The purpose of this article is not to say that emotional intelligence or emotional agility is better than the other. Here, I focus on highlighting some of the differences between the two. As with any article like this, there will be those reading it who disagree – and if you do, get in touch and let’s talk. I’m always up for a debate around topics like this.

Emotional intelligence (or EQ) is the term used to understand, use, and manage your own emotions. The inference here is to shift negative patterns to more positive ones and to use this to reduce stress, communicate better, increase empathy and resilience and reduce conflict – quite the list of potential applications.

The emphasis is on the words to understand and manage. However, managing let alone being aware of the countless thousands of things we say to ourselves and other people daily is a daunting task.

The problems here are threefold:

  • There is a degree of ongoing focus and dedication to this, which means it takes up mental resources on an ongoing basis.
  • There is a denial of negative patterns and thoughts as being in any way useful, meaning that those following this path are encouraged to view them as things to be changed or removed.
  • Increasing intrapersonal and interpersonal sensitivity is a worthy goal. Still, any overused strength becomes and weakness and an overwhelming focus on relationships and working well with others may lead to lower levels of non-conformity and challenge.

One other aspect of developing this ability in ourselves and others is also worth considering. People with high EQs can empathise and deliver messages that ‘feel right’ to other people. This is often a good thing, but taken to the extreme it can tip over into an ability to manipulate others. We tend to think of emotional intelligence as a positive trait. Still, people can use it for less ethical ends in addition to ethical ones.

Each of us is as much shadow as we are light. Any healthy person has a stream of thoughts linked to self-doubt, criticism, fear or anxiety flowing through them as they go about their lives. In 2014, a study carried out in America found that the average person spoke around 16,000 words per day (slightly more for women, slightly less for men). And those words are just ones that we externalise. Countless more stream through our conscious and unconscious minds while we are both awake and asleep and the tone of those words can have a significant impact on us and how we see our lives.

Merely being aware of this tsunami of thoughts, ideas, and patterns are challenging enough. Actively diverting perceived negative parts of it to more positive ends is a mental task that requires significant investment in time, determination and energy.

Suppose emotional intelligence is defined as being aware of and in control of your own emotions. In that case, emotional agility is about accepting your inner experience – reducing the energy you exert in attempting to censor or control individual statements and impulses. This process aims to navigate life’s twists and turns with self-acceptance, clear-sightedness, and an open mind. Rather than ignore difficult emotions and thoughts, the suggestion is to face them and then integrate them in a way that lets you move past them.

The key here is in recognising your patterns, rather than attempting to control them. After all, you have to see a mental loop before you can initiate change. Then, as part of the process of recognising what’s going for you, you label them. This encourages you to regard them as data that may or may not prove helpful rather than things to be changed.

Accepting that these voices inside you exist means that it is easier to respond to them with an open attitude, paying attention and letting yourself experience them. You may also find that by taking this approach, they even lose some of their ability to impact your mental state. Sometimes, the effort we put into suppressing unwanted thoughts and desires is the very thing that gives them the power they need to derail us.

Finally, emotionally agile people act on their values. As you’ll have seen in some of the other ways I have described this approach, the focus here is not resisting yourself. That means knowing your values and purposefully acting in ways that support them. Going against your values creates conflict, which can damage your relationship with yourself and your ability to form relationships with other people.

While emotional intelligence has been talked about for a while now, emotional agility is newer. And (as far as I am aware) has not been incorporated into many development programmes. Harvard psychologist Dr Susan David developed the roots of the concept. When I look through them, I see many similarities between her thinking that some of the basic concepts underpin a Gestalt-led approach.

The treating of emotions as data and the objective analysis of emotion to decide if it forms the basis for sound decision making is a skilful process to undertake. This ability requires the development of a helicopter view of our internal mental process. It is challenging to treat emotion in this way if we’re currently caught up in it. Tools like mindfulness, meditation, reflection or journaling can all help with this. So their use would be an essential element to factor in for anyone wishing to develop their emotional agility levels.

So, emotional intelligence vs emotional agility. Both are important and have a place. Which one you favour is up to you to decide.

If any of these thoughts and views resonate with you, DM me and let’s talk. You can also see my other posts on this here.

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