*The emotional intelligence test can be found by following this link: https://www.psychologytoday.com/za/tests/personality/emotional-intelligence-test
I received a total score of 76 on my emotional intelligence test. As a life coach I somewhat expected this result but may have hoped for a slightly higher score since I spend a fair amount of time introspecting on my thoughts, behaviours, feelings, moods, and decisions. However, this only tells half the story. Serrat (2017), distinguishes two areas to pay attention to in emotional intelligence, namely personal competence, and social competence. I seem to focus most of my energy towards improvement of my personal competence, which is made up of self-awareness, self-regulation, and self-motivation. Since life coach training entails that one must learn to understand themselves so they can understand others, I have spent many years paying attention to my own self-awareness, and self-regulatory processes. I have especially achieved great success in self-regulation that requires one to practise self-control; to be trustworthy and conscientious; and be able to be adapt and innovate with a fair amount of ease. The only area in my self-awareness where my improvement is slow is related to my self-confidence. While I am taking more conscious steps to improving my confidence and being able to accurately assess my strengths and limits, I feel that when I am very challenged, it can be difficult to remain positive about myself and my capabilities.
Unfortunately, I have paid little attention to self-motivation, and this has created issues such as procrastination, laziness, and a lack of focus and urgency. I resonate with the findings of Zang and Feng (2020), where they note that procrastination occurs when a task is unpleasant to perform. While I firmly understand the value of completing tasks, however unpleasant they may be, I still feel challenged to motivate myself to get them done, and therefore, have created a poor habit of waiting until the last minute to complete tasks. This is an area of my life that requires considerable attention to improving.
In counselling we find that the second area of emotional intelligence is called social competence, and this is the most challenging aspect for me to improve upon. There seem to be a few factors in my personal history that have contributed to my lack of social competence. I am an only child; was very independent growing up; and enjoyed my own company. I now work for myself as an alternative therapist, seeing clients on a one-on-one basis, and have a small group of family and friends. This creates the ideal conditions for an introverted lifestyle. While this has its merits, it also come with some flaws. While I am not afraid of social gatherings and/or interactions, I do feel that the social skills in my social competency is severely lacking. Working in a team environment, whether through sport or business, has never been a part of my life. Therefore, I have not had enough time and/or opportunity to fine-tune such a skill. I unfortunately have noticed that this area of lack has had a negative impact of my ability to feel comfortable in social settings. While my social skills are not optimal, my social awareness fares much better as I use such skills in my work with my clients, so I have ample opportunity to practise and improve.
Applying Emotional Intelligence with my Clients
I work as a therapist so a major part of assisting my clients with their issues is knowing how to be present for them; how to sense what they are feeling by making use of empathy; recognise what their needs are in the moment; enhance their self-esteem; and the ability to apply cultural sensitivity accordingly. While there is always room for improvement, and the propensity to make mistakes, I feel I have enhanced this skill because of my dedication and passion, and the sheer joy of learning how to be a better professional for my clients. Having the confidence to be present with a client is a crucial component to a therapeutic relationship and requires one to be empathetic (Tannen et al., 2019).
Singer and Lamm (2009, as cited in Bayne & Hays, 2017) noticed on a social neuroscientific level, that if one were to pay attention to another’s experience, they may be able to create a vicarious response in themselves to better understand what the other person is experiencing. While there is a debate as to whether this comes naturally or can be learned, I have found it to be immensely useful in my practise. Once one can accurately assess how another is feeling, they may be able to better understand what their current needs are. Paying careful attention to the verbal messages and nonverbal cues is crucial to understanding, not only how to interpret such information, but most importantly, recognising what will be the most helpful response for the client. While it is important for my clients to experience personal growth, it is as important for them to feel safe to be emotionally vulnerable when they come to me. This requires patience to nurture trust and rapport over time, so I can know when to challenge, when to comfort, and when to support their self-esteem needs.
While it is important to attribute one’s professional success in life coaching to displaying acuity in social awareness, it is also important to recognise the role that one’s social skills have on supporting the client/counselling relationship. I have realised that with great power comes great responsibility, and when a client steps into my office they are in my domain, and on a subtle level both of us are aware of it. What I say and do has tremendous influence on how my client feels, thinks, and behaves. As a neophyte I was unaware of how my clients might perceive me and my actions during our sessions, but as I honed in on the areas that needed improving I noticed how my unintentional abuse of power was hindering my success. My ignorance on the importance of building bonds, creating synergy, and leading to inspire, worked against my efforts to help. Midwinter and Dickson (2015) express that one must earn the right to work with the power they have as a counsellor.
I have learnt some valuable lessons and seek to constantly improve on my social skills with my clients. I realise now how vulnerable my clients are when they feel they need professional help, and it is vital that I help them to feel that my leadership qualities are up to the highest standard so we can develop a relationship that values a collaborative effort towards achieving their goals. One of my greatest strengths is to help initiate and manage change in my clients lives by being the right influence for them in the way I work with the communication process.
To develop a successful helping relationship with a diverse and multicultural client-base requires one to adhere to the basic principles of what it means to be emotionally intelligent. Goleman (1998) found that awareness, or the ability to sense emotional information of oneself and others, and management, or the ability to regulate the emotional content of self and others, was fundamental to emotional competence. This, I have learned is the cornerstone to building sustainable relationships in the mental health industry.
How to Develop Greater Emotional Intelligence
One can develop greater emotional intelligence by becoming aware of the principles of emotional intelligence, and the benefits gained from becoming emotionally competent. For this to happen, one must learn to take full responsibility for their actions and commit to being emotionally honest with themselves as they interact with themselves and the world around them. By applying these guidelines one can begin the journey towards gaining more emotional intelligence.
Another crucial component to improving emotional intelligence in counselling is to be aware of how one reacts to stressful and/or challenging situations. One can potentially learn from how they manage the unforeseen circumstances that each experience may bring with it. Furthermore, when one can adapt their behaviour to better suit the potential outcome they wish to have, and not be overly swayed by the emotional upheaval, in real-time, that is when they will have a firm grasp of the practical application of emotional intelligence. This communication, as stated by Bradberry and Greaves (2009), between the emotional and rational portions of the brain is said to be the source of emotional intelligence.
The ability to accurately perceive the point of view from another individual, and then to act in a manner that is conducive to a healthy and/or meaningful interaction is another trait of an emotionally intelligent person. While one can only imagine what someone else is feeling and experiencing, one can improve their perception of the other by applying simple techniques during an interaction, such as active listening, and the three attributes of Carl Rogers’ person-centered theory, which are: congruence, empathy, and unconditional positive regard (Rogers, 1965).
Since the human species is naturally social, it would be wise for one to network with a wider variety of people that are beyond their social “comfort zone”. Zajonc (1968) referred to the “mere-exposure effect” as a condition that makes something available to an individual’s perception. This can be observed in the dating world when people become acquainted with each other. The more they spend time together, the more they often tend to like each other. I propose the opposite of sorts, where an individual makes an effort to interact with people they are not familiar with, and with whom they may not have much in common. This ability to successfully socialise with individuals who may have vastly different worldview’s and beliefs, in my opinion, may greatly enhance one’s social (emotional) intelligence, helping them to learn more about themselves and others. To apply such a practise with regularity, and with the intention to improves one’s emotional intelligence, may positively impact one’s social skills, empathy, self-management, self-awareness, and motivation. What Dyre et al. (2016) labelled “imperfect practise makes perfect”, may aptly apply to improving emotional intelligence by practising it in different scenarios with different people so the errors that are made along the way can be analysed, and improved upon.
Bayne, H. B., & Hays, D. G. (2017). Examining Conditions for Empathy in Counseling: An Exploratory Model. Journal of Humanistic Counseling, 56(1), 32–52. https://doi.org/10.1002/johc.12043
Bradberry, T. & Greaves, J. (2009). Emotional Intelligence 2.0. Talent Smart.
Midwinter, R. & Dickson, J. (2015). Embedding Counselling and Communication Skills : A Relational Skills Model.
Rogers, C. R. (1965). Client-Centered Therapy.
Serrat, Olivier. (2017). Understanding and Developing Emotional Intelligence. ResearchGate. 10.1007/978-981-10-0983-9_37
Tannen, T., Daniels, M. H., & Koro-Ljungberg, M. (2019). Choosing to be present with clients: an evidence – based model for building trainees’ counselling competence. British Journal of Guidance & Counselling, 47(4), 405–419. https://doi.org/10.1080/03069885.2017.1370694
Zhang, S., & Feng, T. (2020). Modeling procrastination: Asymmetric decisions to act between the present and the future. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 149(2), 311–322. https://doi.org/10.1037/xge0000643
Zajonc, R. B. (1968). Attitudinal effects of mere exposure. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology Monograph Supplement, 9(2).