Look, I know that lots have been written about Emotional Intelligence. It was the buzz word for corporate world in the 80’s not long ago. Unlike many of the fashions of the 80’s however, at least this one isn’t as useless as lime green fingerless gloves!
In a corporate environment emotional intelligence can be used as a tool to understand and therefore engage and motivate people. This involves an understanding of human behaviour – of different emotions and their triggers and of how different emotions can influence behaviour. This is a valuable tool which can assist in determining strategy and in rolling out operational change.
Before you run off and try to head-shrink people Oprah style, it is important you turn this tool on yourself first. Until you can truthfully understand your own emotions, its triggers and how it influences your behaviour, you will not be able to properly use this tool as a strategy to understand and therefore motivate (and even direct!) people’s actions and reactions.
Emotions are the source of this tool. No matter how detached you think you might be, your emotions are central to your being, and they will come and go with varying intensities. Emotions drives your action and reaction to events. To know that you have experienced an emotion, to recognise the physical sensations that accompany it and the feelings and behaviours that resulted from it is crucial to understanding (and therefore using) emotional intelligence.
To start, we need to understand how the brain works. The emotional centre of the brain is called the limbic system. It consists of 3 areas – the amygdala, the thalamus and the hippocampus. The amygdale stores emotional memories and constantly scans for danger. It is the most primal part of the brain that fuels the flight/fight response. It constantly looks for signs of “danger”. The thalamus constantly looks for information, while the hippocampus compares present with previous information. Emotions, reasoning and logical thinking work together when the links are made between the limbic system and the cortex or thinking brain.
We react to things in different ways. Information that is initially received by the amygdala causes fast reaction and works ahead and independently of the thinking brain. It enables us to respond quickly to situations, which can be good. However, it also can result in negative behaviour or reactions like getting angry, swearing inappropriately, withdrawing, freezing, yelling and thumping the table. This is because the situation has tapped into your stored emotional memories and the amygdala regards the situation as a “danger” to you. Knowing your amygdala triggers and understanding how your respond is an essential part of using emotional intelligence as a tool. Here’s a couple of examples of possible triggers:
- Do you have days when your emotions are more likely to be triggered?
- Do you get annoyed when people behave in a particular way?
- Are you more responsive to particular stimuli – sound, smell, visual?
- Do you get annoyed when you think someone’s voice is irritating?
- Do you form opinions about someone solely based on the way they are dressed?
If these triggers result in a change in the way you would normally react to a person or a situation then knowing this will help you to take conscious control over how you react.