Any time the word “emotion” is mentioned we tend to picture something soft, something that defies logic, not cognitive but irrational. The reality is that emotions are very logical and rational. They are simply data, bits of information that provide insight to help us navigate a situation in our life. No one disputes that we all have emotions. The questions are “are we aware of them?” and “do we use them when making decisions?” Emotions are chemicals that course through our cells in an unending cycle. They are a biological response to our perception of our environment and the current circumstances in that environment; they are not by nature “good” or “bad”. Rather, our perception of them has more to do with our culture and our value system. But they do have meaning, meaning that is reflective of our environment. For instance, anger is a result of frustration at a goal being blocked, sadness is a reflection of loss, joy a reflection of gaining something we care about.
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The purpose of emotions is to help us navigate life in a meaningful way and to help us optimize our decision-making. Our brain is a complex organ, but it has only one function - to keep us alive. Not only does it control bodily functions such as respiration, heart rate, etc. but it also controls our response to outside stimuli such as physical threats. At the most primitive level, our brain takes in data, assesses that data and then decides what to do with it and how to respond to it. Think fight, flight or freeze. All the data the brain reacts to comes to the brain from the five senses - we see it, hear it, touch it, taste it or smell it. From the sensory organs, that data travels to the limbic part of our brain, which is where emotions reside and then to the part of the brain where decision-making takes place. The result is that ALL of the data we use to make a decision has been colored by emotion. In order to use this data optimally, we must first be aware of the emotional context and then evaluate that data considering both the facts and the emotions attached to those facts.
For example, think about a physical threat, such as a mugger encountered on the street. The sight of a masked man in a threatening position is seen with the eyes, perceived as a threat and the emotion of fear is felt. Fear is an emotion that arises when we are sense loss and/or danger. The brain then considers fight, flight or freeze. Do we run? Or do we fight the mugger? We use that emotion of fear, along with our cognitive abilities to make that decision. Courage is the emotion that arises when we decide to act despite the fear.
Today, for most of us, physical threat is not as common as other threats. But we do still experience fear and anxiety, primarily from perceived social and performance threats. Consider a young salesperson making one of his first presentations. He/she faces an experienced buyer who knows how to push for concessions and is a tough negotiator. The young salesperson may have the best product and pricing in the market but still feels nervousness and anxiety, worry that the deal is going to fall through. Without awareness, he/she might make concessions, lower the price, add on something free in order to ensure they make the sale. With awareness, the salesperson recognizes that fear and navigates it, using his/her knowledge of the quality of the proposal to stand firm.
Emotional intelligence helps create awareness and develop the skills needed to help you make optimal decisions when pursuing professional and personal goals.
Ford Mosby, Emotional Intelligence Specialist