Cultivating Emotional Intelligence

In our blog “Emotional Intelligence” we discussed what emotional intelligence (EQ) is and which habits define it. Now, it’s time to take our analysis a little bit further and dive into exactly why EQ is so important, as well as learn what tools and skills we need to reach optimal emotional intelligence.

EQ is marked by a deep awareness of how your emotions influence your decisions and behaviors, which allows you to effectively engage with other people. In other words, EQ is the practice of understanding what makes you and the people around you tick. Research has found that people with high levels of EQ are happier, healthier, and more likely to reach professional and personal success. But how exactly does EQ make such a difference?

Why EQ Matters

Emotional intelligence helps you build stronger relationships, succeed at work and school, and achieve your personal and professional goals. Mounting research suggests that EQ might even outweigh other factors in terms of value and importance. In one study, international firm Egon Zehnder analyzed over 500 executives and found that those who had strong levels of EQ were more likely to succeed than those strongest in either IQ or relevant work experience. Likewise, a study conducted by TalentSmart found that emotional intelligence—when tested alongside 33 other important workplace skills—was the strongest predicator of job performance.

In other bodies of research, low EQ had negative impacts on career development. Research by the Center for Creative Leadership found that the primary causes for executive failure related to deficiencies in EQ. The top traits that contributed to an executive’s dismissal were inability to handle change, poor teamwork skills, and weak interpersonal relations.  

Traits that are associated with EQ are consistently attributed to high-performance. Research published in Psychological Science analyzed employees from more than thirty companies, throughout a wide range of career sectors. Results found that EQ competencies distinguished top performers from average ones. The traits that were most prevalent in top performers were Achievement Drive, Developing Others, Adaptability, Self-Confidence, and Leadership.

Not only is EQ a top indicator of workplace success, it is also positively correlated with creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurial success. In fact, a trial published in the IUP Journal of Management Research found that emotional intelligence and entrepreneurial self-efficacy were strongly related. High levels of EQ were characteristic of all who undertook an independent business venture. The students in the MS Design Thinking and Entrepreneurship Program at NLU learn more about the relationship between their own emotional intelligence and developing empathy for users and building their creative skills in design thinking.

With so much research pointing to the benefits of EQ, it’s natural to wonder how one might go about developing their own emotional intelligence. The good news is that EQ is not a fixed trait that can be passed down or inherited. Emotional intelligence is like a muscle: it can be targeted and developed to grow stronger.

How to Develop EQ

Your ability to understand, use, and manage your emotions can be improved by growing your skills within the four key attributes of emotional intelligence: self-awareness, self-management, empathy, and relationship skills –

Self-awareness is built by reflecting on how your thoughts and emotions guide you. Take time to check in with yourself, reconnect to your core emotions, consider how you process them. This can be achieved by practicing mindfulness: shift your attention to the present moment and focus on the physical and emotional sensations you are feeling. This technique helps broaden your perspective and seeks to put an end to reactions that are propelled by emotional impulse. Self-awareness can also be enhanced by dedicating time to growing your skills and addressing your weaknesses. Consider the skills you hope to strengthen in order to be a better student, employee, partner, etc. In the same vein, acknowledge the parts of you that you’d like to evolve, and make stronger. Self-awareness empowers you to make changes necessary to get the outcomes you want.   

Self-management is developed by being in control of the emotions that you feel. In times of stress, anger, and sadness, emotions can cloud your ability to accurately access a situation and react in a productive way. Instead, try to anticipate and accept that you will face obstacles and challenges throughout your daily life. To manage the overwhelming nature of negative emotions, take a deep breath and pause before you react. Try to understand the context of a given situation, separate from emotion, and adjust your strategy as needed. Communicate with people in ways that are beneficial for both of you. Other ways to manage stress are to proactively engage in activities that trigger a relaxation response, such as meditation and exercise.

Empathy is sharpened by actively being involved in how other people think and feel. When you are listening to someone, do not talk over them or interrupt them. Ask questions about their experience, demonstrate curiosity in the things that they care about. As a leader, get to know your team on a personal level. When leaders practice compassion, the people they work with feel more valued. Another way to practice empathy is to challenge your prejudices. When you interact with someone different than you, discover the commonalities that exist between you. Develop awareness of the challenges that others face that may not exist for you. When we do this, we become more sensitive to the experience of others, and we can forge stronger connections with them.  

Relationship skills are grown by pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and being mindful of how other people perceive you. In a team setting, invite others to share their opinions and ideas. Be aware of how you convey your opinions, and only do so in a neutral and calm way. Understand the kinds of nonverbal cues you may be giving off, and how that may impact the dynamic of your group. Avoid frowning, shaking your head, and crossing your arms. Instead, smile, laugh, and make eye contact with the person speaking. In all of your interactions, be a source of positivity and motivation. Conduct yourself as someone that other people want to be around. Don’t be afraid to share unique ideas and go against the grain. Leaders who value innovative ideas leave the people around them feeling inspired and excited to make a difference.

Our lives are defined by the relationships within them, so there is no question that emotional intelligence is imperative to our understanding of ourselves and other people. Elevated EQ translates to improved work performance, higher-quality interactions, and a greater sense of happiness and fulfillment. With practice, developing the four domains of EQ will begin to build upon each other and our connections to others will grow deeper, enriching our lives for the better.

Author: Constance Capone

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