Former tennis-player, John McEnroe, was famous both for his skill, and his legendary temper tantrums. He became famous for the saying “you cannot be serious!” (He later claimed he only said it once).

His outbursts often resulted from the feeling that he was being wronged – whether or not it was actually the case. But it was so bad, that eventually earned the nickname “Superbrat.”

Would it surprise you to know McEnroe’s reaction was in all likelihood, biologically wired?

The Biological Basis for Emotional Intelligence


You’ve heard perhaps that we have a thinking brain and a feeling brain. That is actually a biological fact.


Our brain has three main components:

  1. The brain stem: which controls our instincts and impulses
  2. The limbic system: our emotional centre
  3. The cortex: our rational “thinking” brain


When we sense stimuli in the world around us, while some sensory information goes directly to our limbic system. This is designed to protect us in dangerous situations – and is linked to our “fight or flight” responses.


It takes a little while longer for the message to travel up to our cortex or our “thinking” brain. This is why sometimes our first reaction to something is an emotional one.


Now while emotions of all shades are natural parts of being human, there are times where the reaction may not be, well, all that helpful.


The danger that a “fight or flight” response is wired for, is more suited to a lifestyle in the wild among predators.


Most of the everyday situations we react to, like losing a tennis match or a perceived unfair call, do not pose the kind of mortal danger that a large hungry bear might, and so sometimes our emotional reactions aren’t the most productive.


 What is Emotional Intelligence?


Emotional intelligence ability to identify, understand, and manage your own emotions, as well as those of others. It is this, that can help us mitigate these emotional reactions.


The good news about emotional intelligence? It can be learned.


There are four main components:


  • Self-awareness: our awareness of our own feelings
  • Self-management: our ability to manage our own feelings
  • Social awareness: Our ability to have empathy for and understand the feelings of others
  • Relationship management: Developing meaningful relationships with others


The Importance of Emotional Intelligence


Emotional intelligence is not just a professional skill – it’s a life skill. Human beings are social animals and once of the key components to that is our ability to relate to other people.


If we learned anything from the recent COVID19 pandemic, it’s that we are dependent on human connection. But a more sinister learning about the significance of emotional intelligence is that thanks to large periods of connecting virtually, our empathy for other people and points of view reduced dramatically.


Any glance through social media will tell you that people are less and less civil in the spirit of debate. Judgements are harsh and extreme, with many resorting to an unfollow/unfriend/block rather than simply agree to disagree.


While there is an ongoing debate on the nuances of the Facebook algorithm, and why people are becoming extremely polarised, we at PrisMind have neither the expertise, nor the inclination to get into that.


Suffice to say, that this phenomenon means that we are not able to develop empathy for other points of view or approaches – and the intolerance is pervasive across debates, political leanings and attitudes.


Given how much we communicate online, emotional intelligence is going to become an increasingly critical behavioural skill.


We need to be able to do more, with less face time. We need to learn not to react, and to understand where others are coming from.


Doing this will help us not only manage our own emotions, but also relate better to those around us.


We will be happier and in more successful relationships with friends, colleagues and loved ones. It contributes professionally as well – in managerial and leadership development.


<h2>How to Improve your Emotional Intelligence</h2>


The benefits of emotional intelligence are clear, but how exactly do we improve it?


The best place to start is with yourself – developing greater self-awareness. You can keep a journal, start practicing meditation, and take advantage of a host of tools and resources available for self-care.


When you find yourself losing control of your emotions, sit with the uncomfortable feelings for some time, and understand what you’re feeling. Eventually you’ll be able to identify your own triggers and understand why you react the way you do.


This paves the way for self-management and getting into understanding the emotions of others.


There are some great resources on this topic – one of the best the book Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman. It is a great read, and very insightful.


There are many courses and coaching programs that can help you do this. You can even take one-on-one coaching services to improve.


It takes a long time, but with practice and continued effort, it will improve. You’ll notice that you are happier, both professionally and personally. It is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself.


Happy reflecting!