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Emotional Intelligence: Moving Beyond Our Primal Instincts

Emotional Intelligence: Moving Beyond Our Primal Instincts

We’ve been conditioned to believe that IQ is the sole determinate of an individual's performance in life. IQ — the number derived from standardized intelligence tests which measures an individual’s rational mind. Private societies have been formed around this intellectual measurement. Score high, you’re in the club! Score low... you remain on the outside. 

Well, there’s something to be said for being an outsider — you may be more successful at work and play. Evidence supports that IQ accounts for a small portion of that success (10-25% range) which makes perfect sense when you look at a society where multitudes of highly intelligent people fail miserably in everyday life.

A far better place to excel is in the area of EQ which measures an individual’s Emotional Intelligence (EI). It’s best explained as the ability to perceive, control, evaluate, empathize and express your emotions. This emotional mind determines how we conduct ourselves in interpersonal relationships and the relationship’s success or failure. 

[Related: Emotional Intelligence: A Mental/Emotional Muscle Worth Strengthening]

Considering that EI accounts for an amazing 75% (or more) of a person’s ability to succeed, many companies have begun giving applicants EI tests before hiring them, while other companies have mandated EI training programs in the workplace. Unfortunately, proper etiquette doesn’t allow for EI evaluations of prospective friends, so here are a few unique observable qualities you should be on the look out for:

  • Self Awareness – The first step in controlling emotions is to be aware of their existence. Those who are self aware have confidence in their abilities.
  • Self Regulation – Once control of emotions has been mastered, the individual is less apt to give into impulses reactions. Self regulators accept responsibility for their own actions, are open to new ideas and adapt easily to change.
  • Motivation – Motivated people set goals and strive for improvement. They remain positive when faced with challenges and are known to boost the moral of those around them.
  • Empathy – The ability to understand the perspective, experiences, or motivations of another individual and to comprehend and share another individual's emotional state as well as recognizing how one’s actions affect others.
  • Social Skills – Both verbal and non-verbal skills are used to communicate and interact with others as well as measure social competency.

The question remains: can emotional intelligence be taught? Not unlike like IQ, studies suggest that EI can be taught and that emotions can be adapted if properly modeled and managed. If taught early in life, the results can lead to enhanced decision making skills and improved academic performance.

Effectively, higher EI can lead to a higher IQ. A strategy known as social-emotional learning (SEL) revolves around the concept that emotional skills are critical to academic performance. In recent years, SEL has gained popularity due in part to social concerns involving school violence, teen suicide, and bullying with a goal aimed to develop the psychological intelligence necessary to help children positively channel their emotions.

“Something we now know, from doing dozens of studies, is that emotions can either enhance or hinder your ability to learn…They affect our attention and our memory. If you’re very anxious about something, or agitated, how well can you focus on what’s being taught?” —Marc Brackett

Even old dogs can learn new tricks. One way to develop EI as an adult is by minimizing negative thought processes. When faced with challenges or unpleasant situations, it’s important to tap into your rational brain for further exploration. The emotional brain will quickly create a link between the unpleasant situation and unrelated memories that stir negative emotions. It important to interrupt the negative thought process, remain positive and keep a healthy perspective. To change perception, you must commit to a level of awareness that demonstrates self-knowledge and mastery of your emotions.

[Related: Emotional Intelligence is the Key to Unlocking Your Career Growth]

Perhaps that is easier said than done. The emotional mind tends to kick into action more quickly than the rational mind. From a human developmental standpoint, it comprises an important part of our survival instinct. This intuition comes front and center when we need to quickly make decisions. Primal instinct is behind our innate ability to react to new potentially dangerous situations in the interest of self-preservation. Although humans still possess most of the instincts of our primal ancestors, other instincts have adapted and evolved, which override the older reactions. 

In our decision-making process, individuals are more likely to react in primal ways only in extreme situations. Decidedly slower, the intellectual mind adds a layer of rationale to the decision-making process. In life threatening situations, the extra moment it takes to rationalize in place of reacting can impact us negatively and be the difference between life and death. Conversely, in a situation where the individual is filled with negative emotion or self-doubt, taking the extra moment to rationalize can have a positive impact on life. 

In the long run, emotional health impacts physical health. It’s estimated that over 80% of health problems are stress-related reactions to challenges we face. How we handle stress affects our overall quality of life.

If your emotional abilities aren't in hand, if you don't have self-awareness, if you are not able to manage your distressing emotions, if you can't have empathy and have effective relationships, then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far.” -Daniel Goleman

While both IQ and EQ are important, a healthy balance between the two is ideal.


Elisa Grandizio is an Executive Coach and Speaker with 20+years of personal and professional experience as a wife, mother, businesswoman and entrepreneur. Her current focus is channeled on providing professional leadership services while helping others attain excellence and balance in their lives.

Have more questions? Follow up with the expert herself.