A New Hope for Building Your Emotional Intelligence

New research shows the skill that can make you more emotionally intelligent.

Do you ever wonder whether it’s better to show your emotions or to keep them hidden? Perhaps your hairstylist cuts your hair much shorter than you asked for. Do you decide it’s better just to wait till it grows back in (and find a different stylist), or should you let the manager know how infuriated you are? Either strategy has pros and cons, so which is the lesser of the two evils?
According to a recent study by the University of Catania’s Maria Quattropani and colleagues (2022), most situations present two starkly different alternatives for managing your emotions, and it is indeed often hard to know which way to react. The key to healthy adjustment, they argued, isn’t always being right about your choice but being able to see that there is indeed a choice.
They noted that “flexibility in emotion regulation represents a central tenet for overall psychological adjustment” (p. 698). In other words, some situations call for expression, and some for suppression. Even if you take the wrong turn in this dilemma, at least you’re able to see that life often presents more gray than black-and-white areas when it comes to handling your emotions.
Emotional Flexibility and Its Measurement
You might think that all of these choices would depend on the quality of your emotional intelligence. But what if your emotional intelligence isn’t all that high? Are you stuck in an endless loop of constantly saying and doing the wrong thing?
The idea of emotional flexibility can become your saving grace. Even if you don’t top out at the positive end of the emotional intelligence curve, Quattropani et al.’s research suggested using emotional flexibility as your go-to alternative skill.
You can get an idea of what this quality looks like by seeing where you rate on the measure the Italian research team used, the “Flexible Regulation of Emotional Expression” scale, abbreviated as “FREE” (Burton & Bonanno, 2016). To complete this scale, you put yourself into 16 situations that fall into four categories based on the emotion involved in the situation (positive or negative) and your reaction to that emotion (express or conceal). For each, you are to rate yourself from “unable” to “very able” to be even more expressive of how you were feeling.
See how you would do on these four sample items:

See how you would do on these four sample items:
Positive-Expressive: You receive a gift from a family member, but it’s a shirt you dislike.
Negative-Expressive: Your friend is telling you about what a terrible day they had.
Positive-Conceal: You are in a training session and see an accidentally funny typo in the presenter’s slideshow.
Negative-Conceal: You are at a social event, and the person you’re talking to frequently spits while they speak.

psychology today