Developing Emotional Intelligence

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What is emotional intelligence – in a nutshell

Firstly let’s think about what emotional intelligence actually is. Our emotions are a response to our environment – they are there to protect us. They give our bodies immediate information about what instinctive response we might want to take depending on the situation in which we find ourselves. Coming from the right side of our brain, emotions are not rational. Because they are about protecting us they also arise very quickly and drive an immediate behavioural response. This can get us into trouble, lead us to do make bad decisions or react inappropriately.

However when we master our emotions, we are fully aware of them as they arise, we are able to understand and interpret the message behind them, and pause long enough to engage some rational thinking to make an informed choice about our response, rather than it being driven by instinct.

How to develop emotional intelligence

There is one big problem when it comes to learning about emotional intelligence by reading a book, going on a course, filling in a psychometric tool or studying a leadership module. All these ways of learning engage the left side of our brain – the rational and thinking side. Yet our emotional experience lives in the right side of our brain.

To really become emotionally intelligent we need to not only understand the concepts cognitively, we need to find a way of “feeling” what it is like to have it. In fact I would even say that a felt experience of being more fully connected to our emotions is much more important than a cognitive understanding of what is involved.

There is general acceptance that developing emotional intelligence enhances our abilities as a leader. It also helps us build more productive relationships in all areas of our life, as a parent, spouse, friend, colleague. It helps us to be more calm, more successful and certainly more healthy mentally and emotionally.

But if it is so difficult to learn through traditional methods – what to do?

Working experientially with horses (or equine assisted learning as it is often called) is the most powerful way of understanding, building awareness of and mastering emotional intelligence which I believe is available to us.