Few of us are equipped with enough self-awareness to experience perfect emotional lucidity. But with practice, we can assess our own emotional states and appreciate the emotional lives of others. It is not uncommon for aspects of our personal history to interfere with emotional clarity. By handling common barriers to emotional intelligence we prepare ourselves for continued personal development.
A person’s upbringing frequently colors his or her emotional experience of the world. For particularly stoic families, any display or discussion of emotion would be at least embarrassing, possibly resulting in ridicule or punishment. For other families, expressiveness is the dramatic fabric of everyday life. Emotions run high over even the slightest issue. Recognize that each family forms a culture, with norms and values of its own making. As individuals we can learn to adapt to different cultures. Thus if we were not brought up expressing emotions (or if we tend to over-express them), we can learn to adapt to the culture of our professional workplace and express (or regulate) our emotions to serve our own interests.
For many people, emotional expression has a variety of associations. Fear, guilt, or anxiety can arise from previous experiences where a negative incident taught us that emotionality should be avoided at all costs. Such associations are useful in helping us conform to the expectations of a group, allowing us to find acceptance. However they can severely restrict the way we interact with people in new situations. An undue adherence to the norms of one culture can seem awkward or condescending in another. When I first encountered Japanese business people in a professional setting, I found them stiff and uptight-and I later learned that they found me frivolous and unprofessional! This was simply a difference in cultural norms: Japanese tend to treat new business contacts with a polite formality to demonstrate respect, whereas I was seeking to increase rapport and comfort. Once we examined the cultural differences together, we found a way of working that we were all comfortable with. It helps to reflect on the associations you have about emotional expression to determine what limitations if any your prior life experiences may have on your emotional intelligence.
Finally, some people are afraid to try a new skill because they lack the competence today to be proficient immediately. This is unfortunate, in that it makes “being perfect” a prerequisite to simply getting started. Rather than regard your current level of competence as some kind of indication of your eventual capacity for emotional intelligence, let your current level of competence guide your development so you can practice empathetic communication, use “I”-statements, and apply coping strategies under pressure to increase your self-awareness and overall emotional intelligence.