In a previous section, we discussed where angry behaviors come from, and how most reactions stem from childhood. We learned that a lot of our behaviors are picked up from influential people that surrounded us during our youth, such as parents, siblings or friends.
Childhood is where people also accumulate emotional intelligence.
What Is Emotional Intelligence and Why Is It Important?
It is easy to spot people with emotional intelligence. They are generally warm, friendly, good at empathizing and listening. They appear to value our opinions and feelings. They are team players. Generally, they lead pretty successful lives, maintaining fulfilling relationships and gaining meaning from existence. They seem to navigate bumps in the road, such as loss, stress, and hurt with grace. They are also skilled at giving themselves permission not to be perfect. They know it’s okay to fall apart from time to time. These people were probably raised around other people with high emotional intelligence. They are self-aware of their emotions and the emotions of others.
Anger becomes a problem when there is a disconnect between yourself and the feelings of others and, more importantly, between yourself and your own feelings. The good news is, you are always capable of gaining and growing your self-awareness, and consequently, your emotional intelligence.
Components of Emotional Intelligence
Emotional intelligence has a few main components. As you can probably guess, the biggest one is awareness.
We discussed previously that awareness of others helps develop empathy. Empathy is the ability to try to understand what another person is feeling in any given moment. When we are well practiced at empathizing with others, it allows us the ability to approach a situation objectively. Empathy allows us to see things from another’s perspective. It also opens up our thinking, which allows us to notice more details in a situation. Finally, it allows us to see options that may have been hidden from us because of our limited perspective.
Self-awareness also aids greatly when it comes to self-control. Knowing when and why you are getting angry gives you a choice on how to respond to a situation or conflict. This awareness allows you to regain control and responsibility for your anger, no longer giving it the power to take you over or take you by surprise.
Self-control means a reduction of impulsive reactions, and the ability to translate conflict into effective, assertive communication.
Assertive communication starts with how you communicate with yourself. It starts with you labeling for yourself how you are really feeling. For example you may tell yourself, “I am feeling angry and sad.” It then requires self reflection to understand what thoughts, beliefs, needs, or stressors may be contributing to these feelings. Lastly, it requires you communicating this awareness clearly to others, sharing what you need or how you are planning to go about changing your situation for the better.
Consider the following:
Olaf recently completed a very large workload that was vital to his company. He felt proud of this completed project, which included two other coworkers’ collaboration. Jenny was one of those two coworkers, but she never really pulled her weight for the project. Olaf had to pick up her slack. A few days after completion, the boss congratulated the team for the project and promoted Jenny to be Olaf’s manager.
Olaf feels himself getting extremely angry. His body tightens and he feels hot all over. He realizes this and is quick to bring his mind to what is happening. He takes a few breaths to regulate his rush of adrenaline. Next, he tries to empathize with his boss, and with Jenny. She was usually a hard-worker, and Olaf guesses maybe this was just an off-week for her. He congratulates her sincerely on her promotion.
Later that day, Olaf takes his boss to the side, and asks the boss directly what he can do for a promotion. His boss was happy to talk about Olaf’s options for moving up in the company.
When Olaf began to get angry, he had an array of doors fly open for him. He could have slammed his fist on the table, he could have quit, or he could have spoken punitively to Jenny using sarcasm. He could have also tried to stifle his anger, try to brush it off, not bothering to follow up with his boss after, and eventually allow the anger to seethe and arise later, most likely in an inappropriate form.
We will be exploring and practicing each of these components of emotional intelligence in more depth in the upcoming sections — in the meantime, be sure to keep these concepts in mind:
- Assertive communication
This week we will be practicing another awareness exercise. In the previous exercise, you spent some time familiarizing yourself with being present in your body while angry.
Let’s take this a step further. Today, practice awareness in a non-stressful situation. Try, for instance, being self-aware while brushing your teeth or washing the dishes. Try to be fully aware of how your body feels, perhaps tight from sitting too long, or maybe your shirt tag is scratching at the nape of your neck. Maybe there is a pleasant, cool breeze coming from the window. How quickly or slowly are you breathing?
Now gently bring your mind to any thought or emotion you are processing. If you were listening to your body with rapt attention, chances are your thoughts are completely enveloped in the present, with little feeling of overwhelm.
Repeat this practice throughout the day. It can last only a moment, or ten minutes, you decide.
Continue to keep track of when you feel angry, why you felt it, and what happened. If the result of the anger wasn’t ideal, list possible ideal solutions. Also, begin thinking about rating your anger. Did some event cause you to feel especially angry? Were you only mildly frustrated? Write this down as well.
While not in a conflict, try to avoid using criticizing or negative judgmental words when thinking about people or events. Think instead of possible unmet needs that may be the underlying cause. Switch perspectives. What’s life like in their shoes? Is the situation different from their perspective?
Look back to the conflicts you have recorded from earlier exercises. Did you have any criticizing thoughts surrounding these situations? How can you translate these negative thoughts into simple, unmet needs?
Take time to really feel your body in both heated and ordinary states. This time, bring special awareness to your breathing but don’t worry about trying to change it. Just feel it fill your chest and feel it leave. Is it shallow? Is it deep? Notice your breath for ten seconds. Then for thirty seconds. If you want, sit with your breathing for as long as possible. How do you feel after this experience? Feel free to record any emotion or sense of calm that follows.