Emotional intelligence allows you to enhance key areas of your life like home, work, and school.
You’ve seen them: The people who appear to be cool as a cucumber on deadline. Those who handle awkward family dinners with grace. The ones that get where you’re coming from, without you having to say a lot.
That’s because they may possess a certain skill set in spades — emotional intelligence.
Intelligence, in the general sense, is the ability to learn new concepts and apply your knowledge to problems. Emotional intelligence (EQ) is similar. It’s the ability to learn about yourself and apply that wisdom to the world around you.
The term “emotional intelligence” was coined in the 1990s, then popularized by psychologist and author Daniel Goleman in his book “Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ.”
Here are the 5 components he references:
If you’re self-aware, you can see your own patterns of behaviors and motives. You know how your emotions and actions impact those around you, for better or for worse. You can name your own emotions when they come up and understand why they’re there.
You can also recognize your triggers, identify your strengths, and see your own limitations.
Being self-aware can also mean you’re humble — we’re all only human, after all.
If you can self-regulate, your emotional reactions are in proportion to the given circumstances.
You know how to pause, as needed, and control your impulses. You think before you act and consider the consequences.
It also means you know how to ease tension, manage conflict, cope with difficult scenarios, and adapt to changes in your environment. It’s all about bringing out the part of yourself that helps manage emotions.
If you’re intrinsically motivated, you have a thirst for personal development. You’re highly driven to succeed, whatever your version of success looks like.
You’re inspired to accomplish goals because it helps you grow as a person, rather than doing it for outside rewards like money, fame, status, or recognition.
If you’re empathic, you’re a healthy level of self-interested — but not self-centered.
In conversations, you can understand where someone is coming from. You can “walk a mile in their shoes,” so to speak. Even if the exact scenario hasn’t happened to you, you can draw on your life experience to imagine how it may feel and be compassionate about what they’re going through.
You’re slow to judge others and possess the awareness that we’re all just doing the best we can with the circumstances we’ve been given. When we know better, we do better.
If you’ve developed your social skills, you’re adept at working in teams. You’re aware of others and their needs in a conversation or conflict resolution.
You’re welcoming in conversation, using active listening, eye contact, verbal communication skills, and open body language. You know how to develop a rapport with others or express leadership, if the occasion calls for it.
Humans are social animals — we’re wired for connection. The more we can build positive relationships and develop cooperative connections, the more enriching our lives may be.
But even when the going gets tough, EQ can help us with that, too.
In an academic setting, students who demonstrate high emotional intelligence, especially in the areas of emotional regulation and empathy, may be less likely to experience bullying, according to
Work is another example.
In fact, according to that same study, a high EQ can help other people around you achieve success, particularly in group projects. When you manage your emotions, this influences those around you to do the same. Everyone wins.
Emotional intelligence exists on a continuum. Here are some common examples that explore what a higher versus a lower EQ may look like.
- Scenario: You’re in a meeting and a boss criticizes you in front of other co-workers.
- Higher EQ: You maintain composure, then politely excuse yourself to process your emotions in a safe environment.
- Lower EQ: You may become defensive and storm out of the office.
- Scenario: Your roommate tells you that it hurts their feelings when you forget to take out the trash, which you agreed to.
- Higher EQ: You explain why you dropped the ball and tell them you understand why they’re hurt, then come up with an action plan together about how to get both of your needs met.
- Lower EQ: You find it difficult to understand why they’re so upset and feel attacked by their criticism.
- Scenario: You and your colleague were up for the same promotion, but they got it instead of you.
- Higher EQ: You reflect and realize that, if you’re being honest with yourself, you weren’t working as hard as your co-worker and their promotion is well-deserved.
- Lower EQ: You may fire off an angry email to your boss, demanding an explanation or threatening to quit.
- Scenario: You passed an exam and posted about it on social media.
- Higher EQ: You’re proud of yourself for the goal that you achieved and appreciative of any support you receive.
- Lower EQ: You may question your success or worth because your post didn’t get very many “likes.”
- Scenario: You’re on a date and it doesn’t seem to be going very well.
- Higher EQ: You ask open-ended questions, maintain good eye contact, and practice active listening.
- Lower EQ: You may stop paying attention and decide there must be something wrong with your date.
Some people are born with EQ, while others can think of it as a skill set that needs to be acquired. With practice, it’s possible to develop or strengthen it.
Here are a few ways to do just that:
- Self-awareness. Consider setting a regular time or day to journal. This can allow you to reflect on how you behaved in interactions and make a note of things that bothered you. You can go back and read over them from time to time and “study” yourself. You can also meditate and observe your thoughts.
- Self-regulation. It may help to practice deep breathing exercises regularly, especially during conflict. You can learn to reframe challenges as opportunities in disguise and “failures” as learning experiences. Try to practice radical acceptance of any emotions that come up and verbalize what you’re feeling.
- Motivation. Consider taking time out and celebrating each one of your wins. When you decide you want to do something new, it’s a good idea to identify your “why.” It can also help to break down your to-do list into bite-size chunks, or micro-tasks, and to work with an accountability partner or coach.
- Empathy. To build empathy, try paying attention to your surroundings. See if you can pick up on the “energy” of your environment. You could also try talking to new people or volunteering for a cause you care about. If you’re stuck in traffic, consider looking around at people sitting in their cars and seeing what you can pick up about them.
- Social skills. Aim to put yourself in new situations. When you do, try to pay attention to your body language and maintain eye contact. Practicing active listening can be beneficial, too. Consider this quote from Gandhi: “Speak only if it improves upon silence.”
Some people have emotional intelligence naturally, while others need to work a little harder at it. It’s well worth the effort you put in, though, as it can improve many areas of your life.
If you’re ready to take the next step, ask if your workplace has emotional intelligence training available.
You can also enroll in training online, like the one through the Institute for Health and Human Potential. Believe it or not, you can even find EQ courses on Skillshare or Udemy, two subscription-based online learning platforms.
If you need a starting point, take a free EQ quiz here. This may give you a good idea of where you’re excelling and what areas you could improve on.
The bottom line is: You’re the one who gets to control your emotions, so they don’t control you. Once you learn this useful skill, your quality of life may improve. The better it gets, the better it gets.