A 10 Step Guide to Improving Emotional Intelligence
Dictionary definition of emotional intelligence
As well as being quite practical, this blog piece is both sentimental and special due to the story behind its creation and the multitude of contributors involved in its writing process.
After a long phone call with a close friend of mine where we discussed the concept of emotional intelligence, it’s definition, development, importance, how it has evolved within ourselves and how exactly it can be improved, I realised how very important this topic was for people in general to be more aware of. And how the concept of emotional intelligence is totally Islamic.
فَبِمَا رَحْمَةٍ مِّنَ اللّهِ لِنتَ لَهُمْ وَلَوْ كُنتَ فَظًّا غَلِيظَ الْقَلْبِ لاَنفَضُّواْ مِنْ حَوْلِكَ فَاعْفُ عَنْهُمْ وَاسْتَغْفِرْ لَهُمْ وَشَاوِرْهُمْ فِي الأَمْرِ فَإِذَا عَزَمْتَ فَتَوَكَّلْ عَلَى اللّهِ إِنَّ اللّهَ يُحِبُّ الْمُتَوَكِّلِينَ ﴿
“It was through Gods mercy that you dealt with them gently; for had you been stern and hard of heart they would surely have broken away from you. So pardon them and pray that forgiveness be theirs, and seek their counsel in all affairs, And when you have come to a decision place your trust in God alone, for He loves those who place their trust in Him” (Surah Imran, Verse 159).
The prophet had this incredible power to make everyone around him feel loved, and he was told by Allah that if he were to have been harsh, the people would have turned away from him. Despite the truth and power of the message of Islam, it still would not have been enough without the character of the prophet!
فَقُولَا لَهُۥ قَوْلًا لَّيِّنًا لَّعَلَّهُۥ يَتَذَكَّرُ أَوْ يَخْشَىٰ
“And speak to him with gentle speech that perhaps he may be reminded or fear Allah” (Surah Taha, Verse 44).
When approaching Firawn, the worst man on earth, Allah instructed Musa AS to speak softly to the tyrant.
The reality is without emotional intelligence one cannot understand, implement and propagate Islam truly. Islam is a religion of dawah and it is only through connecting with people, being aware of the emotions of others and how we make them feel will the religion be able to spread.
Islam focuses on our responsibilities to other people. Without emotional intelligence how will we give the rights to the people around us? Islam speaks deeply of the emotions of the heart (jealousy, hatred, envy, pride, grief, greed, arrogance, love etc). Without emotional intelligence how will we recognize these within ourselves and learn how to tame them?
Each week a group of sisters called the ‘Sunnah Sisters’ meet up in Islamic gatherings/social nights, and after realising the significance of emotional intelligence — I decided that this week a discussion on emotional intelligence where each individual offered a personal tip on how to improve it, would be perfect in continuing this conversation.
(Side note: if you are a sister and you’re interested in being part of a sisters group where you have access to weekly halakahs, games night, sisterhood and catch-ups contact Amira Rahman or UNSWMSA asking for my contact.)
Here were our findings summarised and grouped into 10 main points:
1. Expanding your horizons by living in other people’s shoes. How? By hearing people’s stories and experiences in order to realise the world is much bigger than how you see it. Once you understand and emphasise on the lives of others, you are able to free yourself from your limited tunnel vision and view the world in a deeper way. For example, if you hear about someone else’s families’ dynamics and struggles you understand them in a deeper way, further you are equipped to apply that in the context of why they may feel something about a certain thing. This is learning to approach someone’s thoughts based on their context. Everyone’s experiences are so individual and personalised to them, so you must fit yourself into their moulds to understand and learn from them. Watch and observe the world you share with others to develop emotional perception, and then your own intelligence will allow you to connect dots.
2. Being able to separate your context from their context. See people as individuals outside of your own lens and world view. Don’t project and help people as if they are you and don’t apply your opinion and your own struggle onto someone. Recognise that just because people haven’t experienced what you have, means you have no right to limit and judge them based on their lack of exposure/experience. At the same time, matching someone’s vibe despite the different contexts you may come from is a skill. Social intelligence is the ability to mould yourself to the people you’re around. And this ability to socially analyse people and their ideas comes from meeting people and hearing people’s stories.
3. Listening. Sometimes you need to simply listen. Don’t give unsolicited advice. Sometimes being silent in order to let someone else feel is the best thing you can do in a situation. Self awareness is important but sometimes a situation is simply not about you, and that’s okay. Sometimes people feel emotions (sadness, excitement, pain) and it’s important to give someone their space, moment and time. Even if you have something you want to share at this moment, give in your own experiences and chip in with what you relate to — don’t do it for their sake. You don’t always have to give your opinion. Silence and tame the pull of your nafs that constantly wants to give its opinion and speak. Dont stroke your own ego and nafs thinking your contributions to be of extreme value.
4. Being vulnerable and open to those you trust. The more vulnerable and open you are, the more you allow others to develop their comprehensiveness. You can only comprehend after you understand someone. You can only develop understanding over time after hearing and learning experiences. Once you learn how someone thinks, you are better equipped to mould yourself to cater to their needs and wants. Before that you have a surface level idea of what people want, a taste of their life and friends. You are trying to match them based on this limited knowledge of them, but in order to truly be emotionally intelligent in a relationship is digging deeper. The vice versa of being more open and sharing more to others is extremely critical too in order for others to meet your emotional needs. When you are brave enough to open up to those you trust, you allow people to gain empathy, understanding and wisdom when dealing with you and their world through knowing your story deeper. See being open as a form of helping both a relationship and someone else’s emotional intelligence.
5. Being ridiculously open minded. There’s a world outside your world, so be open to changing and growing your mind. Don’t be so constricted and attached to one ideology, personality, thought, thing, etc. Be open minded, constantly challenged and extremely introspective. Reflect, reflect, reflect. Imagine being stagnant and not using the experiences Allah has blessed you with to better yourself and the way you interact with the world around you.
6. Acting after the emotion has passed & minimising speech. Don’t get angry or too caught up in the emotion, remove yourself from the intensity of the situation and look at it objectively. Always act after the storm has settled instead of rashly and in the moment. Don’t respond to situations without thinking of the consequences first. Be conscious of the fact that for each minor and major action and word you let out into the world, it is permanent in your book of deeds. Think before you speak. Even the smallest words can cause so many issues and such pain. They can’t be taken back. You can forgive but not forget. Remember the gravity words have and that each of them are an amanah. Minimise speaking in order to minimise the chances of sinning.
7. Holding yourself accountable. Don’t sugarcoat things for yourself, stop trying to search for excuses, get to the problem straight away, look at situations and see where YOU went wrong whilst leaving your ego on the side. Instead of being out to target everyone else, look at yourself — there is obviously an underlying issue as to why they acted this way. Ie. If you feel like your friend is pushing you away, maybe introspect yourself to see if there are any reasons as to why this may be the case. People make all these excuses for themselves but not for others. Contrary to popular belief, the world does not revolve around you. Not everything is about you — don’t feel entitled, think you can always have things go your way. It’s important to realise this especially if an entitled mindset is a result of upbringing. Take your other people’s lives, agendas, decisions, what they might feel all into consideration.
8. Be ridiculously kind with everything you do. Be as kind as possible, everyone is always going through so many things you can’t see. Kindness is associated with weakness in the 21st century but this is a myth. Do everything in your power to shower everyone with kindness. Let people know they are loved and show them your kindness. Showing people your kindness strengthens your relationship with them, so reassure your parents, family, friends, the people that matter with kindness. Be kind in your approach and the way you hold yourself. Revenge is bad (I know right!). This idea of when someone does something bad to us repelling it with more bad. Repay evil with good to extinguish the fires of hatred. Be wise with confrontation. Avoid negative confrontation as having civil conversation and discussion is a much better alternative. Know that if necessary, confrontation can be done in a healthy, positive manner — and only aim for this. Don’t misread different opinions as arguments all the time. If you can’t listen to a differing opinion or another person’s constructive criticism then often it’s an ego issue. Be extremely wary and calculated with your tone and approach. Body language and the way you convey yourself is critical to the message itself.
9. Balance. Balance in everything and judging different situations and reading between the lines is key.
10. Emulating the prophet. This is the most important one, hence saving best for last. Our prophet is the perfect role model in every possible way and in no way was his emotional intelligence an exception. Studying the seerah, knowing the way he dealt with his family, community and society provides the ultimate guide on how we too should approach the people.