Can expats speak EQ-ish?

On Emotional Intelligence and living across borders

If until a few decades [ago] our focus was solely on Intellectual Intelligence (IQ), by now the notion of Emotional Intelligence (EQ) has also become part of our normal vocabulary.


Yet, talking about EQ is quite different than actually practising and increasing our EQ, and the challenge can be even greater for expats and professionals working across cultures and languages.


According to Travis Bradberry, EQ can be seen as “your ability to recognize and understand emotions in yourself and others, and your ability to use this awareness to manage your behaviour and relationships.”


But how do we learn about emotions in the first place? How can we ‘recognize’ it, if we lack the very basic vocabulary to describe it?


Most of us were never taught to - or were maybe even actively discouraged from - recognising emotions and we do not even know what to call some of the sensations and feelings we experience. This is often even harder for men, who traditionally are expected to be ‘though’ and not let themselves be ‘caught by emotions like women’ :( which frequently leads to very ‘awkwardly mute’ conversations. Does any of this sound familiar?


Sad has this is, the fact is that we don’t know how to speak EQ-ish!


So today, my tip is that you practise it a little, so you can increase your vocabulary and more easily identify what you are feeling the next time your brain assigns meaning to certain sensations ;)


A few extra notes are important though…


If you are an expat, you will also want to bear in mind that when others try to express or talk about their emotions with you, not only may we lack specific terms in our mother tongue but words might not be translated completely accurately. For example, feeling annoyed, irritated, frustrated or just upset are somewhat different emotional states; however, when you are speaking in a different language you may not always know the most correct translation for each, so you’ll probably just use the closest word that comes to mind.


In addition, our norms (cultural, legal, social, etc) also influence how we experience a certain situation. Hence, what we each need to go from skeptical to provoked or from inspired to thankful might also have some cultural basis to it.


My advice: in cross-cultural contexts, it’s rather important not to read things literally! Pay attention to the feeling/emotion being expressed, not so much to the word (unless you know that person is very versatile in both the language and talking about feelings and emotions).


This page here has a really nice range of tools you can use better to understand your feelings and emotions, but my favourite tool in this area is the Feelings Wheel (or Feelings Circle), as the one shown below.

The next time you are looking for words to express something, try to identify what it is, for example, starting from the centre of the wheel (your core emotion) and moving outwards as you can find other words that resonate with you and specify it better. [You can also start from the outside; there is no one way to do it…]


Try it!


You can even bring it in into a conversation the next time you want to communicate better, whether at work, with friends, your children or a partner.


How’s your EQ-ish going? ;)



[Originally published on 19 January 2023, in the newsletter Seeds for Growth & Joy]

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Natália Leal  |  Coach & Trainer

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