I grew up in one of the leading residential schools of India – Mayo College Girls School and out of the innumerable special memories that I have there; one such memory revisits my mind today. It is a memory of my friend and I sitting under the sky of Sanyogita house quadrangle, having a rather difficult conversation regarding an unpleasant event that had occurred earlier that day. Harsh words were being exchanged and it felt like one of those days when the world seemed dark and life unfair. You see this memory is special for more than one reason and is etched in my mind ever so clearly. The night sky agreed with our mood and looked troubled but there was a lot of beauty in this for it was through the cracks of these clouds that bright patches of moonlight came pouring in.
As we prepared to argue till the end of our friendship, my friend decided to display immense emotional maturity and asked if we could take a minute to just observe the sky first. At first, it felt like she just didn’t care about our friendship which was at stake here. However, I decided that a minute of silence couldn’t do any more damage than that which was already done and hence we both agreed to sit next to each other and stare at the magnificent sky.
At the end of the 60th second, we both felt better. We looked at each other and immediately knew what the other was thinking. Our friendship was like that night sky – made beautiful and special because of the dark clouds of complications that any friendship involves. In 60 seconds, our perspective had shifted. I found myself empathizing with my friend and suddenly we were able to see that the root cause of our fight was, in fact, our love for each other.
What we did right that night was to practice what today is more popularly known as “emotional intelligence”. Emotional intelligence is not just a management skill. It is a necessary life skill for creating strong and committed interpersonal relationships, which leads to greater happiness. Dr. Daniel Goldman suggests that emotional intelligence is linked to everything from decision-making to academic achievement to having an impact on children’s developmental learning. Those with high emotional intelligence are able to manage their emotions as well as use their emotions to facilitate their thinking and understand the emotions of others.
How can we then develop emotional intelligence?
1. Reflect on your own emotions – By first identifying your own emotions and reactions, you become more mindful and start the process of building control. My friend had identified that the bitter exchange of words was a result of an incident which had caused resentment and anger in us.
2. Use “the pause” – This may be as simple as taking a moment to stop and think before we act or speak. But remember: The pause is easy in theory, difficult to practice. It had taken me moments of reasoning to agree to pause and observe the sky when my friend suggested it.
3. Practice empathy – Practice focusing on others and walking in their shoes, even if it is just for a moment. Empathetic statements do not excuse unacceptable behavior, but they help remind you that everyone has their own issues. This also brings about a paradigm shift in your thinking. It is what helped me find a perspective that night.Remember that emotional intelligence is not the triumph of heart overhead – it is the unique intersection of both. We have all practiced it at some point in time and just need to rediscover it and hence become more mindful.