Get Smart

Emotional intelligence: "the capability of individuals to recognize their own and other people's emotions, discern between different feelings and label them appropriately, use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior, and manage and/or adjust emotions to adapt to environments or achieve one's goal(s)". 

Unlabeled emotions often go misunderstood, which leads to irrational choices and counterproductive actions.
— Travis Bradberry

Research has shown a correlation between emotional intelligence (EQ) and greater mental health, leadership skills, and job performance. Travis Bradberry, co-author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0, through data analysis, has identified hallmark behaviors of the emotionally intelligent.

I'd like to look at these features he's listed, one at a time, here. 

According to Bradberry, the first core behavior is having a robust emotional vocabulary

We all experience emotions and science has shown how necessary they are. However, the majority of people have difficulty clearly identifying what emotions they are experiencing in the moment or even upon reflection. People tease that counselors want to know and look at how you feel. However, there is scientific merit to giving space to exploring one's emotional reactions. 

Bradberry and his team found that "only 36 percent of people can [accurately identify their emotions as they occur], which is problematic because unlabeled emotions often go misunderstood, which leads to irrational choices and counterproductive actions."

He explains that those with high EQ's are not overrun by their emotions because they understand what they are feeling. They are able to locate the source of the emotion by utilizing an extensive emotional vocabulary to specifically capture and identify what it is that they feel. The majority of people may generalize their emotions to a few categories: "bad", "sad", "happy". But that generalization can make it difficult to gain insight into what is happening internally.

For example, I can be sad for multiple reasons: conflict with a friend, being misunderstood by my boss, losing a special memento, a friend's cancer diagnosis. Even listing only a few probable situations, there is a wide range of sadness that is possible. Associated with each of these different situations, there are varying degrees of how the emotion is experienced. Feeling misunderstood by my boss is not the same depth of sadness as learning of a friend's grave health status. Labeling one as "disappointing" and another as "sorrowful and grievous" gives the appropriate weight to what is being internally experienced. Having access to this insight and self-awareness allows me to respond appropriately to each situation because I understand what is occurring and why.

In their New York Times bestseller (and one I highly recommend!), The Whole Brain Child, Dr. Dan Siegel and Dr. Tina Bryson, have a strategy for emotional regulation called, "Name it to Tame it". They are employing the same idea that in identifying one's emotion we can have mastery over the emotion. For many, you may feel like you are tossed and turned (emotional dysregulation) by what you are feeling because there is a lack understanding of what and why something is happening. Dr. Siegel and Dr. Bryson recognize what Bradberry does, "The more specific your word choice, the better insight you have into exactly how you are feeling, what caused it, and what you should do about it."

To be emotionally healthier individuals, it's crucial you expand your emotional vocabulary. Most often it is beneficial to do so in the company and presence of one who will help you find this language to give more texture and depth to your life and relationships. We name to not only tame but to honor. 

Tiffany Dang

Tiffany Dang, LPC, Austin, TX