Empathy and Emotional Intelligence

Stop caring for what other’s think”The saying has become a common piece of advice that floats around in many social circles. We all have our own set of personal core values, and the more we align our interests and relationships around those core values, the stronger the urge is to turn the other cheek when met with criticism or disdain towards us. In some cases, I do think that it is a wise move to take heed of the criticism received from others, as an individual’s personal criticisms tend to reveal a lot about their character. However, I do believe that in order to live a truly principled way of life, one should at least try to abide by their own set of morals and values (as much as possible). Throughout both my personal and professional life, I’ve been advised many times to care less and less for what other’s think.

But what about the feelings of others?

This is where the themes of Emotional Intelligence really come into play. Similar to many of my previous posts, I will preface this by saying that the topic of Emotional Intelligence is a widely researched topic by many professionals, and I’m no expert on the subject by any means. Note: I linked Wikipedia solely due to the fact that it was one of the few free online resources that had the most in-depth information on the subject. And one that was easily accessible.

Social Awareness. Soft Skills. Social Intelligence. All of these terms go hand-in-hand with the themes of Emotional Intelligence. From what I’ve observed, these various terms seem to be used more and more everyday. I see these words being injected into the likes of social media, professional workshops, and many articles relating to personal wellness. And while I do believe that Emotional Intelligence plays an integral part in our day-to-day interactions, I think that the term has almost been reduced to being marketed as the latest and greatest “skill” to possess in the 21st century.

More and more, I tend to see such headlines relating to Emotional Quotient (EQ) and Intelligence Quotient (IQ). Often times, these articles are framed in a way that pits the two types of intelligence against each other. As with many things in life, balance is key. Each type of intelligence offers a great set of “tools” depending on the scenario one is in. For the purpose of this post, I’ll focus solely on themes surrounding the emotional aspect.

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another, as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary. Growing up, I was what many would consider a painfully shy child. I did not take well to noisy spaces, large crowds were always very draining for me, and I was easily distraught by the negativity of others. Of course, it was not until later on in life that I realized I was highly prone to empathy. To this day, I do consider myself an empathic person.

While empathy and emotional intelligence are not one in the same, I do believe that those people with a “higher EQ” are also generally more receptive to themes of empathy. Now, there are downsides to this depending on the situation.

Let’s look at the following example: We have Employee A with a higher EQ, and Employee B with a lower EQ. Both are working as a team, and both excelling at their jobs. Their boss asks them to meet in his office. The boss, visibly upset, slams the door shut and begins to offer some negative feedback on a project they were working on. Following the meeting, Employee B shrugs off his boss’s reaction, and immediately goes back to his desk to focus on ways to fix the issue. Employee A, feeling somewhat distraught at his boss’s reaction, decides to take lunch and regain some focus. He later goes back to his desk to focus on ways to fix the issue. While both employees were able to effectively brainstorm ways to improve the project, Employee B, with the lower EQ had a more natural ability to “filter out” his boss’s emotional state during the meeting.

Let’s take another example: We have Boss A with a lower EQ, and Boss B with a higher EQ. Both working on the same project, but managing separate teams. A project deadline had been moved up and required that both teams come into work on the weekend. Boss A decides to let his team know via e-mail. The message reads, “Team, the project deadline has been moved up. As a result you will all be required to work the weekend. See you on Saturday.”. Boss B decides to gather everyone in his office for a quick meeting. He says, “I really hate to do this to you all, but the project deadline was moved up, and we’re all required to work this weekend. Don’t worry about lunch on Saturday, it’ll be on me. And anytime worked on the weekend can be used as time in lieu for the year.”

In both workplace scenarios, we can see how having a lower EQ might benefit as opposed to having a higher EQ (and vice versa). As I’ve previously mentioned, it really does depend on the circumstances, and the benefits of a lower EQ are likely more apparent in situations where one may require a more neutral state of mind i.e. some technical professions.

However, relationships outside of the workplace are an entirely different realm. Whereas our primary objective in the workplace is to produce results, interpersonal relationships in the workplace might just be a byproduct. In our personal lives, I believe that a more developed sense of Emotional Intelligence ultimately leads to more intimate and quality relationships. Simply put, the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, acknowledge a person’s emotional state, and deciding how you react to that emotional state is an invaluable skill-set to have. The most meaningful relationships are of a two-way nature, and we really have to give as much as we’re going to get.

With all that was said, I do not think EQ is the be-all and end-all. And I will not pit it against IQ either. This isn’t a case of having one or the other, nor should it be used as the basis for compensating in an area where you may be lacking. The world would not nearly be as interesting if it weren’t for the two types of intelligence working alongside one another.

There are many ways to practice empathy, especially for those who sit lower on the spectrum of Emotional Intelligence: focus on your interactions with others i.e. body language, make conversations a two-way interaction, and ask how things are going. This is really more about being present and less about being friendly. There exist many individuals who aren’t necessarily society’s typical definition of “friendly”, yet are very empathetic.

And for those like myself, who are more naturally prone to empathy: note that this is our default state. Empathy is something that is “always on” for us. That being said, do not blindly follow your empathy. Recognize that in order to get ahead in some aspects of your life, you must learn how to filter out many things. These things not only include the emotional state of others around you, but of your own as well.

There are definitely many use cases for Empathy and Emotional Intelligence. We see these every day from minor workplace interactions to deeper and more meaningful personal relationships. At the end of the day, it really is just a reminder that we’re all human.

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