Most of us are familiar with intellectual intelligence, commonly defined as the ability to learn, apply knowledge, and solve problems. But intellectual intelligence isn’t the only type of intelligence. Many of us also possess what has become known as “emotional intelligence.”
Emotional intelligence, or EI, is commonly defined as the ability to perceive, understand, manage, and use emotions, both our own and those of others. People having high EI recognize their own and others’ emotions, deploy their emotions to guide their thinking and behavior, distinguish between different emotions, and modify emotions to adapt to situations. The term “emotional intelligence” first appeared in the 1960s, but it did not gain popularity until the 1995 publication of the best-selling book Emotional Intelligence, which broadly defined EI as the array of skills and characteristics that drive leadership performance. Researchers have since developed two primary models to measure EI: (1) the “trait” model, which focuses on behavioral traits; and (2) the “ability” model, which focuses on the ability to process emotions and apply them to social environments. Other “mixed” models combine aspects of both models with other psychological and neural mechanisms.
Many experts now believe that EI quotients (EQs) are more important than IQs as a better predictor of success, quality of relationships, and overall happiness. Studies have revealed that people with high EQs enjoy greater mental health, job performance, and leadership skills, and managers today commonly seek out methods of developing EI to become more effective leaders. Not surprisingly, many of those leadership enhancement methods associate EI with empathy and teach managers to relate their personal emotions to those of others as a means of influencing others in positive, beneficial ways.
In layman’s terms, EI measures our
- Self-awareness, e., how we recognize and understand our emotions and reactions;
- Self-management, e., how we manage and adapt our emotions;
- Motivation, e., how we harness our emotions to pursue our goals;
- Empathy, e., how we discern others’ emotions to relate to them more effectively; and
- Social skills, e., how we use emotions to develop relationships, resolve conflicts, foster teamwork, and lead others towards collective goals.
Those skills speak largely to our ability to improve our relationships with others by improving our control of our own emotions and our appreciation of others’ emotions.
But the importance of EI extends far beyond the need to interact and communicate with others. EI is a gateway to living a balanced life. Among other conditions, EI is critically important to our physical health (especially our stress management), mental well-being, resolutions of conflicts, professional and personal success, and leadership skills.
As to the latter, the ability to understand what motivates others, to communicate and relate in a positive manner, and to build stronger bonds with colleagues inevitably makes individuals with high EI better leaders. Effective leaders recognize the needs of their underlings and meets them in a way that encourages higher performance and workplace satisfaction. Emotionally intelligent leaders also develop stronger teams by strategically utilizing the emotional diversity of their team members to benefit the group collectively.
Significantly, EI is not exclusively genetic. You can develop the ability to take control of your emotions. Three tips are especially helpful:
1. Acknowledge Your Feelings
We tend to lose touch with our emotions when we’re preoccupied with worrying about what to do next and what can be done better. Rather than address our emotions, we choose to ignore them, without appreciating the reality that suppressing our emotions only makes matters worse. The more we try to bury our emotions, the more uncontrollable they become.
Emotional responses often arise from unresolved issues. Negative emotions should be met not with suppression but with calm contemplation about their sources. When stressed, take a deep breath and write down the emotions you’re experiencing and the possible reasons for them. Doing so will help you to identify your emotional triggers and ways to cope with them.
2. Respond, Don’t React
When we react, we subconsciously express or relieve an emotion. When we respond, in contrast, we consciously recognize our feelings and decide how to behave. Awareness of our emotional triggers enables us to contemplate how to behave in advance.
For instance, if you know you get angry when you’re stressed at work, consider ahead of time what you can do the next time you experience such a trigger. You might decide to tell your colleagues candidly that you need some alone time because you’re stressed. Or you might elect to deflect your anger until you can deal with your stressors privately. Proactive acknowledgment and reflection lead to conscious responses, not subconscious reactions, and much better reception from our colleagues.
3. Remain Humble
Self-importance blinds us to our own faults, which in turn triggers negative emotions when expectations are not met. But humility recognizes our personal shortcomings, thereby tempering expectations and harnessing emotional outbursts when expectations are not met.
Try assessing colleagues and performances from perspectives other than your personal experience. Rather than judging someone against your own standards, put yourself in their shoes and try to think or feel as they might. Understanding other people’s thoughts and emotions will improve your understanding of, and responses to, the endless variety of situations that confront leaders. Humility breeds EI.
EI is a lifetime process. Observation and practice enhance emotional awareness, which in turn fosters leadership skills and productivity. Developing your EI will improve the quality of your life, both professionally and personally.