Emotional intelligence is a key component of success in work and in personal life. Thanks to an unfair stereotype, it’s also an area in which men tend to be viewed as less competent than women. That stereotype is false: While women, generally speaking, seem to be more comfortable expressing their emotions, men score as well as women on emotional IQ tests, supporting the notion that men and women are endowed with the same capabilities for emotional intelligence.
However, not everyone is as emotionally intelligent as they could be. Thankfully, too, it’s often the case that emotional intelligence can be improved upon since it’s closer to a skill that can be acquired than an inborn trait (like curly hair or being really tall).
One of the reasons why men have a reputation for being less emotionally intelligent is because for centuries, men have been taught to hold back their emotions and to display only strength. This can lead to male emotional repression that can squash a man’s ability to display empathy or other emotions that demonstrate caring and empathy.
In one anecdotal situation, our therapists worked with a man we’ll refer to as Anthony. He came to FHE Health struggling with an alcohol problem and was convinced the solution to his drinking and general dissatisfaction with life was to get away from his family and change jobs. What he discovered was that a big part of the solution to his problems lay within— specifically, a need to increase his emotional intelligence.
The Struggle: Men and Low Emotional Intelligence
There are certain cliches that still surround men and their knack, or lack thereof, for emotional IQ: “Men watch football;” “men don’t discuss their feelings;” “men are competitive and do whatever it takes to win;” men can only show strength so they can be the backbone for their family;” “men are in control of their emotions so they make better decisions.”
These cliches are merely tropes that our subject Anthony was well versed in. Like other men, he certainly experienced emotion, but he found it difficult to display his feelings or talk about them, even to his wife and close friends.
When Anthony began therapy, he said that he felt “stunted” in his life. He felt he had reached a plateau and wasn’t in touch with anyone around him anymore. He wanted help making changes. During even his earliest therapy sessions, it became clear–even to Anthony–that what was stunting him was something we refer to as male emotional repression.
Because Anthony was repressing his own feelings, he was unable to assess or relate to the feelings of people around him. It made him feel isolated and longing for connection. What was wrong in his life was not the people around him. He lacked an awareness of how his emotion blocking was affecting his work and home life. He needed to tap into that emotional pool and splash around for a while. He needed to improve his emotional IQ.
Overview of Emotional Intelligence
A person who is emotionally intelligent can manage their own emotions as well as other people while taking their emotions into account. Anthony made a mistake when he assumed that because he could control his emotions he was successfully managing them. In truth, he was simply ignoring them, and that act, in turn, began to sabotage his relationships with others. Emotional repression is not control; suppressing emotions—especially healthy, natural emotions—can reduce a person’s emotional intelligence and leave them feeling much the same way Anthony felt: Alone and dissatisfied.
Psychologists typically associate three different skill sets with high emotional IQ. First, the individual displays emotional awareness. They are keenly aware of their own emotions and can identify the emotions those around them are likely to be experiencing. Second, they have the ability to harness their emotions and allow them to impact their problem-solving measures. Third, they can manage their emotions through regulation—and not repression, and they can help others do the same.
Why Is It Important to Have Emotional Intelligence?
It’s often said that emotional IQ is the driver for success, but how? People who possess a high degree of emotional intelligence are able to leverage it, to draw on it as if it’s a reserve and use it to support their mental health and overall wellbeing. Emotional intelligence helps individuals to inspire others and lead, which are key traits in successful leaders. An emotionally intelligent person doesn’t only manage their own emotions well because they are tuned into them, but they’re able to manage relationships well too— and that certainly supports success.
Whether referring to one’s work or personal life, each person is invariably surrounded by different personalities; each person displays different strengths and emotions. A person with high EQ has the emotional agility to deal with these personalities individually and, often, as a team such as in the workplace setting. Being emotionally intelligent means understanding the importance of responsiveness, adaptability, and inspiration.
Tips to Improve Emotional IQ
One of the first things our therapists told Anthony was that his emotional IQ was not set in stone. Just as people can grow in knowledge, they can grow in emotional intelligence too. But developing greater emotional IQ takes work and dedication. To boost his empathy and other traits associated with emotional intelligence, Anthony focused first on observation. Therapists asked him to spend part of each day observing himself and then observing those around him in an emotional context. Too often, people go about daily life without paying focused attention to emotions–their emotions or other people’s emotions. Without that careful observation, Anthony couldn’t respond with emotional consideration.
Response is something else that Anthony worked on. He needed to practice responding instead of reacting. Having paid attention to the emotions of others and those he was feeling, he was able to react in a positive manner. He got better at managing conflict because he was including emotion in the problem-solving equation. Over the course of his therapy and journey to improved emotional IQ, Anthony embraced other tips, including:
- Taking responsibility for his feelings (not blaming someone for “making” him feel a certain way)
- Questioning his own opinions
- Practicing positive thinking
- Listening to others and then taking time to think about what they said before responding
- Cultivating curiosity for new interests and what other people are interested in
- Putting a lid on complaining
- Encouraging conversations with others
- Exploring new ideas
It took time for Anthony to establish new patterns of thinking and behaving. Sometimes he struggled with his ability to practice positive thinking; sometimes he began a therapy session with complaints about various issues in his life. But ultimately, he learned how to shift to a different perspective, one that allowed him to understand how negative feelings were motivating him to behave in certain ways. He learned how to identify the negative emotions and then cope with them in healthy ways.
What Can Higher Emotional IQ Do for Your Life?
Anthony’s journey to higher emotional intelligence enabled him to manage his negative emotions and tune into the emotions of others for improved relationships. Suddenly, he figured out that it wasn’t the work he was performing on the job that dissatisfied him; it was the social aspects of the job. After working to improve those relationships with improvements to his emotional intelligence, he was able to feel less critical of others and more a part of the team rather than someone isolated, someone internalizing their frustrations.
Anthony also experienced a renewed appreciation for his personal life. The tips he practiced daily had a positive impact on how he related to his wife and son. He became adept at responding to them instead of reacting. In fact, he believes that his focus on improving emotional intelligence helped him help them to do the same.
Emotional intelligence is not finite. People can grow what they have. At FHE Health, our therapists help people from all walks of life improve their emotional IQ so they can find success in their chosen careers and in their personal relationships. Men aren’t the only ones who can benefit from improved emotional IQ either. Anyone who feels stifled by negativity or is struggling with relationships at home or work may benefit by taking a journey like Anthony’s. Contact us to learn more or to schedule a visit.