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Founded in 1965, SCCPA is comprised of licensed psychologists, registered psychological assistants, graduate psychology students, and other professionals affiliated with the mental health field. We are the third largest of 23 chapters of the California Psychological Association (CPA), which is a state chapter of the American Psychological Association (APA).

SCCPA is dedicated to advancing the science and profession of psychology; promoting the ethical, responsible, and effective practice of psychology; providing education, networking, and support among psychologists; and offering our diverse community an array of educational and mental health services.
SCCPA NEWSLETTER
GUEST ARTICLE

excerpted from the 2017 Spring issue

Emotional Intelligence:
What, Why, and How?


By Erika Torres, PhD


There are many different types of intelligences including social, emotional, logical, artistic, etc. However, from a survival day-to-day perspective, perhaps none is as important as emotional intelligence (EQ). Since Daniel Goleman eloquently articulated this concept in the early 1990's, many attempts have been made to understand and measure this seemingly elusive form of intelligence. These skills can be applied to all aspects of our lives including, home, work and social settings. For the purposes of this brief article, I will focus primarily on defining what is EQ and why EQ is important in our society, and perhaps most importantly, how to learn and teach it?

EQ can be best defined as not only the ability to empathize and "put yourself in the other person's shoes," but also to be able to do so at the right time, with the right person, and with the right level of skills. If you think about it, there are very complex sets of conditions required for us to be able to exercise these valuable skills. Our whole brain and body need to be engaged at the right level during any given situation. As you can imagine, EQ, like any other type of skills, exists on a spectrum and we all fall somewhere in between.

Perhaps it goes without saying, but here it is anyway: EQ is an essential set of skills that allow us to survive and thrive in a social context. We are social animals after all. How many of us have experienced a friend, boss, lover, or family member with limited EQ? You know the signs. This person likely has difficulty relating to others and understanding social cues and contexts. They may not understand sarcasm or jokes and are ready to jump in before allowing anyone else to speak, or they may have difficulty engaging. They may come across as mean, rude, or insensitive. As a result, it is very difficult to understand and connect with these individuals. You may leave interactions with them feeling unheard, sad, angry, and confused.

There are individuals who, as a result of a neurological condition, may exhibit limited EQ. The good news is that we can all learn new things and improve our skills, even those deemed to be significantly impaired. For individuals with significant impairments, more intensive one-on-one interventions are needed, such as Applied
Behavioral Analysis (ABA). For the majority of the population, learning basic skills may be sufficient.

The key, of course, is the first five years of life when trillions of neurons are making new connections in our brains and we are more malleable. If you have children or work with children, you will have noticed just how rapidly they transform and learn new things. You may be telling yourself, “But I'm way past that stage of development.” Don't despair, it’s never too late! Despite life experiences and a less brain flexibility with age, adults can also learn EQ skills.

The truth of the matter is that we all influence one another. Therefore, the best way to teach these skills is to learn them for ourselves and model them to others. From working with kids and adults alike, and my own personal journey towards greater EQ, I have come up with five suggestions for learning or teaching emotional awareness skills.

1. Self-Expression: Whether we are an introvert, extrovert, or ambivert (a combination of both), it is important to find ways to express ourselves. Bottling up our emotions will cloud our judgement and limit our ability to understand ourselves and others. We may express ourselves through reading, dance, art, writing, singing, words, etc. Knowing ourselves is key! How do you prefer to express yourself?

2. Emotion Regulation: The key is to express our feelings, beliefs and thoughts in a purposeful manner. In order to do this we need to know ourselves. It is essential for us to begin to notice how places, people, and situations make us feel. We need to identify the ABCs (Affect=emotion; Behavior, and Cognition=thought) associated with a particular event or situation. And reflect on the consequences of our actions. For example, if a co-worker makes us angry, we need to try to identify what about this interaction is making us angry and reflect on our options and how our behavior will impact our relationship with this co-worker and work environment.

3. Communication: One of the best ways to practice EQ and perhaps the most difficult is to communicate our needs. Now, you may be asking how is this related to EQ? To give you an example, suppose your friend is telling you a story about ending an important relationship. You are hungry and can't stop thinking about lunch. Do you think that being hungry may get in the way of connecting with your friend? Of course! As I see it, there are two options: 1) tell your friend that you would love to talk about this over lunch, or 2) be preoccupied with food while attempting to listen to them. Which one do you think will yield better results?

4. Active Listening: Easier said than done. In this day and age in which we are constantly busy and preoccupied with to-do lists, it is difficult to listen to our own thoughts, much less others'. Active listening involves four steps:
1) maintaining eye contact
2) paying attention to detail
3) paraphrasing what we heard
4) asking clarifying questions.
It also really helps if we are not multi-tasking while trying to listen!

5. Emotion Recognition: Body language constitutes over 50% of our communication. Understanding body language, what it represents, and how it is coming across can help us identify our own and others' emotions. For this reason, facial expressions are an important component of communication. If you are curious about your emotion recognition skills, I have found the Body Language Quiz from UC Berkeley to be fun, concise, and easy to use. This quiz is free. It asks you to match facial expressions with emotions and at the end gives you a score and brief description of your results.

In summary, EQ is essential for surviving and thriving in this social world. Not surprising, some people have higher EQs than others. Some individuals may struggle with limited EQ due to a neurological condition and may require intensive interventions. Most people, however, can learn these skills with practice. Knowing ourselves can make it a bit easier to understand others. And, remember: Practice makes better! 

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