Emotional competence

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Emotional competence refers to one's ability to express or release one's inner feelings (emotions). It implies an ease around others and determines one's ability to effectively and successfully lead and express.[1] It is described as the essential social skills to recognize, interpret, and respond constructively to emotions in yourself and others.[2]


The concept of emotional competence is rooted in understanding emotions as normal, useful aspects of being human. Anger is a reaction to aggression and gives a person the strength to repel the aggression. Grief is a reaction to abandonment or feeling unloved and it has the effect of eliciting sympathetic responses from others. Fear is a response to danger and has a clear physiological effect of heightening our senses and speeding up our reactions.

From this it can be seen that the suppression of emotion can be useful to avoid injury, embarrassment and arrest, but teaching people to suppress their inappropriate emotions is part of normal society. Suppressing other people's emotions to avoid conflict or discomfort in oneself can lead to controlling them, which may be unhealthy for all concerned. Emotionally competent people do express emotions appropriate to the situation, to their needs and to others, and they attempt not to suppress appropriate emotions, reactions and communications of feelings by others.

Some psychologists believe that if appropriate emotions are not expressed on a regular basis, a misplaced or unresolved memory of them becomes stored. Alternatively, this may also lead to an inability to process emotional clues in others, or have emotionally appropriate behaviors in oneself. Events in the future may trigger old emotions resulting in inappropriate emotional responses, or may trigger nothing, leaving one with a lack of emotional competence. This often applies to emotions that children may be experiencing, or are prevented from expressing, when an adult simply wishes to avoid dealing with feelings that may be very real to the child, who has yet to learn that feelings and facts are not mutually exclusive, or that emotionalism can be misunderstood or misused. Releasing childhood emotions, or pent up adult emotions can be a useful tool in co-counselling.

Emotional competence can lead to improved health through avoiding stress that would otherwise result from suppressing emotions. It can also lead to improved relationships since inappropriate emotions are less likely to be expressed and appropriate behaviour is not avoided through fear of triggering some emotion.

The concept is distinct from emotional intelligence which, while recognising the importance of emotions, gives emphasis to controlling or manipulating them.


Main article: Assertiveness

Humanistic approaches to assertiveness, as, for instance, outlined by Anne Dickson emphasise the importance of working with emotions.[3] In particular it recognises the need to address manipulative or passive (the person does not say what they want) – aggressive (they try to force the other person to do what they want) behaviour in which the manipulator exploits the feelings of the other to try to get what they want. Building up emotional competence is a way of learning to handle such behaviour.

Another aspect is learning to be assertive when feeling emotional. Assertiveness training involves learning a range of ways to handle any situation so that a person is able to choose a way which seems appropriate for them on each occasion. With respect to emotions, people are encouraged to notice and accept what they feel. They then have choices from handling the situation calmly through doing so and saying how they feel to letting the emotion out, all of which involve emotional competence.

This also would encompass the realm of where the emotionally competent response would have judicial consequences, e.g. competence under the law.

Some researchers feel the role of emotion has been neglected, both in traditional accounts of decision-making and in assessments of adjudicative competence, and further attention and study.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Air War College (2000-09-21). "Emotional Competence and Leadership". Air War College. Retrieved 2008-01-21. 
  2. ^ Leland R. Beaumont. "Emotional Competency Web Site". Retrieved 2009-12-16. 
  3. ^ Dickson, Anne (1982). A Woman in Your Own Right. Quartet Books. ISBN 0-7043-3420-8. 
  4. ^ Maroney, Terry. "Emotional Competence, Rational Understanding, and the Criminal Defendant". SSRN Resources. Retrieved 2008-05-03. 


  • Dickson, Anne (2000) Trusting the Tides London: Rider
  • Heron, John (1992) Feeling and Personhood London: Sage
  • Postle Denis (2003) Letting the Heart Sing - The Mind Gymnasium London: Wentworth

External links[edit]