Emotional intelligence (otherwise known as emotional quotient or EQ) is the ability to understand, use, and manage your own emotions in positive ways to relieve stress, communicate effectively, empathize with others, overcome challenges and defuse conflict.
Emotional intelligence helps you build stronger relationships, succeed at school and work, and achieve your career and personal goals. It can also help you to connect with your feelings, turn intention into action, and make informed decisions about what matters most to you.
So what does it take to be emotionally intelligent? Psychologist and author Daniel Goleman has suggested that there are five components of emotional intelligence. Fortunately, you can learn to improve these emotional intelligence skills. By working on and increasing these skills, you can become more emotionally intelligent.
Why is emotional intelligence so important?
As we know, it’s not the smartest people who are the most successful or the most fulfilled in life. You probably know people who are academically brilliant and yet are socially inept and unsuccessful at work or in their personal relationships. Intellectual ability or your intelligence quotient (IQ) isn’t enough on its own to achieve success in life.
Yes, your IQ can help you get into college, but it’s your EQ that will help you manage the stress and emotions when facing your final exams. IQ and EQ exist in tandem and are most effective when they build off one another.
Emotional intelligence affects:
Performance at school or work
High emotional intelligence can help you navigate the social complexities of the workplace, lead and motivate others, and excel in your career. In fact, when it comes to gauging important job candidates, many companies now rate emotional intelligence as important as technical ability and employ EQ testing before hiring.
If you’re unable to manage your emotions, you are probably not managing your stress either. This can lead to serious health problems. Uncontrolled stress raises blood pressure, suppresses the immune system, increases the risk of heart attacks and strokes, contributes to infertility, and speeds up the aging process. The first step to improving emotional intelligence is to learn how to manage stress.
Uncontrolled emotions and stress can also impact your mental health, making you vulnerable to anxiety and depression. If you are unable to understand, get comfortable with, or manage your emotions, you’ll also struggle to form strong relationships. This in turn can leave you feeling lonely and isolated and further exacerbate any mental health problems.
By understanding your emotions and how to control them, you’re better able to express how you feel and understand how others are feeling. This allows you to communicate more effectively and forge stronger relationships, both at work and in your personal life.
Being in tune with your emotions serves a social purpose, connecting you to other people and the world around you. Social intelligence enables you to recognize friend from foe, measure another person’s interest in you, reduce stress, balance your nervous system through social communication, and feel loved and happy.
Key Emotional Intelligence Skills
The skills that make up emotional intelligence can be learned at any time. However, it’s important to remember that there is a difference between simply learning about EQ and applying that knowledge to your life.
Just because you know you should do something doesn’t mean you will—especially when you become overwhelmed by stress, which can override your best intentions. In order to permanently change behavior in ways that stand up under pressure, you need to learn how to overcome stress in the moment, and in your relationships, in order to remain emotionally aware.
Self-awareness, or the ability to recognize and understand your own emotions, is a critical emotional intelligence skill. Beyond just recognizing your emotions, however, is being aware of the effect of your actions, moods, and emotions on other people.
To become self-aware, you must be capable of monitoring your own emotions, recognizing different emotional reactions, and then correctly identifying each particular emotion. Self-aware individuals also recognize the relationships between the things they feel and how they behave.
These individuals are also capable of recognizing their own strengths and limitations, are open to new information and experiences, and learn from their interactions with others. Goleman suggests that people who possess self-awareness have a good sense of humor, are confident in themselves and their abilities, and are aware of how other people perceive them.
In addition to being aware of your own emotions and the impact you have on others, emotional intelligence requires you to be able to regulate and manage your emotions.
This doesn’t mean putting emotions on lockdown and hiding your true feelings—it simply means waiting for the right time and place to express them. Self-regulation is all about expressing your emotions appropriately.
Those who are skilled in self-regulation tend to be flexible and adapt well to change. They are also good at managing conflict and diffusing tense or difficult situations.
Goleman also suggests that those with strong self-regulation skills are high in conscientiousness. They are thoughtful about how they influence others, and they take responsibility for their own actions.
Being able to interact well with others is another important aspect of emotional intelligence. Having strong social skills allows people to build meaningful relationships with other people and develop a stronger understanding of themselves and others.
True emotional understanding involves more than just understanding your own emotions and those of others. You also need to be able to put this information to work in your daily interactions and communications.
In professional settings, managers benefit by being able to build relationships and connections with employees. Workers benefit from being able to develop a strong rapport with leaders and co-workers. Important social skills include active listening, verbal communication skills, nonverbal communication skills, leadership, and persuasiveness.
Empathy, or the ability to understand how others are feeling, is absolutely critical to emotional intelligence. But it involves more than just being able to recognize the emotional states of others.
It also involves your responses to people based on this information. When you sense that someone is feeling sad or hopeless, how do you respond? You might treat them with extra care and concern, or you might make an effort to buoy their spirits.
Being empathetic also allows you to understand the power dynamics that often influence social relationships, especially in workplace settings. This is important for guiding your interactions with different people you encounter each day.
Those competent in this area are able to sense who possesses power in different relationships. They also understand how these forces influence feelings and behaviors. Because of this, they can accurately interpret different situations that hinge on such power dynamics.
Intrinsic motivation is another important emotional intelligence skill. People who are emotionally intelligent are motivated by things beyond external rewards like fame, money, recognition, and acclaim.
Instead, they have a passion to fulfill their own inner needs and goals. They seek internal rewards, experience flow from being totally in tune with an activity, and pursue peak experiences.
Those who are competent in this area tend to be action-oriented. They set goals, have a high need for achievement, and are always looking for ways to do better. They also tend to be very committed and are good at taking initiative.