Dear Neil:  I am a high school senior, straight “A” student, and I consistently test very high on IQ scores.  But I am struggling socially—with girls and with other guys.  Girls don’t seem to like me, and guys avoid me and think I’m “nerdy.”  How can I excel so well academically and still feel so isolated socially?

Struggling in Colorado Springs


Dear Struggling:  What you’re not understanding is that academic intelligence has little to do with your emotional life.  Your academic skills are largely the result of your high IQ—your intellectual intelligence.  Your emotional life is a function of your emotional intelligence.

What is emotional intelligence?  It is a set of character traits that require a unique set of competencies.  They include:

  1. Knowing one’s emotions. Self-awareness—recognizing a feeling as it happens.  The ability to monitor feelings from moment to moment is crucial to insight and self-understanding.  An inability to notice our true feelings leaves us at their mercy.  People with greater certainty about their feelings are better pilots of their lives, having a surer sense of how they really feel about personal decisions—from whom to marry, what job to take, how to act around others and so on.
  2. Managing emotions. The capacity to soothe one’s self, to shake off rampant anxiety, gloom, irritability or anger so that your emotions are appropriate to the situation.  People who cannot marshal some control over their emotional life fight inner battles that sabotage their ability for focused work, clear thought and healthy relationships.  People who are poor in this ability are constantly battling feelings of distress—or making others distressed—while those who excel in it can bounce back far more quickly from life’s setbacks and upsets.
  3. Motivating one’s self. Marshaling emotions in the service of a goal.  Emotional self-control—delaying gratification and stifling impulsiveness and distractions—underlies accomplishment of every sort.  People who have this skill tend to be more highly productive and effective in whatever they undertake.
  4. Recognizing emotions in others. Empathy is the fundamental people skill.  People who are empathetic are more attuned to the subtle social signals that indicate what others need or want.
  5. Handling relationships. The art of relationships is, in large part, skill in managing the emotions others have.  These are the abilities that undergird popularity, leadership and interpersonal effectiveness.  People who excel in these skills do well in whatever activities that rely on interacting smoothly with others.

People who are high in emotional intelligence are socially poised.  They have a notable capacity for taking responsibility, and they are sympathetic and caring in their relationships.  Their emotional life is rich, and they express their feelings appropriately (rather than, say, in outbursts they later regret).  They are comfortable with themselves, with others and with the social universe they live in.

What do you do if you lack some of these traits?  Learn them.  Our capacity for learning these skills is very high.  The outcome—being a happier, better adjusted, more socially adept and more empathetic human being—is essential for a rich, happy and less isolated life.

Source:  Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman (Bantam)

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