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Robin Hills



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How being selfish, prejudiced and narrow-minded improves emotional intelligence


Combining thinking with feelings to make quality decisions and build authentic relationships underpins your emotional intelligence. And self-awareness is a key component of this.

Beyond the obvious awareness of your strengths and liabilities (along with how they play out and the impact that they have) is an awareness of how your attitude can impact upon your emotional intelligence – that is, your state of mind around a situation, event or state of affairs.

To a certain extent everyone is selfish, has prejudices and is narrow minded, but your self-awareness around these can make you much more emotionally intelligent.

Being selfish

Resilience is a mechanism that helps you to survive through adversity and recover from even the most hostile of situations.

People who show good resilience possess:

• A firm, reliable acceptance of reality

• A deep belief, supported by strongly held values, that life is meaningful

• An ability to be creative, adaptable and to improvise

Recovery from adverse conditions is possible with one or two of these qualities, but to be truly resilient you need to develop all three.

These qualities are subjective and focused on the self. (Although, of course, being resilient also involves support as well as working with and engaging with others.)

Being self-ish is completely different from being self-centred – caring only about your own needs, wants and priorities. Looking after and taking care of both your physical health and psychological wellbeing, by engaging in good eating habits, exercise, sleep, relaxation and enjoyable activities, will mean that you will be well enough to help and take care of others.

Essentially, taking good care of yourself puts you in a better position to do things that benefit others.

As flight attendants tell passengers: “In the event of the cabin depressurising, secure your own oxygen mask first, before helping others.” If you don’t look after yourself in appropriate ways first, you are not going be capable of providing the best support to others.

Being prejudiced

Bias is a prejudice in favour of or against one thing, person or group compared with another. This is usually in a way that’s considered to be unfair.

Biases may have negative or positive consequences, and may be conscious (explicit) or unconscious (implicit).

Unconscious biases are social stereotypes about certain groups of people that you form outside of your conscious awareness. Everyone holds unconscious beliefs about various social and identity groups, and these biases stem from your tendency to organise your social world by generalising, categorising and stereotyping.

Asking good quality questions enables you to remove any arrogance around experience and to continually enquire about what you are missing or have overlooked.

Your biases are more likely to be prevalent when you are tired, multitasking or working under time pressure.

Unconscious bias is far more prevalent than conscious prejudice and often incompatible with your conscious values. It is, by its very definition, something that you are not consciously aware of, and so it is not easily open to you to examine or observe in yourself.

Your awareness and your acceptance of this means that you can be alert to, and constantly checking for, unconscious bias. Having cognitive strategies such as engaging perspectives and opinions that are different than your own, by checking your assumptions, and by listening, will help to reduce unconscious bias – and levels will continue to fall with training.

Being narrow-minded

The things you pay attention to create your moment-to-moment perception of reality. Everything else is lost or blurred. Not only do you see what you are focused on, but over time you can be so accustomed to familiar environments and circumstances that everything blends into the background.

You may believe with confidence that your eyes capture everything before them and your memories are recorded versions of those captured images. However, only the illuminated portions that you spotlight with your attention appear in your perception – you ignore the periphery.

Professor Daniel Simons (University of Illinois) ran an experiment in which he asked participants to watch a video of a basketball being passed around between several people, with a particular focus on the basketball itself.

When the experiment was over, Professor Simons found that many participants were so focused on watching the basketball being passed around that they failed to notice a man in a gorilla suit gesticulating in front of the camera.

The change within the video wasn’t subtle; the gorilla was obviously in the middle of the frame and for a number of seconds. Professor Simons concluded that participants were experiencing inattentional blindness, failing to notice a major change because they are so focused on another task.

Accepting that you are selfish, prejudiced and narrow-minded will help you to reduce any misconceptions that you may have about yourself and how emotionally intelligent you are.

Because participants were asked to focus on the movement of the basketball, their brains prioritised that task in order to do it properly, thereby missing the other things happening in the video.

In this study, participants engaged with what’s referred to as attentional selection, which is when a person selects certain things to focus on in order to achieve a task and filters out anything that is unrelated to the objective.

You have to focus your attention on something in order to be able to see it. Seeing isn’t the same as looking – what you see and what you think you see has a lot of consequences in your daily life.

You know when you are aware of something unexpected, but you are not aware of the times that you have missed something unexpected. The problem with inattentional blindness is not that it happens so often, it’s that you don’t believe it happens. Your tendency to believe you have perfect perception and recall leads to mistakes in judgment of your mind and the minds of others.

Change blindness is another perceptual phenomenon that occurs when a change in a visual stimulus is introduced and you don’t notice it. With change blindness, you don’t notice when things around you are altered to be drastically different than they were a moment ago. Magicians build careers around perceptual blindness to conceal changes in your visual field.

An inability to recognise every change in a complicated situation is generally attributed to your brain’s capacity to remember complex images in a broad scope, with your focus being mainly on the larger aspects and smaller changes not being recognised.

Your visual intelligence can only detect changes in the parts of a situation on which you are focused. Your inability to detect changes in the areas where attention is not focused is thought to reflect the fundamental limitations of human attention. In general, this is because your brain cannot possibly process every element of an experience and has to prioritise what it believes to be important.

Recognising that your mind is susceptible to inattentional and change blindness and so narrowly focuses on only a small part of what is happening is a good start.

Asking good quality questions enables you to remove any arrogance around experience and to continually enquire about what you are missing or have overlooked.

Accepting that you are selfish, prejudice and narrow-minded

Misconceptions – views or opinions that are incorrect because they are based on faulty thinking or understanding – occur frequently. You may have had some misconceptions from the title of this article!

One misconception about emotional intelligence is that it is about being touchy-feely, empathetic and nice. However, emotional intelligence is more about working with your self-awareness appropriately to understand how you interact with your environment and other people.

Accepting that you are selfish, prejudiced and narrow-minded will help you to reduce any misconceptions that you may have about yourself and how emotionally intelligent you are.

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Robin Hills


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