Ever heard that emotional intelligence is a better indicator of success that a general IQ test?
When I think of emotional intelligence, I think of empathy. And empathy informs every aspect of my life; it is literally why I’m vegan! So, I thought, hmm. If emotional intelligence truly facilitates success, shouldn’t I (or, erm, many of us here) be incredibly successful by now?
By definition, emotional intelligence refers to an ability to identify and manage personal emotions, as well as the emotions of others. According to John Mayer, Ph.D., “Emotional intelligence is the capacity to reason and of emotions to enhance thought.” Mayer’s research from the 90’s sought to measure EI. Research suggests people high in EI are better equipped to solve problems and help others do the same. Additionally, people high in EI understand the meanings that emotions convey.
But empathy, as many of us understand it, is vicariously experiencing the pain or feelings of other living things, uninhibited. Which can actually be quite distressing. Just think, what if an oncologist personally felt the pain or fear that their patients experienced? I doubt that individual would be very good at their job. So, it is helpful to distinguish between the different kinds of empathy, per psychologist Mark Davis’ suggestion:
“Perspective-Taking” refers to the ability to see things from another person’s view.
“Empathic Concern” refers to the ability to tune in to someone else’s emotional state and demonstrate appropriate concern.
“Personal Distress” refers to an ability to feel another’s pain, or at least a variation of it.
It certainly seems empathic concern is the goal, and indeed, folks higher in EI tend to exhibit higher displays of empathic concern, which is positively related to job performance.
Of course, we all have each of these empathic tendencies to a degree. And luckily it does seem emotional intelligence can be improved. Over a decade ago, when I first came to the animal rights movement and vegetarianism, I cried all the time. I literally sobbed over every cruelty I read or heard about. I felt horrified and disgusted and often, I would remain shaken for days at a time.
But with time and perseverance, we can become more resilient and improve emotional intelligence and empathic concern.
Channel negative emotions
Set an intention to channel your negative emotions. In other words, put them somewhere. For example, I go on long runs to work off anger or frustration. When I’m sad, I like to be analytical, solve problems, or meditate.
Remember that you are in control of how you feel
This is tricky, but try to own your emotions. I remember during my last relationship often hearing myself say, “You made me feel like [insert negative emotions].” By telling someone else that they make me feel a certain way, I am relinquishing responsibility over my own feelings. Rather, take note of how external circumstances affect you. Observe as though you are an outsider. Acknowledge that your emotions matter, but don’t let them control you.
Practice empathic concern
Perhaps a friend or loved one is going through a difficult time. Rather than feeling overwhelmed by emotional contagion, ask yourself: What would help me cope if I were in their position? And then react accordingly. Recognize that we are all better equipped to advocate for those that need it when we aren’t physically affected by their burden.
With the holidays right around the corner and coronavirus still wreaking havoc, I’m setting an intention to further improve my empathic concern ability and overall EI level. Here’s to being the best version of ourselves we can be.
Also by R. Coker: I Tried Compassion Meditation With Sharon Salzberg. Here’s What Happened
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