Your emotional intelligence should be one of the most important factors in your personal development work. There’s a lot of information about the importance of IQ, but this isn’t the only form of intelligence and often isn’t even the best predictor of life or career success. Your level of emotional intelligence determines the quality of your relationships. It helps you to understand other people better in every type of context. And most importantly, it helps you to understand yourself.
Understanding your emotions, reactions, impulses and drives is pivotal in taking control of your life. If you want to move through your life with little or no understanding of why you do the things you do, then you shouldn’t work on your emotional intelligence. And if you don’t want to know how how to dismantle the internal barriers in your way, then you probably aren’t interested in your personal development or your EQ. But chances are, if you’re reading this article, then this isn’t the kind of life that you want. You want to understand where you’re going and why. You want to keep growing in the way that’s most natural to you. And most of all, you want a life that’s full of the things you want and value, whatever they might be. And improving your emotional intelligence will help with all of those dreams.
Are you emotionally intelligent? How do you know? And how can you keep improving your emotional intelligence throughout your life?
What is Emotional Intelligence?
Emotional intelligence (EQ) is the ability to understand and manage your own emotions and the emotions of the people around you. This doesn’t mean that you ignore or suppress your emotions, nor does it mean that you express everything you’re feeling no matter where you are. And it definitely doesn’t mean that you manipulate others into doing what you want. In fact, real emotional intelligence gives you the ability to judge what’s appropriate in any given situation. People with emotional intelligence can come into a new situation and just sense what’s appropriate and what’s not. They neither indulge their emotions, nor let them run wild, and they understand exactly what to do to support the emotional lives of the people around them as well.
This doesn’t mean that you’ll have perfect relationships or a perfect life if you develop your emotional intelligence. No matter how good you get at these skills, you will still make mistakes and misread situations. But generally speaking, people with high EQ have better relationships and are more mentally and emotionally healthy than those with low EQ. And what more could you really ask from life than that?
Daniel Goleman’s 4 Elements to EQ
One of the most influential thinkers on emotional intelligence is Daniel Goleman. His book of the same name has become part of the lexicon of EQ, and has influenced a number of other works on the topic. He also introduced the topic of EQ to the greater population, making it part of the group consciousness and of any good personal development program. He identified 4 key elements to EQ, each of which have core competencies that can determine your individual ‘score’ in each of these areas. The 4 key elements are:
How well do you understand yourself? Do you find yourself shocked by things you discover about your personality, your dreams or your deepest, darkest secrets? Being able to recognize and understand your emotions is key to every other part of emotional intelligence. You can’t learn to self-regulate, motivate yourself, show empathy or get along with others without this skill. That makes it the first thing you should work on when you’re building your EQ, because it will give you a strong foundation that will support the other skills.
Self-regulation is an area of emotional intelligence that a lot of people don’t think about. If you can self-regulate it means that you can manage and control your abilities, internal resources, impulses, and your emotions. It also means that you take responsibility for your life and for your actions. If you’ve ever said that something wasn’t your fault (with some notable exceptions), believe that you just have bad luck, or blamed someone else for your emotional responses, then you don’t self-regulate very well.
Empathy is a skill and an emotion that allows you to share the emotional experience of other people. Unfortunately, it’s also something that seems in short supply these days, with studies showing that college level students today demonstrate 50 percent less empathy than previous generations. Empathy helps make people compassionate, and it makes you want to improve the world in some way. And considering everything that’s going on in the world at the moment, this has never been so important.
Your social skills are your ability to interact with and connect to other people. There are a range of skills involved with this, including your ability to speak clearly, use non-verbal cues, listen properly and generally just communicate your thoughts and your emotions effectively. Basically, if you don’t have good social skills, you will have unhealthy relationships, feel frequently misunderstood, and have lower happiness levels as well.
How to tell if you have Low Emotional Intelligence
Nobody wants to think that they have low emotional intelligence, but the truth is that a lot of people fall under this banner. You might have trouble in this area if you experience the following situations on a regular basis:
You don’t understand your own emotions
If you struggle to identify your emotions, or just don’t understand why you’re feeling a certain way, it might be a sign of low emotional intelligence. The appropriate level of understanding is different for everyone. Some people are naturally more adept with emotions, but others may struggle even to develop the most basic understanding. The key is that no matter where you start out, everyone can improve with a little focus and hard work. And learning more about your emotions will help you with all the other parts of emotional intelligence as well.
You can’t control your emotions
A lot of people seem to think that they don’t have to control their emotions. They seem to believe that being true to themselves means expressing every emotion as loudly and as publicly as possible. This is probably because of the influence of reality television and shock culture, where the biggest outburst gets the most attention. But in real life, this is an extremely immature idea. Learning to control your emotions doesn’t mean blocking them. It means that you can assess a situation and express your emotions at appropriate times and levels.
You argue with other people a lot
If you find that you have trouble holding on to a relationship because you argue with other people all the time, you might have low emotional intelligence. And this goes double if you believe that it’s always the other person’s fault. In most situations and arguments, blame is shared. The other person may say the wrong thing or rile you up, but it’s your choice how to respond. And if you always choose to respond by arguing, and end up losing relationships because of it, it’s probably because of a low EQ.
If you’re close-minded, then you have rigid opinions that you’re unwilling to change or even consider changing. This isn’t always a bad thing. Being close-minded about the fact that water is wet is a fairly reasonable mindset to have. But if you refuse to consider other opinions when it comes to religion, politics, morality, or lifestyle, then you need to learn to open your mind more. And this goes double if your opinions on these issues hurt others or in any way diminish the value of their lives or choices.
You blame others
In most arguments and situation, you share some of the blame. This doesn’t apply to every situation of course, you’re not to blame for a random stranger taking your bag at gunpoint. But most of the time, seeing and accepting responsibility for your life and how it turns out is a difficult but essential part of emotional intelligence. If you find yourself blaming your partner for all your arguments, your boss for your workload, or a friend for a misunderstanding, then you need to rethink the situation and your part in it. What have you done to heal the situation? And what have you done to make it worse? Doing this honestly is part of taking control of your life and accepting your part in creating it.
Lack of empathy
Lack of empathy seems to be a common complaint these days. It’s a troubling one too, with long term implications for the health of individuals and for the continued co-existence of the people on this planet. Empathy allows us to feel the emotions of others, and if you can do that, why would you ever inflict pain on others yourself?
8 Things Emotionally Intelligent People do
When you meet someone with a lot of emotional intelligence you’ll probably recognize it immediately. They usually just seem more in tune with other people, everyone wants to be around them, and they’re naturally warm and welcoming. This is a wonderful way to be, and it’s something that everyone should aspire to. With that in mind, here are some qualities and abilities that emotionally intelligent people share:
The ability to perspective shift
This is a complicated idea that basically boils down to the ability to see things through other points of view. Too often, people tend to get a little self-absorbed. We tend to think that our way of seeing and evaluating the world is the only way. But this couldn’t be more wrong. Two people walking into a party will focus on completely different things, and probably not even notice the people or activities that caught the attention of the other person. This is a very basic example of the different lenses that control what each person pays attention to and what they believe and value.
People with emotional intelligence understand this concept innately. They understand that, even though they may not understand someone else’s point of view, the other person came to it naturally and has their own reasons for believing or acting the way they do. This doesn’t mean that people with high EQ accept and support every type of behavior of course, but they do accept that it might seem right when seen through the other person’s lenses.
Emotionally intelligent people spend a lot of time on introspection. They analyze their emotions and their reactions and are always working to improve their understanding of themselves and of other people. Self-development is never really finished, and this applies especially to work that you do on your emotional control and understanding. Emotionally intelligent people understand that.
The ability to change their emotions
You are not a slave to your emotions. It might feel like it sometimes, when you’re angry or scared. You might feel as if you’re helpless in the ocean of negative feelings and sensations. But this reflects a certain amount of immaturity as well as a refusal to take responsibility. Emotionally intelligent people understand that their thoughts and actions go a long way towards creating their emotions. And that means that you can change how you’re feeling in a lot of cases so it doesn’t negatively affect your life.
They let go of mistakes
Everyone makes mistakes, it’s completely natural. But have you ever thought about a mistake years later and cringed? Have you ever held yourself back from something you want because you remembered a previous failure? This kind of thinking is pointless, but all too common. Learning to move beyond it, to accept your past and your future mistakes, is all part of controlling and changing your emotions in ways that nourish and support you.
They embrace change
Change is a part of life and you need to embrace it. Otherwise you’ll find yourself stuck in a rut, unable to reach for anything you want and at the mercy of life’s tides. Learning to embrace change is part of your emotional control and your self-regulation, so if you have problems with it you might need to work on these aspects of personal development.
They can create boundaries and distance
Being open and warm hearted doesn’t mean stripping away all of your barriers or trying to be as close to everyone as possible. Boundaries are necessary for our survival. They protect us from people who might have negative intentions and they protect us from the constant stream of needs, preferences and wants coming from all around us. Basically, without the ability to create boundaries you would be defenseless. And if you couldn’t put some distance between yourself and the pain or worries of others, you would be completely overwhelmed and unable to function. Don’t let anyone tell you that emotional intelligence means dropping all your boundaries and going out into the world with a completely open heart. This should be reserved only for the people closest to you, the ones who want and have earned that kind of trust and intimacy.
Emotionally intelligent people are curious about the world around them and curious about other people. This is what draws others to them and makes them so popular. If you’re curious about others and listen in that spirit, you’ll find that others will naturally gravitate to you and want to be around you. Because it’s incredibly flattering to know that someone else finds you fascinating.
Emotionally intelligent people have an innate confidence that can’t be shifted by the bad opinions of others, setbacks, or what other people think is right. They understand who they are and what’s right for them, and they go after it with all their heart and soul. And if others ways to join them on this journey, fine. But if they don’t, it’s their loss. And doesn’t that sound a lot better than being constantly at the mercy of social norms and the opinions of everyone you come across?
How to Improve your Emotional Intelligence
Improving your emotional intelligence is a highly individual experience. It will depend on your personality, on your mental and emotional maturity and on how you actually experience your own emotions. Some good strategies for starting out are:
Keep a diary
Keeping a diary can make you more aware of the patterns of your behavior and your motivation. Taking the time to think about why you do things and whether your methods are effective can also make you aware of destructive or inefficient patterns. And understanding and identifying something is the first step to changing it, so make sure you keep a diary if you think there are areas of your life that could use some help.
Life is busy and too often you probably walk through it without paying much attention. You probably don’t even notice all the feedback you get that indicates a problem with some aspect of your emotional intelligence. Becoming more aware of your behavior and the reactions of the people around you by paying attention can give you a good idea of what areas you need to work on.
You’re not always right. No matter where you get your information, how much you think about it, or how often others confirm your opinions, it’s impossible for you to be right all the time. And if you never question your opinions, if deep down you’re absolutely sure that you’re right about something, then there’s a very good chance that you’re very, very wrong.
This idea doesn’t usually apply to everything of course, if you think that fire is hot then you’re definitely right. But if you believe that an opinion you hold is beyond contestation, you need to rethink it. Question almost everything. And if it’s an opinion that you think is so obvious that it doesn’t need questioning, that’s usually a warning sign that you should start there. Learning to question everything, even the things you’ve been taught to accept unthinkingly, is the start of real emotional and mental growth.
Learn to manage stress
Stress is incredibly destructive. It’s been linked to a number of health problems as well as mental and emotional disorders. Learning to manage it is one of the great challenges of modern life. So try some activities and techniques that help you manage your stress levels. And if they work for you, include them in your life regularly.
Everyone makes mistakes and learning to accept that fact is part of being an adult. No matter how much you and the people around you try, there will be times when you fail. The key is to not give up. You need to learn from your mistakes and move on from them. The only shame in mistakes is making them over and over, because it means you haven’t learned from them at all.
No matter how well adjusted you are, you still have emotional triggers. These are issues or situations that destabilize you, that make you feel rage or pain or fear that’s often completely out of proportion with the event that triggered the emotions. Usually these triggers go back to childhood, old wounds that haven’t healed and cause problems whenever you find yourself in a situation that reminds you of that original pain. Identifying your triggers can be difficult. You may think that you’re reacting reasonably even while everyone else is standing around staring in shock at your behavior. Learning to identify these vulnerable places and working to heal them is vital to your sense of self-control and self-mastery.
Predict your emotions
When you can predict your emotional reactions to something, this is when you’re really developing some emotional intelligence. Being able to predict how you’ll react, and take steps to change it ahead of time if necessary, is an advanced technique that few people can master.
Listen to your body
Your body is more tightly linked to your brain than you might think. For a long time popular culture and medicine has portrayed the body and the mind as two separate entities, with little to do with each other. But deeper research into physiology has proven this wrong. For example, your gut contains over 100 million neurons, a network of the cells once found only in the brain. These cells partly determine mood and mental state and play a role in a number of diseases. The heart contains neurons as well, which allow it to perform some very specific functions and send information back to the brain. This doesn’t mean that you think with your gut or your heart, the neuronal network isn’t that extensive or complicated. However, it does indicate that the mind and the body are connected in deeper ways than science previously imagined.
So listen to your body. If you’re tired, it’s probably for a reason. If you’re feeling stressed, it could be a sign of some emotional distress that you’re not acknowledging. Listening to your body is part of taking care of the entire unit that is you. And you can’t be emotionally intelligent if you neglect this role.
Listen to others
Asking for feedback from the people around you will help you see your blind spots. Everyone has blind spots, things about their behavior that they can’t see, and having a trusted friend or family member to point these out can be vital to your growth.
For a long time, everyone has been concerned about the importance of IQ in life success. As a result, other forms of intelligence have been mostly ignored. But recently there’s been a change in the way people look at intelligence. There are many different forms of intelligence and each of them is important in different contexts. Working on one form of intelligence will obviously improve your life. However, it can also leave other aspects of your life ignored, underdeveloped, and in trouble.Improving your emotional intelligence will improve your work, your relationships and your ability to cope with problems and setbacks in any part of your life. In fact, it’s one of the most important things you can do to improve your goal achievement, make your relationships happier, and to increase your own happiness levels as well.
Are you emotionally intelligent? How did you score on some of these measures of emotional intelligence? Share your results with us in the comments below.