You’ve probably heard the phrase ‘emotional intelligence’ before. (It’s also sometimes called ‘emotional quotient,’ which we’re not going to use, because it makes it sound like you’ll need to divide your emotions by your hat size or something.) But that doesn’t mean you know what emotional intelligence actually is.
As you undoubtedly know, our emotions can interfere with our ability to work effectively, communicate clearly, make intelligent decisions, and build and maintain healthy relationships. But emotional intelligence isn’t about knowing that there are emotions or that they can occasionally cause problems. It’s about knowing how those emotions affect our mood, our decision-making and our relationships.
A person’s emotional intelligence has nothing to do with how many emotions they express or how intelligent they are. Instead, emotional intelligence refers to the process of becoming aware of the role that emotions play in our perceptions of events and in our interactions with others. In general, the higher your level of emotional intelligence, the healthier and more productive you’ll be, both as an individual and with groups of other people.
And in order to develop that high level of emotional intelligence, there are really only three things that need to happen. First is developing an awareness of your emotions and how you typically express them. It’s hard to be emotionally intelligent if you can’t often figure out how you’re feeling about something or why you feel that way. For example, some people get loud and angry when things go wrong, others tend to withdraw, still others immediately jump into problem-solving mode and yet others try to act as though nothing is actually wrong. And I’m probably missing a few dozen options there.
Knowing how you tend to act in emotionally charged situations is necessary in order to tackle the second step of refining your emotional intelligence, which is to manage and control your emotions as effectively as possible. This is where you’ll focus on figuring out how to stop throwing things when you get angry or yelling at people when you’re stressed or anything you might be doing that is causing more problems than it solves.
That does not mean you can’t have those emotions. Developing emotional intelligence isn’t about getting you to change your personality, which is basically impossible, or trying to be someone that you’re not, which is an objectively bad idea. Rather, it’s about understanding your own feelings and behaviors as much as possible.
Which leads to the final step – applying these skills to your relationships with other people. Once you know why you tend to act the way you do in certain situations, you’ll be better able to understand why other people might act the way they do in those same situations – which may be very similar to you, or completely different. And once you learn how to control your less-than-ideal emotional responses when they might affect your ability to make a good decision or communicate effectively with others, you’ll be better positioned to build empathy toward others and be more open to understanding their feelings and behaviors as well. Which means that ultimately, developing your own personal emotional intelligence is going to help you improve your ability to understand how other people are feeling and respond to those feelings as effectively as possible.
Doing all of this takes time, practice, and a determination to improve. But hopefully now you at least know what emotional intelligence is, what it requires, and how it can be enormously beneficial to you and everyone around you.