The feeling factor

Understanding the importance of emotional intelligence 

Emotional intelligence or emotional quotient (EQ) is the ability to manage emotions and respond to them correctly. It also refers to understanding, recognizing and handling the feelings of others. Research suggests that young adults need to develop this type of intellect to succeed professionally and personally.  

Learning emotional intelligence 

Sarah Blackmore is a children’s media producer for EastLink community television in Newfoundland. She received her master’s degree from Toronto Metropolitan University. Her skill set and personal life experience have given her a lot of insight into what it takes to develop EQ.  

Blackmore believes one major part of emotional intelligence is lending an ear to other people.  

“Try to keep an open mind and never assume how someone feels or the reason for that feeling. Listen, listen, listen,” she says.  

Honing EQ skills should also begin at home. Using emotional intelligence in social and professional settings is much easier when youth develop these skills with friends, family and significant others.   

“I try to understand why my partner might be upset, even if I don’t remember events the way they do,” Blackmore says.  

Another crucial part of EQ is not making assumptions about people.  

“When I meet people in my workplace, I approach them without preconceived notions,” Blackmore says. 

Lacking emotional intelligence 

People may not have developed EQ for many reasons. Growing up in an environment that doesn’t encourage emotional growth can be a significant factor.  

John Bell works in communications at a Toronto-based international education development organization. Part of his job involves interviewing highly marginalized youth who don’t always get the support they need to develop EQ.  

“The drawbacks of lacking emotional intelligence include struggling with personal insight,” he says.  

Bell explains the difficulties people can face without having EQ to help with emotions. 

“This means not being able to recognize and name the emotions you feel. Also, difficulty learning to identify the emotion as separate from the actions you take because of it. And lastly, not being able to cope with negative emotions by activating the right coping strategies,” Bell says. 

He also says that people who experience constant negative emotions are at a disadvantage. Part of his job is showing youth who have been through traumatic events how to recognize their feelings.  

“Part of supporting them involves teaching them to name the emotions they’re feeling. That helps them understand their feelings as specific emotional states,” Bell says.  

Another primary goal in teaching emotional intelligence is reminding people that emotions change.  

“Part of my work is helping people understand their feelings as specific emotional states — not something that lasts forever. Feeling anger, grief, sorrow, numbness, fear, anxiety and being overwhelmed can change. They’re not constant conditions of life itself,” Bell says.  

Lacking EQ doesn’t make someone a bad person. In addition to coming from a traumatic background, mental health issues and addiction can play a role.  

However, a lack of empathy, social skills and self-awareness can also come from a lack of practice.  

Blackmore says there are drawbacks to lacking emotional intelligence. Furthermore, neglecting to learn it could lead to serious interpersonal conflict.  

“This would probably lead to a lot of fighting in your life because you wouldn’t be able to meet people where they are or empathize with their situation,” Blackmore says. 

Young people in work or school environments can miss out on potential connections without understanding EQ.  

“Your arguments would be self-centred and people may distance themselves from you,” Blackmore says.  

Observing how often a person experiences conflict can tune them into their lack of EQ. This can then spark the desire to learn empathy, problem-solving and decision-making skills and stress management techniques. These are all crucial components of succeeding in both school and the workplace.  

When should emotional intelligence develop? 

Nurturing emotional intelligence from a young age is ideal, Bell says. 

“People should be acquiring the skills that feed into emotional intelligence across childhood and adolescence,” he says.  

It’s never a bad time to reflect on one’s EQ.  

“The important thing is that one’s early 20s are not too late to develop emotional intelligence and to put one’s skills into practice by forming meaningful relationships with the people around you,” Bell says.  

Blackmore believes she may have begun subconsciously understanding emotional intelligence at a young age. However, it’s difficult to pinpoint.  

“On the one hand, I think we learn it in our teens, if possible. It’s hard to prescribe earlier than age 20 though because our brains are still developing,” she says.  

Young people aren’t always in control of when they first learn the concept of emotional intelligence. But, they are in control of learning it later in life. EQ continuously evolves — as long as people take the time to build the framework.  

Like Blackmore says, “It’s never too late to take a humbling and curious look at our own feelings.”  

About the author

Brittany is a reporter for Youth Mind. When she isn’t working hard to become a full-time writer, she can be found making a dinner reservation, rewatching her favourite movies, or reading about True Crime.

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