6 Min Read

What is Emotional Intelligence?

Heather Lyons, Ph.D.

Despite decades of research and best-selling books, many managers downplay emotional intelligence as a soft skill. While the importance of characteristics like empathy and motivation are widely recognized, intellect and technical capability are more commonly seen as the primary drivers of professional success. 

However, evidence suggests that high emotional intelligence (EI) is a stronger predictor of life and career success than IQ. High EI is far more important than hard skills, helping us think creatively, connect with others, and tune into our own emotions.

What is Emotional Intelligence?

What is emotional intelligence?

In Daniel Goleman’s 1995 book Emotional Intelligence, Goleman introduces a new perspective on introducing and analyzing employee job performance, suggesting that success requires more than cognitive intelligence. According to Goleman, high levels of emotional intelligence improve the quality of working relationships, encourage problem-solving skills, boost efficiency and effectiveness, and promote the development of new strategies.

Goleman defines the concept of emotional intelligence as “the ability to identify, assess, and control one’s own emotions, the emotions of others and that of groups.” While some psychologists suggest that emotional intelligence (EI) or emotional quotient (EQ) can be strengthened over time, others believe EI is an internal characteristic that cannot be changed.

While the ability to express and regulate emotions is essential, understanding, interpreting, and responding to others’ feelings is also a valuable skill. Like Goleman, some experts suggest that emotional intelligence can be more important than IQ in influencing your overall success in life.

How is emotional intelligence measured?

Two types of tests measure emotional intelligence: self-report tests and ability tests. Because they’re easier to administer and score than ability tests, self-report tests are the most common way to measure EI. 

During self-report tests, respondents respond to questions or statements by rating their behaviors. For example, for a statement like “I often sympathize with others,” a test-taker might disagree, somewhat disagree, agree, or strongly agree.

Meanwhile, ability tests require having test-takers respond to situations. During ability tests, test-takers demonstrate their abilities to identify, perceive, and control emotions, and these abilities are then rated by a third party.

Mental health professionals, such as psychologists, social workers, and therapists, can also administer emotional intelligence tests. According to the Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations, the two EI measures most commonly used by mental health professionals are:

  • The Emotional and Social Competence Inventory (ESCI) is based on an older instrument known as the Self-Assessment Questionnaire. During the ESCI, people who know the individual offer ratings of the individual’s abilities in different emotional competencies. The ESCI is designed to evaluate the social skills and emotional skills that distinguish people as strong leaders.

Additionally, there are countless informal EI tests available online to help you gain a sense of your emotional intelligence.

The Five Categories of Emotional Intelligence

In Emotional Intelligence, Goleman developed a performance-based model of EI to assess levels of emotional intelligence and to identify potential areas of improvement. Goleman’s model consists of five components, or categories, of emotional intelligence:

  1. Self-Awareness

Self-awareness, or the ability to recognize emotions as they arise, is integral to EQ. Developing greater self-awareness requires recognizing your emotional state—even when you’re in a low mood—and reflecting on how your emotions influence your thoughts and behaviors. By evaluating your emotions, you can change them.

The significant elements of self-awareness include emotional intelligence, or your ability to recognize your own emotions, and self-confidence, or sureness in your self-worth and capabilities. 

  1. Self-Regulation

Although it can be challenging to control when you experience emotions, you can control how long emotions last using techniques that alleviate negative feelings such as anxiety, stress, and sadness. Some of these techniques include viewing a situation in a more positive light, practicing meditation, or setting aside time for self-care. 

According to Goleman, self-regulation comprises five key components: self-control, trustworthiness, conscientiousness, adaptability, and innovation.

  1. Motivation

Motivation involves clear goals and a positive outlook. While some people have a predisposition to a positive or negative attitude, it’s possible to learn to view situations in a more positive light. For example, if you identify negative thoughts as they occur, you can reframe them more positively to achieve your goals.

In Goleman’s model, motivation consists of achievement drive, commitment, initiative, and optimism.

  1. Empathy

Empathy, the ability to recognize other people’s feelings, is integral to success in your life and career. The more quickly you can identify others’ feelings through signals like facial expressions and body language, the better you can control the signals you send them. 

People with a high degree of emotional awareness are highly skilled at service orientation, sensing what others need, leveraging diversity to seek opportunities, gaining political awareness, and understanding others. 

  1. Social Skills

In today’s world, everyone has instant access to technical knowledge. Consequently, social skills are more critical than ever because you need a high degree of social awareness and strong interpersonal skills to understand, empathize, and negotiate with others in the digital age.

The skills that influence social intelligence include influence, communication, conflict management, collaboration and cooperation, and relationship management skills.

Why is emotional intelligence so important?

Emotional intelligence plays a vital role in how well you do in your life and career. Most psychologists generally agree that IQ only accounts for approximately 10% of success, while the rest depends on other factors, including EQ.

In a recent study among Harvard University graduates in business, law, medicine, and teaching, researchers found zero correlation between high-IQ indicators (entrance exam scores) and subsequent career success, highlighting the importance of emotional intelligence.

In other words, while intellect can help you get into college, emotional intelligence skills can help you manage your stress and anxiety when taking your final exams. EQ plays a major role in your mental health, interpersonal relationships, school and work performance, social intelligence, and even physical health. IQ and EQ exist in tandem and are most effective when they build off one another.

How to Improve Your Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is integral to success in your life and career, but what can you do to improve your interpersonal and emotional skills? Whether you’re interested in tuning in to your own emotions or understanding how the people around you are feeling, the first steps in emotional learning involve:

Practice active listening.

In social situations, actively listening to what other people are saying can help you form healthy relationships, understand others’ emotions, and develop a greater sense of compassion and empathy. Additionally, by practicing active listening, you can also develop better interpersonal skills, allowing you to express your emotional state more easily. 

When practicing active listening to boost your EI, remember that, in many cases, people aren’t looking to have their problems solved. Instead, they want to communicate their frustration. By actively listening and responding to their mood, you can heighten your emotional skills and agreeableness.

Empathize with others.

Empathy involves understanding another person’s feelings and emotional responses. Essentially, empathy is about being able to “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes,” and even if you haven’t personally experienced what they’re going through, empathy allows you to understand the situation and recognize the feelings associated with it.

Even if you don’t know the right thing to say or do, it’s imperative to acknowledge and respect the feelings of those around you, even if you disagree with them. An emotionally intelligent person knows to avoid making judgmental or indifferent comments or statements. Instead, they’re genuinely interested in others and use social skills for relationship management in their personal and professional lives.

Reflect on your own feelings.

Your ability to reason with your emotions is an essential part of your EI. An emotionally intelligent person is highly aware of their emotional state—even in the face of anxiety, stress, and sadness—and can recognize and identify their different emotions. To improve your EI, take the time to think about how your mood influences your decisions and behaviors in daily life.

Throughout the day, stop and ask yourself, “How am I feeling?” Checking in with yourself every day can help you make a habit of stopping and recognizing your feelings. For the best results, try setting an alarm on your phone or computer to practice mindfulness every hour. After a while, reflecting on your emotional state and recognizing different emotions will become more automatic.

To start your journey to a high EQ, reach out to a mental health professional through WithTherapy. We’ll connect you to a therapist, social worker, psychologist, or counselor you feel comfortable with, regardless of your personal preferences and requirements. 

One of the qualified therapists on the WithTherapy platform will help you strengthen your relationships, improve your emotional perception, and learn healthy ways to cope with negative feelings to boost your EQ.

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