Learn about the brain science behind emotional intelligence.
- A main principal of emotional intelligence is that emotion is information. Emotions, or feelings, contain important data that's tied to our thoughts, attitudes, beliefs and actions, which is why being able to read emotions, your own and others, will make you a more effective leader. The fields of biology, psychology, neurology, and even anthropology have all shed light on how our complex system of emotion works. Let me share with you some key findings.
First, the brain has three layers of increasing sophistication. Our most base level is the reptilian brain which is tied to our survival. It is constantly reading our environment for signs of danger, and when it senses any the amygdala kicks off the fight or flight response. Most of us have experienced this. It's not pleasant but it does prepare the body to literally escape or face the danger. The mid portion is the limbic brain, also known as our emotional brain. Again our survival is tied to this portion because we need to be able to connect with others, care for our young, and navigate social groups.
This layer sorts for broad emotional categories like happiness, sadness, love and disgust. The outer portion of the brain is the neocortex, which is our thinking brain, also known as the executive center where we carry on logical analysis and effective decision making. Our emotional pallet expands to include more nuanced emotions. More importantly it allows us to have thoughts about emotions and to tune into more subtle indicators then the other layers can read. Both our IQ and EQ live here.
The second key finding is that when our reptilian brain kicks off it literally shuts down the functions of the other portions of our brain, along with many other physical changes to prepare the body for battle. This would fine if the amygdala only fired off when we were truly in danger, like during a car accident or a robbery. The problem is that our own personal history shapes our amygdala and what it sees as danger. This is the third key finding. For example I was attacked by a dog in my 20s, even though I knew better my amygdala would kick off every time I saw a dog, even dogs I knew and loved.
The fight or flight response was beyond my control and frankly problematic at times. People can also set off our amygdalas. If your boss reminds you of someone who harmed you your poor amygdala could be going off everyday at work. Now it's not always the full blown heart racing reaction associated with pure survival, the amygdala can also just send out a trickle, a high alert signal if you will. This creates a more subtle physical reaction like a knot in your stomach and a clenched jaw. Other people can't usually see this but you can sure feel it internally.
It's called the amygdala hijack and it literally makes us incapable of any kind of intelligent action, emotional or otherwise. How does this relate to leading with emotional intelligence? The amygdala hijack actually lowers both your EQ and IQ, making us engage in behaviors we later regret. For example a normally professional colleague gets heated and yells at the team, the fight reaction. Or a usually confident colleague becomes withdrawn during a meeting, the flight reaction.
The neurobiology of our emotions is at the heart of so many challenging situations like miscommunication, conflict, poor decision making, and employee disengagement. The good news is with the right information and practices you can increase your EQ, which will make you more effective as a leader as well.
- Analyze the brain science behind emotional intelligence.
- Identify and assess your emotions.
- Determine how to exercise emotional self-control.
- Identify your triggers and how to respond the them.
- Assess how others respond at work.
- Determine how to maximize team performance using emotional intelligence.
- Discover how to catalyze change.