How Emotionally Intelligent Are You Really?10 Questions for Assessing Your Ability to Keep Your Cool

A few weeks ago I was taking my son to school in the midst of a snow storm. As I pulled into the student drop-off at the high school, I noticed a woman who was getting into her car as I was waiting to move forward.  I was about up to her car when she got in, and started to back out.  There wasn't really room for her to back out, so I pulled forward past her. Her rear lights went on and she started to back out just as I passed her.

Evidently, she must have thought that I should have waited for her to pull out. Moments later she pulled up next to me on the passenger side and began yelling, gesturing, and waiving her arms. I just sat there and smiled. I guess I should have thought better of doing that because my smile seemed to make her increase the extremity of her behavior. At that point she became so out of control that I couldn’t contain myself any longer and I began to laugh.

Immediately she took off and cut in front of me. Obviously very upset, she pulled out of the drop-off area, nearly losing control of her car. She stopped just short of rear-ending the person in front of her. As I drove home I considered her behavior and how often each of us might better keep from losing control of our emotions. Here are a number of questions that might help each of us heighten our awareness of our ability to maintain our cool.

1. What are you full of? I not asking metaphorically! We tend to store our emotions often allowing them to fill us up. If we are angry, frustrated, or severely agitated then those emotions tend to spill out of us in our interactions with others whether we want them to or not.

Whatever was going on with the woman in the snow storm, I will never know. Likewise when dealing with others who may react emotionally, we must admit that we don’t know what is going on with them even though we may not agree with their behavior. But in this situation I probably did something initially that caused her to react emotionally, then irrationality. If you find yourself becoming upset frequently, you need to recognize your behavior and try to surface the source of your emotional reaction—your thinking.

2. Do you become emotional when things don’t turn out like you think they should? We all have a preconceived perception of how things should look. When what we expect doesn’t occur, our expectations seem violated, and we may end up feeling angry, stressed or anxious. When such physical reactions occur, those that are emotionally intelligent are able to spot such situations and they don’t let their feelings get the best of them. They manage the situation toward a more effective outcome.

3. Are you quick to make judgments of others? These folks form their opinions quickly with little evidence or support. And once the negative judgment is made, they will defend it no matter what evidence or facts people present to the contrary. If you tend to engage in this kind of behavior, you might ask yourself why you are defending an idea or position where the data doesn’t support your opinion. Not being open to the obvious can be a major stumbling block to your success and to that of your team. Emotionally intelligent people take the time to formulate their decisions and welcome those that have information that will help them make the best decision possible.

4. Do you take things personally? Often where no offense is intended, offense is taken. If we have confidence in who we are or how we perform, then the comments or actions of others will have little impact on our self-esteem or how we view ourselves. If on the other hand we lack a degree of emotional intelligence, then we may take things personally that others say and do. This is a miserable place to live. A more objective perspective is required of our interactions and judgment of others. 

5. Do you make other people responsible for your feelings? If we blame other people for how we feel, then we need to recognize that our emotions are the product of our thinking and how we interpret what others are saying and doing. No one can make us angry or upset unless we let them. You create your feelings and how you choose to respond and act toward others. Bottom-line:  you are responsible for your responses and the quality of your results.     

6. Can you identify the source of your negative emotional reactions? Everyone has triggers or “hot-buttons” with certain situations or people that elicit nearly automatic emotional reactions. Emotionally intelligent people can identify how people may violate their values or what they perceive to be important to them. Once they have identified the source of these emotional responses, they learn to challenge the accuracy of their thinking and manage the situations and people that might otherwise trigger a negative response.  

7. Can you manage your emotions? Being emotionally intelligent doesn’t mean we don’t have feelings, but managing the feelings that we do have. It also means that we know how to share our feelings in a respectful way when it is appropriate. That also means that we are aware of our feelings, have the ability to explore the source of our feelings, challenge the thinking that created them, and then manage our feelings to create the best possible outcome. We either learn to have our feelings, or they will have us.

8. Do you become upset when people don’t understand you? It can be frustrating to communicate a difficult message and then have people tell you that you don’t make any sense or don’t see things your way. Emotionally intelligent people realize that other people have numerous ways of interpreting a message because of their own filters. When others misunderstand our message, we should be willing adjust it so that others may obtain the clarity that you wish them to have.

9. Do you hold onto resentments that you have toward others? When you become emotional, you may formulate some very strong opinions, judgments, or criticisms of others. Even if we take the time to understand how we formulated these judgments, some have a very difficult time letting their resentments or grudges toward others go. To hold onto these feelings and judgments of others continues to have an effect on our interactions with these people. Not being able to forgive others has more of a negative impact on us over time than the initial behavior we experienced. When people don’t behave in ways that I understand, I try to remember that their behavior is rational to them. The challenge then becomes for us to engage in a conversation by asking questions and listening so that we might understand the rational basis for what seems to be another’s irrationality.

10. Do you continue to beat yourself up for mistakes that you make? Emotionally intelligent people realize that they make mistakes. After all, it is through mistakes that we learn and grow. Sometimes we create and adopt a story that we tell others and ourselves that explains our lack of results. Then we let the stories we tell ourselves and others become our results. If this describes your behavior, then you need to recognize your story and formulate an executable plan that will help you change the story and your results. Beating ourselves up for poor results does not help us to create the results that we desire. Such negative results and emotions only serve to keep us stuck. It’s important to learn to create a more accurate story that describes your behavior, and then work to create a different story by the way you behave and create results.

Becoming more emotionally intelligent is possible and can result in huge personal and professional dividends. Begin by understanding your feelings and how you create them. Then make a deliberate attempt to understand the source of your emotions and create a number of more effective responses for managing your reactions. Doing so will help you create respect, build relationships, and achieve the results that you really want.     

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Scott Messer | February 16, 2017 | REPLY
John, excellent points all. For another well written piece on the subject check out David Foster Wallace's Kenyon commencement address. It is an extremely powerful piece.
John Stoker | February 18, 2017 | REPLY
Scott, Thanks for the suggestion on the article. I appreciate you taking the time to share this with me. j