What does it mean to be emotionally intelligent? How do we foster these skills in the young? What role does active listening, self-awareness and empathy play in personal development, fulfilling studies and a successful career? Emotional intelligence is comprised of five key areas: self-awareness, emotional control, self-motivation, empathy and relationship skills. Naturally, these skills are vital for successful communication. All the business communication seminars in the world won’t save you if you haven’t grasped the fundamentals, particularly at young age. These skills help you learn better, form strong relationships and succeed in the workplace as you get older. Focusing on these skills at a young age is essential, as these foundations shape habits formed in adulthood.
Debates surrounding emotional intelligence came to prominence in the mid-1990s after the publication of Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence (1996). The work cited many psychologists and claimed not only that emotional intelligence was more important than IQ, but that it also had a significant impact on academic attainment. These premises still prompt debate among psychologists today (www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-personality-analyst/200909/what-emotional-intelligence-is-and-is-not). In 1921, Dr Lewis M. Terman of Stanford University began tracking the performance of high-IQ students from childhood to late adulthood. His findings prompted him to argue that those who achieved notable adult career success showed greater “will power, perseverance and desire to excel”. However, evidence from Columbia University cited the “marshmallow test” (www.apa.org/helpcenter/willpower-gratification.pdf), during which children the option to have more treats if they could wait before eating them, and suggested that delayed gratification and self-control are important. Individuals with these characteristics were believed to be more likely to achieve better school grades, earnings and job satisfaction.
Active listening in not merely the art of paying attention. It involves establishing genuine two-way communication by following dialogue, responding to body language, and summarising key messages in order to allow both participants to gain a mutual understanding. I’m sure you don’t need us to remind you of how many problems arise from simple miscommunication. Students who were able to develop a broader vocabulary for emotion, and distinguish between more nuanced feelings, were able to develop more targeted strategies when managing these emotions. Similarly, empathy represents the ability to assume the perspective of another person in a non-judgemental manner. A 2013 study by Maria Nikolajeva of the University of Cambridge suggested that reading fiction was an excellent way to improve this essential skill (www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/13614541.2013.813334). Reflecting upon another person’s perspective helps to make that person feel understood, which in turn increases the likelihood of collaboration and support. As with many skills, children foster empathy, and other indicators of emotional intelligence, by observing good modelling in adult behaviour. Such a process is a gradual, but essential, aspect of child development.
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