Developing your emotional intelligence – part 3

If you have only just joined us in this series on Emotional Intelligence, you may want to start with reading the previous posts, starting with Part 1

Read my previous blogs on EI at

We have previously discussed the skills of RECOGNISING and USING emotions. Now let’s look at UNDERSTANDING emotions – the ability to predict emotional reactions and understand how emotions progress.

Picture this: Doug has been working hard on a project and he feels his boss, Angela, doesn’t value what he does. Angela is dismissive of Doug, cancels meeting with him (or stands him up, leaving him waiting in her office) and is difficult to get hold of when he needs decisions made. Doug gets more and more frustrated and resentful, then angry and finally, furious, he applies for a transfer to another group. Angela is astonished when she finds out that he is leaving. She knew Doug was dissatisfied because he had told her a number of times, but she had no idea that Doug’s emotions would escalate if she didn’t address the issues.

The ability to understand how emotions escalate and change and to understand that people can experience conflicting emotions gives you an ability to understand how people feel, to empathise, to make accurate predictions about how people might react to situations. People with this skill have a rich emotional vocabulary and can accurately describe emotional states.

Imagine that you find out that you have won a large sum in the lottery. How would you feel? Surprised? Happy? Anxious? Stunned? All these emotions at once?

Darwin in his work “The Expression of Emotion in Man and Animals” makes a compelling case for the existence of basic universal emotions. Even though people’s reactions to an event can be varied we do know that in basic terms in situation X people will feel emotion A.

Learning how to understand emotions is a matter of improving your emotional knowledge and vocabulary and learning the emotional “rules of play”.

Firstly, you need to understand the causes of emotions. At a basic level it looks like this:

  • Things are working out for me = happiness
  • Someone or something is getting in my way, or trampling on my values and beliefs = anger
  • I have lost something I hold dear = sadness
  • Something is offensive to me = disgust
  • I am being threatened = fear
  • Things are not going to plan = surprise
  • I have not lived up to my ideals = shame or guilt
  • I have made a social blunder = embarrassment

Secondly, you need to practice on your own feelings. Think about a recent emotion and track back. What happened and why did it make you feel that way?

Thirdly, turn your attention to others. Think of a time a team member was angry, or upset. Track back. Can you identify what caused the emotion? Then practice going the other way. Imagine an event and track forward. How might people feel about it? What impact might this have?

Fourth, build your emotional vocabulary. Start with each emotion and find a word that describes a low level of that feeling, a moderate level and a high level.

Example: pleased, happy, ecstatic

Then build on those lists by adding more words and practice using them to describe how you feel. Over time you will develop the ability to predict how emotional states progress.

Let’s go back to Angela and Doug. If Angela possessed this skill she would have been able to do a “what if” exercise. What if I don’t address how Doug is feeling? How will his emotions escalate? Dissatisfied – resentful – frustrated – angry – furious.  What impact will that have on his work and our working relationship?

What other ways might you improve this skill?

In my next blog post we will move on to MANAGING emotions.

You can measure your Emotional Intelligence using the MSCEIT (Mayer Salovey Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test).  If you are interested in taking the test please contact Ros at

Contact Ros for leadership development, coaching and facilitation, or if you have questions about the topics – or visit Shaping Change at

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