The prisoner who now stands before you
Was caught red-handed showing feelings.
Showing feelings of an almost human nature.
This will not do! ∼ Pink Floyd, The Wall (1979)
As a product of the English boarding school system, it was drilled into me throughout my formative years that expressing, or even acknowledging, any type of emotion was an absolute "no no."
To do so was considered to be a sure sign of one or more debilitating ailments, such as mental weakness, physical frailty, latent homosexuality, or, most heinously, being French.
We were warned that it was giving in to feelings that brought about the end of the Empire and cost Great Britain its place at the top of the global batting order. The only times that a tremor in the collective "stiff upper lip" was tolerated were when the First XV rugby team trounced its local rivals, or during the singing of the school song at the end of term chapel service.
On being released into the outside world, it was a shock to discover that everyone else seemed to be discussing feelings and emotions with neither a trace of embarrassment nor a fear of a good kicking in the dormitory after "lights out!"
These days, everything is about acknowledging, demonstrating or respecting feelings, and developing emotional intelligence (EI). And it took me many years of de-conditioning to realize that it is actually a good thing! Don't get me wrong, I wasn't a monster – I had feelings and I understood empathy, but I'd crush them as soon I was aware of them!
The first time that it caused me some professional difficulty was when I quite reasonably expressed annoyance that a team member wanted a day off work just because her dog had died. More enlightened colleagues made it crystal clear to me that her distress was fully understandable, and my declaration that she should "keep her chin up and come to work" was a bit unsympathetic.
By some measures, I had extremely high EI. I didn't allow myself to be ruled by my feelings (self-awareness), and I had total control of my emotions (self-regulation). But I lacked listening skills and I didn't really care about putting myself in someone else's metaphorical shoes.
But that was then, and this is now! Conscious effort and the help of some patient and wonderful people have reversed attitudes that had been entrenched for many years. I put this to the test very recently, quite literally, with the Mind Tools EI quiz. I'm pleased to say I scraped into the high EI bracket!
Emotional intelligence is a key trait of inspirational leaders, and you can find out why it's so important, and how to develop it, with our article, Emotional Intelligence in Leadership.
Have you seen emotional intelligence in action, or witnessed a situation when someone demonstrated a complete lack of it? Share your thoughts and experiences, below.
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