The Busy Person’s Guide to Emotional Intelligence

Author: Barbara Palmer       

emotional intelligence

Sara Ross, founder of BrainAMPED, says people can be so busy they don’t see the link between our emotions and our behavior. (Courtesy of Sara Ross)

There’s a disconnect between how much we know about emotional intelligence and how much we practice it. That observation comes from Sara Ross, the founder of the BrainAMPED neuroscience-based research lab, a Main Stage presenter at PCMA’s Education Conference. Her session, “Tapping Into Your Emotional Intelligence to Succeed in Work and Life,” is set for June 27.

When Ross surveyed 1,500 people from law and financial services firms, 96 percent of people answered “yes” when asked whether they knew what emotional intelligence is, compared to 13 percent of the same group who said they believed that their colleagues demonstrated it. “That’s a significant difference,” Ross said. “Almost 100 percent of people are saying, ‘I know what emotional intelligence is’ — but nobody’s doing it.”

Being busy plays a role in our ability to see the link between our emotions and our behavior, Ross said. “When we’re going nonstop throughout the day putting out fires, we don’t recognize how much our emotions are starting to influence us and our behaviors.” Additionally, “when we’re busy, there’s inherently a sense of stress, and stress causes our brains to turn inward and focus on our own goals,” she said. “We become less attuned to and aware of the impact we’re having on other people.”

The first step in staying in touch with how we are affecting others and managing stress is to “slow down and just do a little bit of an emotional inventory,” she said. “Ask yourself: Where am I at right now? Whether it’s at the start of the day, at the middle of the day, or before a big conversation ending the day — just build some awareness of what you are feeling.”

And second, try to increase the number of your positive emotions, she said. Our brains are very “sticky” when it comes to negative emotions. For example, a planner may get 200 positive comments following an event compared to two negative comments, but “the brain grabs those two and they stick,” she said. On the other hand, the brain “is a little bit like a bit of a leaky sieve when it comes to positive comments.”

Even experiences like having a difficult conversation can yield positive emotions, she said. “You can come out of that and feel proud that you had a hard conversation, or that you put a good solution in place or that it strengthened your relationship. Just slowing down and actually experiencing those [positive] emotions has proven to have beneficial impacts on stress.

“What we know about emotional resilience,” Ross added, “is it’s not about not having emotions, but about being able to buffer [your emotions] by catching the positive feedback, the positive emotions, and the positive experiences. But we actually have to be disciplined to do that, because positive means no threat. And so the brain’s like, no problem — we don’t have to spend a lot of time there.”

Another point to remember is that being emotionally intelligent takes time — it’s labor-intensive, she said. Meeting professionals may need to set some boundaries. “It may take you shutting things down at 5 o’clock one night so that you can do the things you need to do to refill your emotional reservoir,” Ross said. “These are incredible skills to learn, but they actually take energy to do.”

Barbara Palmer is Deputy Editor at Convene.

More Sara Ross