What is emotional intelligence?
Emotional intelligence (EQ) is the ability to identify, use, understand, and manage emotions in positive ways to relieve stress, communicate effectively, empathize with others, overcome challenges, and defuse conflict. Emotional intelligence impacts many different aspects of your daily life, such as the way you behave and the way you interact with others.
If you have high emotional intelligence you are able to recognize your own emotional state and the emotional states of others, and engage with people in a way that draws them to you. You can use this understanding of emotions to relate better to other people, form healthier relationships, achieve greater success at work, and lead a more fulfilling life.
Emotional intelligence consists of four attributes:
- Self-awareness – You recognize your own emotions and how they affect your thoughts and behavior, know your strengths and weaknesses, and have self-confidence.
- Self-management – You’re able to control impulsive feelings and behaviors, manage your emotions in healthy ways, take initiative, follow through on commitments, and adapt to changing circumstances.
- Social awareness – You can understand the emotions, needs, and concerns of other people, pick up on emotional cues, feel comfortable socially, and recognize the power dynamics in a group or organization.
- Relationship management – You know how to develop and maintain good relationships, communicate clearly, inspire and influence others, work well in a team, and manage conflict.
Why is emotional intelligence (EQ) so important?
As we know, it’s not the smartest people that 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 intelligence (IQ) isn’t enough on its own to be successful 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.
Emotional intelligence affects:
- Your performance at work. 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 job candidates, many companies now view emotional intelligence as being as important as technical ability and require EQ testing before hiring.
- Your physical health. If you’re unable to manage your stress levels, it can lead to serious health problems. Uncontrolled stress can raise blood pressure, suppress the immune system, increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, contribute to infertility, and speed up the aging process. The first step to improving emotional intelligence is to learn how to relieve stress.
- Your mental health. Uncontrolled stress can also impact your mental health, making you vulnerable to anxiety and depression. If you are unable to understand and manage your emotions, you’ll also be open to mood swings, while an inability to form strong relationships can leave you feeling lonely and isolated.
- Your relationships. 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.
How to raise your emotional intelligence
All information to the brain comes through our senses, and when this information is overwhelmingly stressful or emotional, instinct will take over and our ability to act will be limited to the flight, fight, or freeze response. Therefore, to have access to the wide range of choices and the ability to make good decisions, we need to be able to bring our emotions into balance at will.
Memory is also strongly linked to emotion. By learning to stay connected to the emotional part of your brain as well as the rational, you’ll not only expand your range of choices when it comes to responding to a new event, but you’ll also factor emotional memory into your decision-making process. This will help prevent you from continually repeating earlier mistakes.
To improve your emotional intelligence—and your decision-making abilities—you need to understand and manage your emotions. This is accomplished by developing key skills for controlling and managing overwhelming stress and becoming an effective communicator.
Developing emotional intelligence through a few key skills:
Emotional intelligence (EQ) is built by reducing stress, remaining focused, and staying connected to yourself and others. You can do this by learning key skills. The first two skills are essential for controlling and managing overwhelming stress and the last three skills greatly improve communication. Each skill builds on the lessons learned in practicing the earlier skills and include:
- The ability to quickly reduce stress in the moment in a variety of settings
- The ability to recognize your emotions and keep them from overwhelming you
- The ability to connect emotionally with others by using nonverbal communication
- The ability to use humor and play to stay connected in challenging situations
- The ability to resolve conflicts positively and with confidence
How to learn the key skills that build emotional intelligence
The key skills of emotional intelligence can be learned by anyone, at any time. There is a difference, however, between learning about emotional intelligence 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 hijack 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 stress in your relationships by remaining emotionally aware. This means that you can’t simply read about emotional intelligence in order to master it. You have to experience and practice the skills in your everyday life.