How Emotional Reasoning Can Distort Emotional Intelligence

Posted by Bridget Beirne
October 4, 2016

bridget-beirne-1-1.pngPsychologist Aaron Beck was the first to work with the cognitive idea of emotional reasoning. Put very simply, emotional reasoning is when you believe the truth of a situation to be different than the evidence before you because of an experienced emotional reaction.

Here's an example:


John has been working at a company for a year and a half. He's done very well, and been praised for his efforts. However, he's uncomfortable with the communication style of his boss, Joan. Overtime he's come to feel that she just doesn't like him — despite good feedback.

One day, Joan tells John that she'd like to schedule a meeting with him the following day. She doesn't mention what the meeting will be about, simply that she'd like it to occur. John immediately flies into a mental panic: "That's it! I'm going to be fired." He spends the rest of the day stuck in a loop, worried about the impending loss of his job.

The next day at the meeting, he learns that Joan actually wants to compliment him and appoint him to oversee an upcoming big project. Not only was it not a firing, it was a highly positive interaction.


Does this process of emotional reasoning sound familiar to you at all?

Let me say here that I'm not a psychologist, and I won't pretend to be able to know any of the deeper causes of a given person's cycle of emotional reasoning. What I can say is that I personally relate to it, and I know that many professionals struggle with this thought process.

One of the difficulties with this perception is that it can keep us from improving our overall emotional emotional-intelligence-3.pngintelligence. Since EI requires us to assess ourselves as well as those around us, emotional reasoning can keep us trapped and unable to see what's truly happening in our interactions. 

If you feel like you may be struggling with emotional reasoning at work, try some of these tips and see if they help you sort through things:

1. Assess whether or not you're missing cues: Look back on three recent workplace interactions. Was your expectation of or reaction to them wildly different from the reality of the situation? Take some time to write down how you felt before and after. Whether you expected the worst that never came, or the best that wasn't warranted, see if your expectation and the reality match up.

2. Ask yourself what evidence you have to feel a certain way: Now, look ahead a bit on your calendar. Is there an event or project that you're feeling emotionally overwhelmed by? (Again, positively or negatively.) Ask why you feel that way, and challenge yourself to come up with three points of concrete evidence. Was it one bad interaction? Is a past project failure clouding your judgment about a current task? See if you can sort through the mire a bit. 

3. Take people at face value: This last point is extremely difficult. Not everyone is honest and forthright. However, you can save yourself a lot of worry if you try to take your team and colleagues at face value as much as possible. Instead of playing the guessing and justification game of emotional reasoning, try to accept what people are telling you. Does this mean you should ignore your "gut feelings", or blindly forge ahead without questioning? Absolutely not. But if you're someone who sees your emotional intelligence suffer at the hands of emotional reasoning, simply saying "I'm going to take him/her at face value" may help you break the cycle.

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