EQ: The Other Intelligence

It had been a hot, emotionally stressful day in Saigon where I was a chaplain in the United States Air Force. I was happy to be back in the quiet of my apartment. Suddenly, I heard children screaming. Looking out the open window into the narrow street below, I realized that someone on the rooftop of our six-story building was throwing glass bottles into a group of peasant children playing below. They were barefoot, and the shattering glass was causing serious injury. Shocked, I ran to the roof and found a very drunk GI taking delight in throwing beer bottles into the crowd of children.

In a single instant, rage filled every cell of my body. Shaking and unable to speak, I was ready to throw the GI off the roof. Fortunately, just then some American military personnel arrived. I had to be physically restrained. It took hours to regain some sense of composure. Never before, or since, have I been overcome with such intense rage.
I tell this story when I teach adult classes on leadership and emotional intelligence at Duquesne University.

Sometimes students ask, “Wasn’t your behavior justified moral outrage?” I must confess that it was not. It was uncontrolled rage directed at another human being, unmotivated by noble moral values. I had lost all personal accountability, self-control and rational thought.

For years I rationalized this experience. It had been a very bad day. Earlier, several friends were killed when their aircraft was shot down. I helped recover their bodies. Certainly the violent emotional outburst on the roof was not my fault. Finally, however, I saw I could not absolve myself by rationalizing. I had choices, and my behavior was wrong.

This experience was an “emotional hijacking,” a moment when rational thought is lost in a flood of destructive emotion.

As we observe our behavior, we sometimes might wonder about the definition of homo sapiens as the wise, thinking and intelligent species. We see more and more cases of people acting on violent impulse. We have “road rage,” “sky rage,” and more recently “office rage.” “Going postal” has been added to our lexicon. The recent school shootings are vivid reminders of an increasingly violent society.

It’s ironic. Despite living longer, being better educated than ever before and having advanced technology, many of us find it increasingly difficult to cope with our rushed lives, and are in emotional distress. We miss a sense of inner wellbeing and joy in life. Our relationships are eroded by a lack of trust, authentic caring and compassion. And sometimes our emotions hijack our rational behavior.

In 1985, Reuven Bar-On, an Israeli psychologist, first coined the term “emotional quotient” or “EQ” when he observed people with very high IQs who were unsuccessful because they were emotionally and socially ineffective. People who are emotionally adept — who handle their feelings well — are at an advantage in any domain of life. Because they are in touch with their inner selves, they are able to build effective relationships with others.

Have we placed too much emphasis on intellectual development to the neglect of emotional development?

In his book, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More than IQ, Daniel Goleman raises some interesting questions. Have we placed too much emphasis on intellectual development to the neglect of emotional development? Perhaps it is time for us to rediscover that it is not high tech but “high touch” that gives life substance, meaning and purpose.

As a consultant to organizations in more than 20 nations around the world, I see a new standard evolving. Businesses are recognizing that it is important to judge people on how they handle themselves and others, and not just on their technical or professional competence. Teamwork demands relational competence.

The first step toward becoming more emotionally literate is to understand the role of emotions in how we interact and respond to others. In every personal encounter, our response is shaped by emotion as well as rational judgment. Our biases and past experience are a perceptual filter through which we view and respond to others.

Most of the time it is not too difficult for us to maintain equilibrium between emotion and reason. But then a “fool” pulls in front of us in traffic, or an “incompetent” irritates us and an emotional hijacking can occur. Our emotions spin out of control. Rational thought process takes leave. An old Arab teaching says, “Anger is the wind that blows out the lamp of the mind.”

Not all emotional hijackings are of rage intensity. Equally destructive are low intensity hijackings of quiet, passive aggression. The result is usually the same. We lose credibility and trust with others. Relationships are fractured and healing can be difficult.

Goleman lists five components of emotional intelligence. The first ingredient is self-awareness —
getting in touch with our feelings, and with our feelings about our feelings. Accountability for personal behavior begins with an honest recognition of our emotions of the moment. It means developing an accurate understanding of our behavior, of how others perceive us, and knowing when we think negatively or have mood shifts.

I was traveling on an interstate highway to facilitate a Duquesne University, Center for Leadership Development workshop on emotional intelligence. The client, the Society for Automotive Engineers, is about 30 miles from home, normally a 35-minute drive. Because of construction, the trip took an hour and 40 minutes. I knew that I was going to be late. My initial response was to become frustrated, anxious and irritated, with anger not far behind. Since it has often been suggested that I practice what I preach, this was an ideal opportunity! It became clear that getting angry would be futile. A cell phone call to the client clarified the situation. Later a participant’s first question was, “Did you get upset?” I repeated the familiar words on a plaque in my office: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Once self-aware, we need to manage emotions and resist impulses. Personal accountability means keeping destructive impulses in check. It means we have a choice about how we respond. Too often we express the usual litany of cop-out excuses…. “My mother didn’t love me, my boss hates me, I’ve always been this way, and I can’t help it.” My favorite question is, “If you are not in control of your mind and thoughts, who, or what, is?” Personal accountability is self-control.

“My favorite question is, ‘If you are not in control of your mind and thoughts, who, or what, is?’”

To manage emotion and impulse we need positive self-motivation, the expression of strong personal values, and constructive personal goals. Honesty and integrity, compassion, love, caring, respect, harmony, forgiveness, humor and faith –- all provide a powerful impetus for our personal lives. Still, it is hard to persist in following ideals when we are challenged to compromise. So, we need to learn how to fail without becoming a failure. We need persistence and resilience. Life is not so much what happens to us, but what we do with what happens to us. We are all works in progress.

Empathy and sensitivity to others are the focus of the fourth component. How well do we listen? Loa Tzu, the Chinese philosopher scholar, wrote, “When pure sincerity forms within, it is outwardly realized in the hearts of others.” Listening with thorough and thoughtful attention is not easy. It requires a keen awareness of the feelings, needs, and concerns of others. Yet it is impossible to build consensus, negotiate solutions, resolve conflict, and make genuine personal connections without it.

The final ingredient of emotional intelligence is the capacity to develop and sustain relationships. At the center is our ability to build trust, the glue that holds families, groups and societies together. Building trust requires more than just “getting along.” Mahatma Gandhi said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” How can we be more effective in creating that change? How can we increase our ability to analyze and understand relationships? How do we turn irritation into inspiration, nurture collaborative and not “clobberative” effort, and find honest, open dialogue?
Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness. Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”
I ask participants in my emotional intelligence workshops to formulate a personal action plan. First, honestly assess your current ability to be self-aware, manage emotions and impulses, and to be positively self-motivated. Do you show empathy and sensitivity to others, and demonstrate relational competence?

We are works in progress, but we can enhance our lives and the lives of others. “Imagine for a moment the 100 trillion cells in your body. Any solitary one of those can start a disease. On the other hand, a single cell anywhere in your body can initiate a healing process, eventually benefiting all the other 100 trillion cells. Similarly, a change in a single feeling or attitude in one human being generates, in its own unique way, a transformative shift in the whorls of living energy that extend outward to touch all the rest.” These words by Robert Cooper in Executive EQ, present both opportunity and challenge. The future is not something that happens, it is something we create.

Although he says he's "actively" retired, George Updegrove '55 teaches part time in the graduate and undergraduate adult programs at Duquesne University, School of Leadership and Professional Advancement. He is also a consultant for the University Center for Leadership Development.

He was the Chair of the Albright Commission on the Future’s Task force on Marketing and College & Community Relations. You can contact George by e-mail at georgeu@adelphia.net.