By Cholet Kelly Josué
Navigating life with emotional intelligence
Have you ever been part of a conversation that went off the rails fast? Did misunderstandings leave one of you hurt or angry? Have you ever struggled to understand someone’s reaction, or why you react negatively to a particular person all the time?
Relationships are key to mental and physical health, regardless of whether they are friendships, community or work-based relationships, or intimate relationships. But did you know that emotional intelligence can help you make the most of these relationships and enjoy success in your social life and career?
Emotional intelligence awareness
Self-compassion teaches us to be gentle with ourselves and accept our limitations. Emotional intelligence allows us to use this sense of self to navigate our way through life.
Developing emotional intelligence means becoming more aware of our own emotional response to situations and people. Suppose you are working on a group project, but there are two among the group who want to do things at their own pace—and time is running out. How does that make you feel? Angry that they might not do their part? Anxious about the final product? Frustrated that you’re carrying this mental load?
But awareness of our own emotions is only the first step: we also need to be mindful of others’ emotions, especially if their background and personality are different from ours. What effect will our response have on those around us? Emotional intelligence teaches us to predict it based on what we’re observing from that person, together with what we already know about them. Continuing the group project example, we might see that the two group members who are working at a slower pace tend to get agitated when we mention the deadline. Knowing that, we might deal with our own anxiety about the deadline by approaching the topic differently with those two members, asking if they would like help with a specific aspect of the project. We might also be careful to do this privately, so that it’s clear we’re not intending to shame them.
Emotional intelligence allows us not only to gather this information—in a split second!—but also to put it to work, continually adjusting our emotional response to avoid communication barriers. If offering help still triggers a defensive reaction, we might consider our tone or choice of words. From there we might try a different approach, sitting the whole group down to talk about the collective goal in a way that is positive or doesn’t single anyone out.
Civility through emotional intelligence
In some situations we might find that a solution is not so simple. We might realize that even when we regulate our emotional response, the other person will refuse to come close to meeting us in the middle. Or we might find that controlling our response is difficult because the person we’re interacting with deliberately attempts to antagonize us.
In cases like this, emotional intelligence can help us keep control of our emotions by choosing to end the conversation as civilly as possible. When all interactions with this person follow the same pattern, it may be better to re-envision or to end what may have become a toxic relationship.
Striving for better emotional intelligence
Emotional intelligence takes work. It’s not something we can turn on at a moment’s notice or learn overnight. But if we teach ourselves to use emotional intelligence to navigate interactions and situations, our encounters will come with less conflict—and less stress. We will develop more empathy towards the emotional needs of others while still meeting our own needs. And we will have more positive and successful relationships in the workplace and in our personal lives.
Dr. Cholet Kelly Josué is a Bahamian-born Haitian American author, physician, and neuroscientist practicing medicine in Maryland. Using behavioral cognitive neuroscience and drawing upon his experience as an immigrant, he shares an integrative approach to self-compassion, emotional intelligence, and critical thinking. His first book, Twelve Unending Summers: Memoir of an Immigrant Child, was published in May 2019. For more information: drjosue.com.