The value of emotional intelligence in difficult times (part 1)

The world has fundamentally shifted with COVID-19 spreading around the globe. Everything has simultaneously slowed down and become more urgent and intense, especially at work. It is a new world and it is a more difficult world. It is a VUCA world, being “VUCA” a military concept that describes situations which are Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous. This term perfectly describes this current moment and the unknowns, both short-term and long-term, of this pandemic across business, society, and the self.

In this context, emotional intelligence can help navigate the unexpected changes and unfolding challenges in a way that is sustainable, effective, and resilient. It has always been an important skill, but it looks like it is no longer optional anymore.

Why Emotional Intelligence?

This is universally a time of heightened emotions, with unprecedented feelings of stress, overwhelm, isolation and disconnection. The challenges that these feelings bring get easier when we understand that fear, rage, and disgust are the underlying emotions. Put simply, emotional intelligence is the ability to be aware of our own emotions, to manage them deliberately, and manage our relationships with empathy and compassion.

Emotional intelligence (or EQ) includes self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management. We use mindfulness-based practices to train awareness as the foundation for the other EQ competencies. Developing our EQ, which can be done with some simple practices, can get us these 5 benefits.

  1. increased calm and focus.
  2. managing emotions and making skillful decisions.
  3. increasing resilience.
  4. enhancing creativity and innovation.
  5. building connection and collaboration.

Let us explore the first two now and let park the rest for next post.

1. Increase Focus and Calm

Given the current levels of uncertainty, our mind may tend to “fast forward” with a lens of catastrophic thinking, or become overwhelmed by the overload of information, or distracted as many of us hold more tasks and roles than ever before: working from home, planning big shifts at work, while becoming an expert in public health and homeschooling your kids.

Mindfulness helps us stay in the present moment, and notice when we have strayed from it, which can help us concentrate on our tasks and be more present in our various relationships. It also helps build our capacity to observe thoughts and emotions, or even incoming information, without getting consumed and carried away. In doing so, mindfulness practice builds our meta-awareness, or awareness of where our attention is, which can help us discern which things are most important to give your attention to- especially important when there are so many things vying for your attention.

This often results in greater clarity and calm, which helps down-regulate our threat response, and allows our higher order thinking and executive functioning to engage, equipping us to manage our tasks and lives more skillfully.

  • The Focus Attention practice helps increase focus, clarity, and calm. 
  • The Open Awareness practice builds our capacity to notice both our thoughts and emotions without getting stuck in them.

2. Manage Emotions & Make Deliberate Decisions

With so many changes around, we cannot rely on our reactive or autopilot behaviors. Instead, we need to be able to choose our response to best meet the evolving situation. From a foundation of focus and calm, mindfulness becomes more than a relaxation technique – it’s a tool to increase our awareness of our emotional states and resources, and our ability to manage and employ them effectively in order to respond to situations (in EQ terms: to build self-awareness and self-management).

In times of stress, when we are utilizing more internal resources just to get by, we tend to default back to our automatic or habitual patterns, many of which may be ineffective or unsustainable. Increasing our mindfulness and self-awareness brings consciousness to our internal state, habits, and resources, allowing us to deliberately choose a different, and more effective, response.

In addition, we can feel helpless in response to this magnitude of change and uncertainty but developing the skill to make a conscious choice gives us a sense of agency and empowerment, leading the way to increased resilience.

  • This Body Scan practice helps build a high-resolution awareness of what’s happening physiologically in our bodies, so we can have more insight into our emotions and behaviors.

How The School of We (TSoW) Can Help?

Our approach to build emotional intelligence takes mindfulness as the foundation to cultivate self-awareness, which then becomes the foundation for all the other EQ competencies. When cultivated in this way, we know that emotional intelligence is highly trainable.

We at TSoW offer several workshops and programs that build EQ this way. Let me highlight two:

  • Our premium offering is Search Inside Yourself (SIY). As SIYLI declares, assessments of over 1,500 program participants provide evidence that the SIY program leads to improvement in a broad array of EQ skills, including ability to manage stress, increase resilience, and empathy. We are proud to offer the SIY program in an online format, with the power of the in-person program delivered online during this time of limited physical contact.
  • Additionally, we have developed Moving Forward, a new 8 hours online program to focus on overcoming negative emotions and skill building in areas of most acute need.

In all the programs we run, whether online or in-person, we value bringing people together for interactive and transformational experiences and to connect meaningfully with others.

(NOTE: This article is an adaptation of the post originally published in English on the SIYLI blog under the title “Emotional Intelligence is not optional”)

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