6.5. My personal journey to emotional intelligence

How I ended up working in the area of emotional intelligence, by Rachel Green, Director of The Emotional Intelligence Institute

The question I often get asked is, "How did you end up working in the area of emotional intelligence?" It's a good question because the answer is not obvious and not straightforward.

When I was a school student I wanted to work with people and be a psychologist. I was already a volunteer visitor for people at a mental institution, helping to raise money through a school charity committee that I ran, and interested in aspects of social justice. In fact before all this, in my early teens, I "adopted" an elderly lady in an old people's home, "Miss Parkinson", and visited her often. And even prior to that I remember that Albert Schweitzer was a hero of mine.

It all pointed to a profound interest in helping people.

Choosing a career: The brain and communication

However, in my late school years I decided that there weren't many jobs for psychologists. Instead, I looked for a profession where I could gain employment and which still included significant psychology, and that's how I ended up studying speech pathology.

Once I became a speech pathologist I specialized in working with people who had lost their ability to communicate through some form of brain trauma such as stroke, brain surgery, car accident and the like. I also specialized in helping adults with voice pathologies and disorders.

Welcome to academia: Where brainy people hang out

I left my work in a hospital to take up a position in academia and lectured in my two areas of specialty. While I was there it became apparent that many of my clients had psychological or emotional causes for their voice problems and I was attracted to this aspect of the work. In fact, my main research was on the personality and psychological characteristics of children with vocal nodules.

Whilst in academia I returned to studying, resisting the temptation to move towards gaining a PhD, despite the pressure to do so. Instead, I enrolled in a psychology degree. I wanted to understand people more. I had some of the jigsaw pieces that helped me understand human communication, both verbal and non-verbal, but it wasn't sufficient. And so I came to understand more of the psychology of human behaviour. However, I felt discouraged. I learnt more about "rats and stats" and less about my areas of interest, and decided not to continue to masters level as I imagined I would.

Whilst studying I helped establish a clinic with a psychologist who was an expert in behaviour modification therapy. I treated children with voice problems, caused by shouting and screaming, using behavioural techniques and helped their parents manage their behaviour using behavioural modification. We got good results and reduced the incidence of vocal nodules in this group of children.

How adults learn

Next I studied adult education to find out how humans learned. It was fascinating. As my major project I studied interactive large group learning techniques with adults; techniques that I still use today in my speeches with great success.

Meanwhile, I had a dilemma. I knew I was smart. I could be analytical, studious and grapple with intellectually complex issues. I was also academically rigorous with my students. However, I was also concerned about the emotional welfare of my students and found it hard not to consider that in evaluating their degrees. (Other members of staff and the examination board appeared to have a far more single-minded focus on marks.)

It was clear to me that something about me didn't really fit academia even though I was regarded as one of the leading specialists in my area and had a tenured position at the university.

At home we had many interesting discussions. I was (and still am) married to a scientist, a rigorous, detailed, analytical chemist who was cognitively smart. He was, as we grew up, what was typically referred to as "brainy". He knew so much. If we ever went to a quiz night people would want him on their table as he kept a mass of facts in his head to answer the questions. Me, I felt so stupid. I could barely ever contribute, (unless of course someone wanted to know the names of the muscles of the larynx which produced the voice).

Finally, I called it quits as an academic, after 10 years, and had no plans as to what I'd do next.

An understanding of the body and movement.

However, I'd come across something called "The Feldenkrais Method" and I was fascinated by the results it achieved on my own body. I had sustained a neck injury as a child and had chronic pain as a consequence by this stage. I was so thrilled with the improvements in my own body that I decided to study it.

The method helps people to move with the greatest comfort, ease and effectiveness, taking their physical structure into account. It is based on the physics of movement, as well as developmental neurobiology and other sciences. Moshe Feldenkrais, the pioneer of the method, had been a physicist in Madame Curie's lab at one stage. I raised enough money to go to Melbourne to study part time for 3.5 years and graduated as a Feldenkrais practitioner.

By this time I felt I had taken enormous strides in understanding people. I had knowledge of communication and brain functioning, I had learnt psychology. I understood how adults learned. Now I added to this an understanding of the body and movement.

Gaining a much deeper understanding of the mind.

Around the same time I started learning how to meditate. I was stressed during my later years in academia and needed to learn to relax. So after reading an advert in the local paper for a new meditation group, I went along. And I stayed. In fact, I now run the group and sometimes teach meditation there.

I gained another piece of the jigsaw: a much deeper understanding of the mind. This was so important in understanding my own behaviour and that of others, and in providing me with tools and techniques to manage my own and others' behaviours. Techniques that clearly and irrefutably work.

What kind of smart was it?

Having added an understanding of the body and mind into my explanations of human behaviour I was still perplexed. I still never really felt smart next to my hubby even though he kept telling me I was clearly smart, just not in the way he was.

But in what way?

Making sense of emotional intelligence

And then I started hearing and reading about emotional intelligence. Research was showing that there was more to smartness than IQ; there was also emotional intelligence. Emotions had become important in understanding human behaviour. I grabbed this concept with both hands. I had always been interested in emotions but had never really known it. I had always worked with emotions but had no framework for it.

This was it! Emotions were the final area I needed to complete my jigsaw on understanding people and myself. Of course, what I know does not explain everything but it is enough for me.

And as I began to explore and understand emotional intelligence it dawned on both my husband and me "That's you! That's where your smartness comes from". Yes! That's how I'm different from my husband. I can walk into a room and tell you how the people are feeling; he can walk in and tell you the door needs fixing and how to do it.

Studying emotional intelligence

Eventually I decided to study two of the main emotional intelligence models available. This included the Mayer & Salovey model of emotional intelligence and I became an accredited user of their EI measurement tool – The MSCEIT.

I also trained in the Genos Emotional Intelligence model and became an accredited user of their 360 emotional intelligence inventory. I continue to use these models today and favour the research that uses these models as their foundation, and the work of the original pioneers of emotional intelligence Salovey and Mayer.

It all links back

However, beyond this the research into the neuroscience of emotions continues to expand rapidly and this links me back to my opening career with speech pathology and my years spent on the neurology and neurosurgery wards.

And just to complete the loop there is ever increasing research into the effects of mindfulness and meditation on the brain and on our emotions. Finally it is all coming together for me. It is a very exciting time.

And that's how I came to be passionate about emotional intelligence. Humans are driven by their emotions. They behave because of their emotions and so do I.

I will always wonder, "What would I have done differently, with the voice disordered children in our behaviour modification clinic, had I known about emotions then?". If only I had known what I know now; but emotional intelligence didn't exist as a "concept" or paradigm then. Thank goodness it does now.

The personal journey to emotional self-management

I have moved mountains in my own understanding of myself and in my ability to manage my own emotions. My journey is to help others do the same without taking so long to get there!

I am passionate about helping people to keep their cool and not take other people's emotions personally, for example, and to generate more joy and gratitude.

Most people are keen to manage and change the emotions of others without first being able to manage their own. The journey starts within.

How can you expect to change or soothe another's anger and resentment if you haven't yet learned to do it yourself? How can you expect the people around you to be content, joyful and full of hope if you haven't learnt to create or induce such emotions in yourself? 

The whole area of emotional intelligence is vast. It covers multiple skills and sensitivities. I want to excel in them all but most of all I want to inspire and demonstrate to others that emotional self-management is possible and is worth doing. I want to translate the best academic research in the area, and take scientifically verified and proven techniques to ordinary people in a way that they understand, can apply and will want to do.

I am not a researcher but I understand research. There are others who are far better at research than I am.

I want to translate the research for non-research people and show them how it can be applied in their daily lives, for the benefit of their health and happiness, and their workplaces. And I want to do this in a way that is entertaining, enjoyable, relevant, energised, practical and inspiring. This is what I'm good at.

While all this was going on I received the highest level of accreditation as a professional speaker. And while in academia I won awards for my journal writing skills. So I can talk and write about emotional intelligence for everyday people and help the researchers get their research into the community.

Hence, the Emotional Intelligence Institute was born.

Rachel is available for media interviews, please contact us