Table of Contents
- What Is Emotional Intelligence?
- Why Is Emotional Intelligence Important?
- Understanding Emotional Intelligence: The Four Components
- Origins of Emotional Intelligence
- How Emotional Intelligence Is Measured
- The Role of Emotional Intelligence in Different Aspects of Life + Examples
- Improving Emotional Intelligence: 5 Steps to Handling Your Emotions Better
- Work on Your Emotional Intelligence Until It Becomes a Habit
According to Harvard Business School, 90% of what sets high achievers apart from their peers is the presence of emotional intelligence (or EI). Why is EI so important for success, not to mention mental well-being? Because being able to identify and manage your emotions, and to understand how your behaviors are perceived by others and affects their feelings, allows you to act appropriately in various situations.
Dr. Howard Gardner, an acclaimed intelligence researcher, was one of the first to propose the theory of “multiple intelligences.” Today, the emotional and interpersonal components of intelligence—being “people smart” and “self smart”—are widely believed to matter at least as much as being “book smart.” TIME magazine even claimed on one of their covers that emotional IQ “may be the best predictor of success in life, redefining what it means to be smart.”
Here’s an example: Imagine working with someone who doesn’t listen, cuts you off when you’re explaining things, hijacks conversations only to complain a lot, and who generally doesn’t see how their demeanor and words come across as rude. Over time, their lack of EI and self-management will have negative effects on their relationships, their career opportunities, and ultimately, their overall happiness.
In this article, learn what it entails to be an emotionally intelligent person—including specific behaviors that indicate to others how well you can or cannot manage your emotions—plus tips for improving how you handle emotions to build meaningful connections.
- Emotional intelligence refers to one’s ability to understand, relate to, and manage emotions.
- EI could also be described as “emotional maturity” or “emotional clarity”; it allows you to adjust your behaviors based on your environment.
- To have high EI, someone must control their own emotions well and respond to other people’s emotions in an appropriate manner.
- In relationships, acting with emotional intelligence leads to fewer conflicts and enhanced communication; it also signifies consideration, empathy, and respect.
- Emotional intelligence in the workplace helps support teamwork, leadership skills, effective decision-making, and a more productive and positive work environment.
What Is Emotional Intelligence?
Emotional intelligence (EI), also known as emotional quotient (EQ), is defined as “The ability to manage both your own emotions and understand the emotions of people around you.”
When you’re emotionally intelligent, you respond appropriately to both your own emotions and the emotions of others. A high level of emotional intelligence enables a person to be in touch with their feelings, communicate effectively, empathize with others, avoid conflicts, and create strong bonds. Emotionally intelligent people also tend to have greater decision-making skills and usually experience better mental health compared to those with low EQ, in part because they can express themselves effectively and have more social support.
How do you know whether a person is emotionally intelligent or not? Here are some important indicators:
- Thinks things through before speaking or reacting (works through thoughts and feelings first).
- Takes responsibility for errors or failures.
- Let’s go of mistakes and doesn’t hold unnecessary grudges.
- Adapts to different environments.
- Recognizes their own strengths and weaknesses and can admit them.
- “Reads the room” to identify the moods and needs of others.
- Acts with compassion and kindness.
- Listens well to other people without interrupting.
- Communicates clearly, including with verbal and nonverbal communication.
Why Is Emotional Intelligence Important?
Emotional intelligence is crucial for both personal and professional life. Some of the advantages that emotionally intelligent people have include:
Better Interpersonal Relationships
EI helps with understanding others’ feelings, leading to empathy and better interpersonal relationships. It makes social interactions more fulfilling and less stressful and leads to greater support, which is one of the strongest contributors to self-esteem and happiness.
Lower Risk for Mental Health Problems
Understanding and managing your own emotions can help reduce stress and conflict, increase resilience, and allow you to effectively navigate various challenges and adversities.
On the other hand, studies have linked a lack of emotional intelligence with anxiety, depression, and stress. Stress, as the American Psychological Association says, can negatively affect all physical body parts, particularly if it becomes chronic.
By recognizing and understanding your own emotions, you’re better equipped to make decisions that are not impulsive or overly influenced by your emotions or other people’s feelings. For instance, you can take time to contemplate different perspectives before jumping to conclusions and stand your ground respectfully when someone disagrees with you.
Findings from two empirical studies published in the Journal of Positive Psychology found that EI is related to “wise reasoning.” That’s because it involves “recognition of a changing world, self-transcendence, consideration of diverse perspectives, and search for compromise.”
Effective Work and Leadership Skills
Job performance requires more than a high IQ (meaning mathematical and linguistic skills); it also depends on your ability to network, build and maintain connections, use good judgment, and work as part of a team. A 2023 review concluded that “EQ is a skill that people can acquire to help promote career success.” Leaders with high EI can understand their team members’ emotional states and motivations, leading to more effective management and problem-solving.
EI can also contribute to career advancement, as many companies value interpersonal skills in their managers and senior-ranking employees. As an article from La Trobe University explains, having EI at work leads to getting hired and promoted more, earning higher salaries, and increasing team productivity.
Greater Academic Achievement
Students with higher emotional intelligence often have better academic performance, as they can listen well to directions, manage their workloads, focus, and work collaboratively. They also generally have better relationships with their peers and teachers.
Understanding Emotional Intelligence: The Four Components
“EQ comes down to how you relate to emotions, first your own, then other people’s.”Deepak Chopra
The four components of emotional intelligence are based on psychologist Daniel Goleman’s model. According to his research, when people exhibit the traits within each domain below, they are more likely to interact with others positively.
The four components of EQ include:
Being self-aware means you can recognize your own thoughts and emotions and how they influence your behaviors.
Someone with self-awareness:
- Grasps how their thoughts influence their mood and actions.
- Understands their unique strengths and limitations, such as triggers that make them feel stressed and things that calm them down.
- Feels themselves getting overwhelmed or angry, indicating that it’s time to slow down and take a break.
- Demonstrates authenticity, which supports self-confidence.
2. Social Awareness
Social awareness is the ability to identify and manage the emotions of others within a social context. As Mental Health America explains, “You can’t control how someone else feels or behaves. But if you can identify the emotions behind their behavior, you’ll have a better understanding of where they are coming from and how to best interact with them.”
A socially aware person can:
- Discern subtle social cues, such as someone’s tone and body language.
- Understand a group’s intricate emotional dynamics, allowing them to behave appropriately.
- Pick up on the implied needs and concerns of others (even when they’re not clearly stated).
- Feel comfortable in different social situations.
- Recognize the power dynamics in a group or organization.
- Know when it’s time to speak versus listen.
- Adjust communication (verbal and nonverbal) depending on the situation.
As implied, this skill means you can manage yourself and think objectively before acting.
Someone with strong self-management will:
- Have healthy control of their emotions.
- Be able to control impulses.
- Think through decisions carefully using reason and contemplation.
- Be adaptable in various situations.
- Practice being disciplined to reach goals.
- Take the initiative even when faced with something challenging.
- Follow through on commitments.
- Avoid unhealthy habits that are destructive.
4. Relationship Management
Relationship management refers to “people skills” and how well someone can nurture interpersonal relationships.
Those with strong relationship management skills:
- Communicate clearly.
- Manage conflicts without escalating them.
- Take accountability for their mistakes and apologize when needed.
- Listen actively.
- Show kindness.
- Have a high level of empathy.
- Influence others in a positive way without using manipulation.
- Work well as part of a team.
- Show humility and openness to learn from others.
Origins of Emotional Intelligence
“There is an old-fashioned word for the body of skills that emotional intelligence represents: character.”Daniel Goleman
In 1990, social psychologists John D. Mayer and Peter Salovey introduced the concept as a way to identify and measure one’s abilities based on emotional capacity. Mayer and Salovey define emotional intelligence as “a set of skills hypothesized to contribute to the accurate appraisal and expression of emotion in oneself and in others, the effective regulation of emotion in self and others, and the use of feelings to motivate, plan, and achieve in one’s life.”
Today, emotional intelligence is commonly associated with the work of writer and psychologist Daniel Goleman, who broke EQ down into the components described above. Goleman is the author of the bestselling book, Emotional Intelligence.
How Emotional Intelligence Is Measured
Emotional intelligence is a complex construct that includes a range of abilities and traits. Therefore, no single test can fully capture a person’s emotional intelligence. Instead, a comprehensive assessment often involves using multiple methods and assessment tools to capture how well someone can manage themselves and behave in social settings. Currently, there are more than 30 assessments that researchers use to uncover people’s EI scores.
EI is typically measured through these types of assessments:
- Self-report surveys: These are questionnaires that individuals fill out about themselves. A well-known example of this is the Emotional Quotient Inventory (EQ-i). This type of test asks someone to rate themselves regarding their own ability to manage their thoughts and behaviors, such as how they respond to stress or conflict.
- 360-degree evaluations: These involve gathering feedback from a range of people in an individual’s life, such as colleagues, subordinates, supervisors at work, or friends and family members. The people who someone spends the most time with usually have a very good assessment of their EI, such as how well they communicate, interact, and listen.
- Performance-based tests: These require individuals to solve problems or complete tasks related to emotion control. One of the most well-known performance-based measures of EI is the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT). This test includes tasks such as identifying emotions in faces and stories, understanding how emotions evolve and change, and dealing with emotional information.
The Role of Emotional Intelligence in Different Aspects of Life + Examples
Below are examples of how emotional intelligence can be displayed in different situations like relationships, workplaces, schools, and positions of leadership:
Examples of EQ in Relationship Dynamics
- Being able to calmly manage a stressful situation, such as an argument with a partner about finances or children.
- Demonstrating empathy toward others, understanding their feelings and perspectives, and taking them into account in your interactions.
- Taking responsibility for one’s actions and apologizing when necessary, rather than becoming defensive or blaming others.
Examples of EQ in Leadership and Teamwork
- Having the ability to handle a high-stakes meeting at work by respecting others’ viewpoints and opinions.
- Understanding when a co-worker is upset, even if they aren’t directly expressing their feelings, and addressing it directly and professionally to find a solution.
- Being able to effectively negotiate and resolve conflicts, such as a misunderstanding or disagreement with a client that may require an explanation.
- Managing employees’ expectations by communicating responsibilities and deadlines clearly and answering questions.
Examples of EQ in the Workplace and Education
- Taking direction well from managers or teachers so you can complete assigned tasks on time.
- Being disciplined and focused enough to listen during meetings or lessons.
- Interacting well with teammates or classmates, such as by communicating your opinions respectfully, listening to others, and taking accountability for your work and mistakes.
Improving Emotional Intelligence: 5 Steps to Handling Your Emotions Better
“Research suggests that people with average or below average EQ can do just as well as others by learning it. The only thing needed is the motivation to learn and the intention to apply it in real life.”Tiffany Sauber Millacci, Ph.D.
1. Gain More Self-Awareness
Those who self-reflect before speaking or acting can adjust how they deliver messages in a way that makes others feel motivated, seen, and heard. Doing so creates a sense of unity and support, even in the face of conflict or challenges.
Here are strategies for becoming more self-aware:
- Regularly check in with your emotions: Try to identify what you’re feeling and why. You can name your emotions (refer to the “emotion wheel” for help) to make them clear and concrete.
- Reflect on your reactions to different situations: Do this by replaying the situation, journaling, or talking your thoughts out with someone else.
- Practice mindfulness exercises: Try meditation to better understand your thoughts and the stories you tell yourself.
- Identify what your own nonverbal cues say: Think about what your tone and body language may be saying to others.
2. Slow Down and Stay Calm
It can be easy to lose control of our reactions when we become stressed, angry, or anxious. Perhaps this means withdrawing and isolating yourself, lashing out at others, or becoming passive-aggressive. Learning how to self-manage is an important part of emotional intelligence because it dictates how you respond to the world around you. As Dr. Jeanne Segal points out, “With the ability to manage stress and stay emotionally present, you can learn to receive upsetting information without letting it override your thoughts and self-control.”
Tips for learning to manage your emotions and responses:
- Pause before reacting: Learn to control automatic or impulsive behaviors by breathing and taking your time before speaking. Try not to react impulsively to your feelings, but give yourself time to think and respond appropriately.
- Use positive self-talk: When negative thoughts fill your mind, repeat calming phrases to yourself or affirmations.
- Remove yourself from overwhelming situations: If it helps you think clearly, avoid making rushed decisions in chaotic environments or those that stress you out.
3. Practice “Perspective Taking” to Develop Empathy
Author and researcher Brené Brown describes empathy as “simply listening, holding space, withholding judgment, emotionally connecting, and communicating that incredibly healing message of you’re not alone.” In short, empathy is knowing how to “read the room” and take someone else’s perspective, leading you to conduct yourself in a manner that will produce the best results.
Ways to improve empathy:
- Give someone your full attention: Set other thoughts aside and focus on the interaction you’re having. Listen actively, meaning you intend to listen and understand instead of reply. Look for noticeable changes in others’ body language. Pay close attention to any shifts in their emotions.
- Be curious instead of judgemental: Make an effort to understand other people’s points of view. Try to put yourself in their shoes so you know how to respond in a considerate way. Avoid judging people or their situations harshly. Judgment can create a barrier to empathy.
- Acknowledge their feelings: Validate someone by showing that you understand where they’re coming from. If someone shares a problem with you, instead of immediately offering solutions, simply share that you can see their point of view first.
4. Improve Your Communication Skills (Both Verbal and Nonverbal)
Effective communication helps prevent misunderstandings and reduce conflicts. It allows people to express their viewpoints and reach a mutual understanding or compromise. Communication also enables others to understand our perspectives and helps us to understand theirs.
Tips for improving how well you communicate:
- Express yourself respectfully: Practice using “I” statements (such as “I feel upset when this happens…”), being honest but tactful, and listening as much as you talk.
- Really listen: Focus on fully concentrating, understanding, responding, and then remembering what is being said to you. When the other person is speaking, make sure not to interrupt and listen attentively. Show interest by asking follow-up questions or paraphrasing what they’ve said to ensure you’ve understood correctly.
- Speak clearly and concisely: Say what you want clearly and directly, whether you’re speaking or writing. Avoid unnecessary filler words or jargon which can confuse people.
- Improve non-verbal communication: John Stoker said, “93% of communication occurs through nonverbal behavior and tone; only 7% of communication takes place through the use of words.” Your body language, eye contact, hand gestures, and tone all color the message you are trying to convey. A relaxed, open stance and a friendly tone can make you appear approachable and promote positive communication.
5. Stay Open to Feedback So That You’re Always Evolving
Constructive feedback can promote positive change and growth. Rather than getting defensive when someone offers you feedback, view constructive criticism as a great learning experience and a chance to improve your weaknesses. Receiving feedback gracefully is one of the best ways to better control negative emotions and become more well-rounded.
Here’s how to be a lifelong learner with a “growth mindset”:
- Let your guard down: For others to give you feedback, be approachable and accountable. Reduce tension and build connection by remaining light-hearted and empathetic, which encourages others to be honest with you.
- Practice humility: Reframe your mind to see disagreements as learning opportunities.
- Self-reflect: Acknowledge your mistakes and learn from them. Recognize your strengths and weaknesses and work on improving so you continue to mature and evolve.
- Appreciate others: Show appreciation for the people around you and the contributions they make. This can help you stay humble.
Work on Your Emotional Intelligence Until It Becomes a Habit
“As you train your brain by repeatedly practicing new emotionally intelligent behaviors, your brain builds the pathways needed to make them into habits. Before long, you begin responding to your surroundings with emotional intelligence without even having to think about it.”Dr. Travis Bradberry
Emotional intelligence isn’t something you’re born with, nor is your current EQ level something you’re stuck with once you’ve reached adulthood. EQ can be developed at any age with effort. However, it takes practice, and sometimes you may need to unlearn some unhelpful habits that hold you back. By using the strategies above to improve your self-awareness, social awareness, self-management, and relationship management, your EQ will improve naturally. The benefits are worth the effort.
Here are things you can do today to begin increasing your emotional intelligence:
- Read Emotional Intelligence: For a Better Life, Success at Work, and Happier Relationships by Brandon Goleman.
- Take an online course for developing empathy and emotional intelligence.
- Practice mindfulness and awareness with daily guided meditation.
- Begin journaling each day for improved emotion recognition and management.
To harness EI in your career, read more about emotional intelligence in the workplace.
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