March 2019: What Does Emotion Have To Do
With Intelligence?

By Maya Frai, March 29 2019

I can guarantee you that if you talk to any woman you’re close with, she’d most likely have experienced someone telling her she’s too emotional. This is common for many women given our femininity is often seen as empathetic in comparison to masculinity seen as indifference. But this comes at a cost, for both men and women. Because the societal norm is to have women be more in touch with her emotions, men often struggle with having to bottle things up instead of letting themselves go when dealing with mental health issues. This perpetuates external conflicts between men and women as well as internal conflicts for the two when dealing with issues concerning self-fulfillment, creativity, and identity. Psychologists summarize this as emotional intelligence — measuring one’s ability to deal and manage emotions and make room for self-reflection to respond appropriately to external feedback and challenges.

The topic of emotional intelligence has interested me this past month given some conversations I’ve been having with other students. I’ve mostly been thinking about the intersection of emotional intelligence with creativity and self-fulfillment. For starters, are women more well-equipped than men when dealing with issues relating to emotional disconnect when it comes to relationships, projects, family, and work? Does emotional intelligence have anything to do with the way we perceive our identity and the goals we have for ourselves?

I like to think of emotional intelligence as a measurement of self-fulfillment, emotional capacity, and creativity given it ties directly to the stability of one’s mental health. Psychologists like to break down EI into five categories: self-regulation, motivation, empathy, social skills, and self-awareness –– all of which factor in to how well you perform in a team-setting, manage stress, and pursue the goals you set out for yourself. A research study showed how high emotional intelligence is often linked to high creativity . Although EI is more of a detection process and creativity a more generative process, they link up given being self-aware of one’s emotions leads to the ability in creating things that others find amusing, rewarding, and interesting. Emotion leads to inspiration which provokes action that achieves self-fulfillment and improved self-esteem.

But how does this even work?

Key examples to demonstrate emotional intelligence is often seen in art, given it requires a highly creative acumen. In 1880, Vincent Van Gogh wrote to his brother Teo: “In spite of everything, I shall rise again: I will take up my pencil, which I have forsaken in my great discouragement, and I will go on with my drawing.” Van Gogh had the immense ability to constantly produce historic works of art because his emotional intelligence was deeply rooted in overcoming self-frustration and stress. This is often referenced to as the “regulatory focus theory,” showing how an increase in affective arousal should be associated with an increase in creative performance. Although repeated failures leads to creative frustration, people with high EI are able to fuel this frustration into passion.

And this is often called grit. In her book, “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance,” Angela Duckworth talks about how people with the inherent ability to pursue the same goal in the long-term for the sake of passionate pursuit achieve more self-fulfillment than others who might bounce from one idea to the next. She challenges the notion of being called a “genius” and instead uses “grit” to account for the major successes in her life. Using a simple formula to demonstrate how grit trumps talent, Talent × effort = skill and Skill × effort = achievement, individuals can follow suit.

Becoming more in tune with your emotional intelligence also has to do with understanding that one’s mindset is not fixed. The renown psychologist Carol Dweck, talks about this in her book "Mindset" when comparing people with a growth mindset vs. a fixed mindset. I’d argue that having a growth mindset means you are not shying away from the emotions you feel about the world around you, the relationships you have, and the meaning of the work you are doing. Because our emotions are often tied to the way others perceive us, having high emotional intelligence means you’re able to seek more internal self-fulfillment over external validation.

This past month, the highly successful venture capitalist from Social Capital, Chamath Palihapitiya, opened up bout how he struggles with getting “emotionally healthier.”

“I didn’t have the toolkit. It is so much harder to do than I thought, and it’s an ongoing process. And in that, what I did was I profoundly made change. One of them was in the organization, because I said, “I’m raising all these funds. I’m bringing in all of this money. I’m flying around the world to the Middle East, to China, to all these places, not for my own validation and happiness, but to get the validation of other people who then don’t make me happy even when they do validate me.” In Italian, there’s a beautiful word, basta, which is basically like your way of saying, “Enough!” And so I woke up one day and I was like, “Basta!” Enough.”

It is incredibly hard to develop a stronger sense of emotional intelligence. And, when focusing on validation as a common stressor, it can kill you to focus more on your opinions about yourself instead of listening to other people. As a college student, I deal with this a lot of the time given students in a college setting are constantly being influenced by others. It’s on us to have a strong mindset in being more emotionally available to both our friends and to ourselves.

Overall, emotional intelligence comes from first learning how to reflect and be more in tune with your emotions. For women, this is easier and often leads to women outperforming men in EI. In a research study conducted by the Hay Group, it was reported that in 11 out of 12 “emotional intelligence competencies,” women outperformed men. From categories ranging from inspirational leadership to adaptability, women scored in the 54-57 percentile while men in the 46-48th percentile.

It’s usually harder for men to achieve higher EI in these areas given women tend to be better at emotional empathy, in general. In any case, this is where we try to change the social stigma in not suppressing your emotions and be available to receiving feedback, talk openly about emotional issues, and learn from each other in finding inspiration and creativity to achieve a better sense of self-fulfillment. For both men and women, we have a lot to learn from each other.