The Genius Of Emotions

“Emotions are the root of everything we do, the unquenchable origin of every act more complicated than a reflex…In all cases, emotions are humanity’s motivators…”

A General Theory of Love, Thomas Lewis, MS

Emotional Intelligence is the ability to notice and name your emotional experience while it is happening, and then make effective decisions for yourself and others. Technically, it is the human body’s ability to integrate the thinking brain and the emotional brain, and a million other neurons within your entire body to have the power to choose one course of action over another.

It is a cognitive and kinesthetic skill that works with the entire nervous system and impacts your ability to:

  • set boundaries with others;
  • lead yourself and others;
  • learn and adapt quickly;
  • hear and integrate difficult feedback;
  • ask for and get exactly what you want;
  • make daily choices for your physical, financial and mental well-being.

During my doctoral research project, I was able to correlate a leader’s emotional intelligence with the MSCEIT’s decision making branch score, meaning managers with higher EQ scores, also had higher decision making scores.

Why is this an important correlation?

Decision-making governs everything we do, everything we are, and everything we hope to become.

Sadly, many scholastic and corporate organizations are slow to integrate emotional intelligence development into their core curricula and performance management systems, whether they are incompetent or ambivalent about how to select, teach, develop or promote emotional intelligence competencies.

It was only a few years ago that Google started offering emotional intelligence development when their own internal research uncovered that physiological safety within project teams was the differentiator of highly successful organizational performance.

NY Times Article on Google Research

Why is emotional intelligence development slow on the uptake?

In a cultural context, emotions are not as valued as left-brain logic to the decision making mind, perhaps because they are messy business, and cannot be controlled, manipulated and measured as easily.

Emotions, like kinetic energy, move in and out and change frequently. The researcher Joseph L. Badaracco claims we have up to 27 emotions each waking hour; 17 waking hours generate 459 emotions each day. If we noticed and named every single emotion, every single moment, we would be exhausted.

However, what are we really missing out on when we diminish our abilities to perceive, express, or support our language around our emotional being?

The Genius of Feelings

When we give ourselves the ability to STOP, BREATHE and NOTICE what we are feeling BEFORE we take action, the benefits are elevated.

Anger – The emotional intelligence of anger is that we can unpack the experience of another person or situation crossing a boundary. The information gathered from anger, gives us the ability to notice when something is not ok with us. As a woman, I was taught good girls do not “throw a fuss” or if I displayed my anger, my mother would say, “go to your room, young lady”… In my generation, children’s feelings were not seen or heard.

EQ-GENIUS in ACTION: Feeling and processing through your own ANGER gives you the sensory data to correct a boundary that has been crossed improving your self-esteem and self-worth.

Sadness – The emotional intelligence of sadness is the hardest sensory data point for many and often for left-brained thinkers, particularly men. Big boys don’t cry!! And since my entire career was spent in male dominated industries, I appreciate there is “no crying in baseball,” (from my favorite scene in a League of Their Own).

No Crying in Baseball

The amazing benefit of sadness is in the ability to have deep connection with another human being. It is the place of physical vulnerability when the energy of sadness almost overtakes the human body. The grief process is critical for human self-actualization and relational empathy. I had to learn sadness, and I continue make room to feel this emotion.

Over the years, I have been able to empathize with others who are sad because of the skill of “differentiated empathy.” This is the ability to let someone else feel an emotion that you do not kinesthetically touch easily. I used to have a boss who refused to have a box of Kleenex in his office because he did not want his employees to cry with him (notice I did not say cry “to” him… he was not able to join with the employee in their sadness because it hijacked his own brain and the mirrored neurons that were activated were uncomfortable in his own body.)

Notice the next time you are with someone who is sad. What happens to you? There are only a few people who have enough differentiated empathy to allow others to gather relevant information from the emotional intelligence of sadness.

EQ-GENIUS in ACTION: Feeling and processing through your own SADNESS builds more empathy towards others and increases your ability to allow others to process their own grief without your need to fix or change them.

Happiness – I want to bring up the emotional intelligence of happiness because like sadness, it can be a hard one for a many people to cultivate. I can over-feel happiness by “bundling” stress, anxiety and other emotions under this feeling with my Law of Attraction books and gratitude lists. My mantra is frequently: “It’s all Good!!”

And really, it is all good, even when it feels like is not all good. (There I go again!!)

I am wired with natural optimism. It takes a lot of energy for me to hold a space for someone’s sadness, anger or frustration because I know that something amazing is going to come back from the depths of their despair.

The problem with bundling these feelings is that, like a full range of keys on a piano, I am not able to touch other feelings to build empathy. If I only feel HAPPY or move to fast out of sadness to happy, I miss the opportunity to for a full range of emotion. My favorite EQ movie about “emotional bypassing” is Inside-Out by Pixar Animation Studios. Those who know me would describe me as the character JOY!!) I miss so much rich emotional data when I only allow myself to feel and think good thoughts – exactly like the character interaction in Inside Out between Joy and Sadness.

Joy Bypassing Sadness

I work with many people who have a hard time with the emotion of happy, joy, love, etc. Happy is the emotion where vitality lives. The data gathering process in this emotion includes one’s ability to accept compliments, accept pleasure, and live in the space of human satisfaction, knowing this emotion is fluid with so many other dopamine producing behaviors.

EQ-GENIUS in ACTION: Feeling and processing through your own HAPPINESS gives you vitality and is closely related to the ability to live in the present with grace and gratitude. Happiness and the feelings associated are also correlated with increased human life spans.

Fear – Fear is the oldest emotion and the most misunderstood. The incredible gift of fear is our human ability for adaptability and survival. When we were cave dwellers, we needed this emotion to stay alive when we heard strange noises out in the wilderness.

Fear actually heightens our body’s ability to perform better, flooding our system with chemicals to be alert and attentive. It is also the sensory data for safety. When I walk alone at night and hear footsteps right behind me, I am really grateful that fear kicks in and prepares me for ACTION if needed.

Often, fear is the critical narrative of my parent ego-state, with no real factual data to support my thinking. I have always liked the acronym of fear as False Evidence Appearing Real, and the book title: Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway by Susan Jeffers. I appreciate books where the title is the complete book!!

EQ-GENIUS in ACTION: Feeling and processing through your own FEAR builds incredible self esteem when you do the things that scare you. We perform so much better when we learn to sit in this emotion and use it to move us forward. On the other side of FEAR is where you will find the definition of resiliency.

Anxiety – The emotional intelligence of anxiety is the ability to search for clarity and understanding. When we feel anxious, it is our natural brain’s response to not knowing what is coming next. Often, we feel this emotion when we are “future tripping.” We visualize the worst scenario in our brain and then our bodies flood with cortisol to combat the lack of completion of the perceived experience.

EQ-GENIUS in ACTION: Processing through your own anxiety gives you the sensory data to ask for more clarity. This is a powerful skill in change management to reduce the cortisol in your blood stream, while at the same time giving you control to decide your next course of action.

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In my 2-day workshops, I teach a self-awareness tool that helps learners uncover what they THINK, FEEL and WANT. Hands down, the FEELINGS module is the most powerful because many of us to do not come to this work with a rich vocabulary of emotion or the understanding of how emotions work and how we can use them to advance our career and relationships.

As I raise my own teenage children, I am saddened that their high school curriculum does not prepare them for a life of constant human interaction – with most of the focus of the learning still in the front of the classroom – not inside their growing bodies. The social skills practice is at lunch, or on the playground with little to no expert guidance systems in place.

As a working professional, I see leaders and managers being selected because they are the smartest and most technically capable. Corporate training classes are filled with information,  models, and PowerPoint slides – the what of the job, rather than the deeper inner work that needs to happen back at work with human empathy skills. Countless studies continue to correlate emotional intelligence to  increasing sales, safety, retention, diversity, innovation, employee engagement and project management completion rates.

If human emotion is the root of everything we do… then the genius of emotional intelligence should be embedded in the human education and performance systems we create with the idea that generating, cultivating, expressing, and nurturing a full range of feelings can be powerful data points to help us make smarter, more effective decisions.

Tracey Adams

Tracey has been teaching emotional intelligence within corporations and academia for over thirteen years. The evolution of her own personal work has sharpened her purpose of guiding other powerful women on the journey of self-discovery, personal power, and well being.

Partnering with the Well-Being experts at Gallup – this curriculum is transformational both in content and design. Her doctorate research (also in partnership with Gallup) explored the correlations of emotional intelligence and leader effectiveness. Tracey can be found in Portland, Oregon where she is raising two amazing teenagers, and facilitates emotional intelligence retreats for women and corporate teams.