Exploring Emotional Intelligence

by Sean E. Brotherson
Meridian Magazine

It was literally my first day on the job. I met with a group of staff members for a day of training. The leader was a wise and witty woman, Ellen Dunlop, who presented a host of ideas for us to think about in our work of strengthening children and families. The first thing we discussed about human intelligence was how we define it.

How Smart Are You?

It's an interesting question. It suggests that you can directly measure someone's mental competence. It also suggests that a person's level of "smartness," or intelligence, can be represented pretty straightforwardly by a single score on an IQ test.

Sit down with a pencil and a test on paper, fill out the answers, and within a few hours you can get back a score that tells you, "You are ____ smart." Fill in the blank. A score of 100 means you have average intelligence; 145 means you're smarter than most others around you; 189 means you're a certified genius, and so on.

This kind of thinking about intelligence suggests that a person's mental capacity is a single domain best captured by how a person responds to questions on a test. The emphasis is on "smart."

But then Ellen suggested that perhaps there was a different and better way to ask the same question, even using the same words, but in a different order:

Different order:
How are you smart?

How are you smart? What a question! It changes things dramatically. It no longer suggests that we are trying to assess your level of "smartness" on a scale from 1 to 200.

Instead, it suggests that the focus should be on how individuals are smart - in their many different ways. It suggests there are different kinds of intelligence.

Much current thinking on human intelligence has moved in the direction of this simple question. Some theorists suggest there are anywhere from seven to fifteen different domains of intelligence.

These might include verbal ability, musical capacity, athletic ability, mathematical talents, artistic gifts, interpersonal (or relationship) intelligence, and even more. Intelligence is represented in multiple domains of human experience.

Not IQ But EQ
Emotional Intelligence

One domain of intelligence has been called "EQ," or emotional intelligence. It has much importance in our lives and our relationships. Emotional intelligence might be defined as our capacity to build and maintain personal relationships with others. Emotional intelligence is not about IQ, it is about being aware of and sensitive to emotions or feelings that affect your heart and the hearts of others - about being "heart smart."

For instance, are you able to discern when you feel angry and need to take steps to lower your temper or your hostility to family members? Are you sensitive to the confusion or rejection a spouse might feel when you ignore efforts at home or fail to express any appreciation?

Just as most dimensions of intelligence can be learned and developed, so can a person's emotional intelligence be developed and magnified over time. And the consequences may be vital.

Interestingly, research suggests that it is not IQ that best predicts a child's later success in life as an adult. It is not grades on tests in school. It is not behavior in the classroom.

A better predictor of a child's later adaptation as an adult is how well that child gets along with others and learns to manage social relationships successfully. And that is all about emotional intelligence.

Making Emotional Contact with Others

Perhaps a personal example will highlight the importance of emotional intelligence. As a graduate school student in Oregon, I had the chance to interview a corporate executive with Hewlett-Packard Corporation, a faithful and active Latter-day Saint man, who was among the top leaders of one the world's top companies. To say I was somewhat intimidated is an understatement. Yet his interview stunned me.

He had lost a teenage son in a tragic auto accident. And he commented that upon seeing the outpouring of love and response to his son's death from hundreds of friends and community members, he examined his own life and realized something. He said he realized that his young son had learned lessons and mastered skills in relationships with people that he himself had never yet learned or internalized. Of course, being curious, I asked him what he meant.

His ideas were profound, but one that has stayed with me was this simple comment: "I found that I needed to be much more aware of the emotional experiences that people had when they were with me.

Now I always ask myself the question: What am I doing to make emotional contact with the person I am interacting with right now?" That is emotional intelligence.

He shared practical examples, such as calling a person by name, smiling, looking them in the eye, giving warm compliments, listening with attentiveness, and other such skills. All of these things make a person feel valued, cared for, and appreciated.

Dr. Brent Barlow at Brigham Young University, in a class on marriage, taught us to ask the questions: (1) How do I feel when I am in the presence of others? (2) How do others feel when they are in my presence? The emotional quality of our interactions with others is often a good barometer of the quality of our relationships.

I have searched long and hard for how to make emotional contact with others. I have found a remarkable example: little children. The most striking experience I have on a regular basis of someone making a positive, loving emotional connection to me is when I walk in the door from work. Then it is that I hear "Daddy!" shouted from one or more voices, and children begin popping up to share a smile, give a hug, share an exciting story, look into my eyes, jump into my arms, and otherwise make me feel needed and welcome in the world. Learn emotional connection from the children in your life.

The Virtues of Emotional Intelligence

The primary skills of emotional intelligence are awareness of your own emotions, managing your emotions in positive ways, sensitivity to others' emotions, and empathy or reaching out to others emotionally.

The measure of love is not in a written test. It is measured in the responses of the mind and heart to the emotional needs and experiences of others.

So, ask yourself the question: How smart am I when it comes to emotional intelligence? How important is it?

Think of the example of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Alma 7:11-12 teaches:
And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people. . . . And he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.
His intelligence, Christ's pure and profound comprehension of our deepest feelings and needs, was perfected through the process of eternal sacrifice and love.

Christ sacrificed through the Atonement partially so that He might know us fully and succor us in our emotional challenges.

Surely, then, this is a domain of intelligence worth learning and pursuing in our own lives.

(edited by David Van Alstyne)

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