There is a fundamental aspect of being human that everyone on the planet shares regardless of age, gender, nationality, education, income, status or culture – we all have emotions. Emotion is our universal language. But if you’re not fluent in it, you might as well be living in a foreign country with no knowledge of the language and no translator.

What are emotions? I’ve asked this question often over the years and found that a majority of people have never really thought about it, let alone had an answer.

Despite the pervasiveness of emotions in our lives, most people actually know very little about them – how they manifest, their purpose, or their meaning. How much do you know about why you feel what you feel when you feel it? How easy is it to express your feelings to others, be it anger, fear, shame, sadness or even joy? What happens when you are angry at your boss? Fearful of a loved one? Sad at work? What do you do when you are confused and uncertain of what you are feeling? And how do you handle the emotions of others?

No matter how rational you think you are, you are motivated or influenced by your emotions in every choice you make. Every relationship you have – with family, friends, lovers, coworkers, business associates and even with yourself – is impacted by your feelings. Having a good understanding of what drives your emotions is essential to functioning at your highest level.

The first step towards greater emotional wisdom is to understand what emotions really are, where they come from and their purpose. Emotions are never “just in your head” They are, in fact, innately biological and physiological – you know you’re experiencing emotion because you feel it in your body.

Here’s my definition: Emotions are a body-based information system, the purpose of which is to prompt you to action that is ultimately beneficial for your survival and well-being. Like other systems in your body such as the skeletal, vascular or endocrine systems, your emotional system has a purpose.

Some emotions are instinctual; others are a more sophisticated combination of instinct and thoughts. Some feel good; some are uncomfortable or even painful to experience. Yet that very discomfort has a purpose. AND, the more you are willing to experience your emotions fully, the faster they move through you.

The problem is that when they are uncomfortable, or you believe that the emotion itself is negative, you naturally want to repress or somehow get rid of it in order to avoid pain and discomfort. But emotions don’t simply go away because you want them to. They stick around for as long as it takes for you to get their message, which can take seconds or years. Because emotions are biological, there are a myriad of health issues associated with unprocessed emotions. An even bigger problem is the impact unprocessed emotions have on our relationships, personal and professional, and on our ability to communicate in productive ways.

Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is a vast subject and an ongoing discipline – but you can start to optimize your EQ today by doing one very simple thing – allow. The next time you feel an uncomfortable emotion and instinctively want to push it away, stop. Breathe. Instead of trying to avoid, repress or deny the uncomfortable sensation, give yourself permission to feel and explore it without judgment.

I can’t tell you how many times clients of mine, after finally allowing themselves to feel emotions they have been resisting, sometimes for years, have said to me, “It wasn’t really as bad as I thought it would be. What was I so afraid of?” The big payoff? Experiencing uncomfortable emotions can actually reduce your pain!

The more aware you are of your emotions, the more you allow yourself to feel them, the more power you have to be truly in charge of your life! It’s extremely liberating!

I provide a lot more in-depth information on emotional intelligence in my book, Emotions: An Owner’s Manual, available on Amazon and other retailers. You may also download a free copy of Chapter One on my website.

Be sure to check our blog for more posts on Emotional Intelligence publishing soon!

If you have a question, challenge, or success story regarding emotional intelligence in the workplace simply leave a comment – I would enjoy connecting with you!

– Joie