and dominant) and women acting emotionally (when in fact, they handle emotions better than men as research shows us). The book also talks about abusive and violent parents, who are responsible for bringing up new members of society who are emotionally unstable.

My favourite quote from this book

“Every strong emotion has at its root an impulse to action; managing those impulses is basic to emotional intelligence.”

Daniel Goleman

This quote is stuck in my head like a mantra, for I am easily subject to annoyance and I used to react aggressively to it. I explained that to myself with my upbringing: the ridiculously unhealthy social environment my hometown had to offer. Sadly, I missed a few pieces to this puzzle that would allow me to solve the final problem: how to deal with it? After all, I left that behind at age 19.

Emotional struggles are hard to deal with. They are hard to understand for us, let alone understand the ones of the others! The best think we can do is to acknowledge that emotions are not the effect, but also the cause of events. Because we use to explain why we are mad, it’s a challenge to rather think about what we are mad for: negative thoughts.

We should speak our emotions out, and not let our emotions speak for us. We can manage them, both the good and the ugly ones. We must acknowledge our emotions because once we are cognitively aware of them, it becomes easier to treat them critically.

What I learned from reading this book

About anger, aggressiveness and alexithymia. Anger manifests as a divergence from sadness and worry, triggered by annoyance and expressed by aggressive and destructive behaviors.

You can’t manage with your head without managing your heart. Regardless of our mood today, we adopt different behaviors according to the social group we are meeting: colleagues at work, family at home, friends hanging out. This adds to our complexity as human beings and doesn’t mean having multiple personalities. By embracing such complexity, we are one leap forward to truly know ourselves. And we are more open to inclusion, accepting behaviors we usually don’t like.

Because of EI we can also understand why certain behaviors are persistent. Fearful employees and distrusting acquaintances have reason to exist due to some antecedents we may not know – and there’s why empathy is important, and active listening is necessary to foster open communication. Sadly, some people are nothing but toxic to us, and we want to have nothing to do with it. So, be it. It is an act of self-love, and love for our dearest, for we are not influenced negatively and propagates bad moods around.

Published by Andrea Paviglianiti

I practice coaching, I love reading, and I work as a data scientist. I also recharge my batteries with meditation, martial arts, and video games. I perform career and skills coaching – thus I define myself as a “cognitive” coach: I help people improve their learning experience to succeed where they want. My method is based on behavioral analysis, psychology of learning, philosophy of dialogue, and classic literature. I write about how to get better at learning, the best books I read, and my personal philosophy of coaching. And I will not lie to you – I can get verbose at times! I’d be happy if you stick around and read more of what I have to share!

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