What Is Emotional Intelligence?

When it comes to relationships—whether professional or personal—the ways we interact with different people can vary greatly. Your socialization style at business meetings, family gatherings, and date nights with your partner all require different behavioral approaches. For example, you might not converse with your employer the same way you do with a friend. It’s also equally unlikely you would bring up a complaint to a colleague the same way you would to a family member. Despite these diverse relationship dynamics, there is one unifying characteristic that exists in all social interactions: an inherent ability to manage and direct emotions, relate to other people, and register the emotions of those around us. This ability is called emotional intelligence, otherwise known as emotional quotient or EQ.

What is EQ?

Unlike general intelligence, or GI, there is no scale or established system of measurement for emotional intelligence. Instead, emotional intelligence relates to a person’s grasp of interpersonal skills and has no known connection to a person’s individual IQ. Still, a growing body of research is emphasizing the importance of EQ in our daily lives. EQ has been found to be a strong predicator of professional success, academic achievement, and more substantive social interactions. EQ is positively correlated with the skills involved in teamwork, negotiation, leadership, and conflict management. So what exactly is EQ?

The interpersonal skills that define EQ exist in four key areas: self-awareness, self-management, empathy, and relationship skills –

Self-awareness is the capacity to understand how your emotions guide you, as well as recognition of your strengths and weaknesses. Self-awareness can be as simple as volunteering to take the lead in a project or speaking up when you know you need help. Another crucial element of self-awareness is emotional insight, which is the ability to assess your feelings and redirect them in a productive way. Emotional insight can be especially helpful in moments of anger or sadness, when pausing to reflect on the root cause of the emotion can facilitate thoughtful processing and healthier responses. Instead of letting your emotions get the best of you, try to be mindful about what triggered the emotion, and remind yourself that these feelings are often just temporary.

Self-management is the mastery of emotional resilience and balance. Individuals with self-management skills are adept at maintaining an even keel, especially in high-stress situations. They do not let roadblocks or upsets derail them from their goals. On the contrary, they understand that setbacks happen, and are thus better prepared to move forward when they encounter difficulties. Self-management also requires effective communication: being able to calmly inform someone when they’ve made a mistake, rather than erupting at them in anger. It is important for people in leadership roles to demonstrate self-management, as they are looked to as a source of motivation, hope, and positive reinforcement.

Empathy is being competent in reading, relating to, and understanding others. Empathy can be expressed in a number of ways, from asking questions to better understand someone’s perspective to showing encouragement and support when someone is going through a hard time. Strong listening skills are crucial to developing empathy, as listening is the best way to absorb a point of view different from your own. Empathy relies on understanding, and that is achieved by thoughtful reflection without judgement or criticism. It is not necessarily a goal of empathy to agree with someone else’s opinion, but rather to pursue a broader and more diverse worldview. Empathy empowers you to act with more compassion, bringing a deeper meaning to your relationships.

Relationship Skills are defined by teamwork and communication. Relationship skills in a team-working environment manifest as collective enthusiasm, a clear outline of responsibilities and shared goals, and a collaborative spirit. Team-players make the people around them feel comfortable and uplifted. They are also skilled communicators with the ability to share their thoughts in a concise, persuasive way. Team-players are non-combative, welcoming of different beliefs and ideas, and know exactly when to take the lead and when to sit back and listen.

What EQ Looks Like in Action

  • Providing helpful feedback – when it’s your turn to a share an opinion on someone else’s work, be mindful of how you’re framing your feedback. Try to avoid negative criticism and be honest. Your observations should be helpful, not harmful.
  • Offering to help others – yet another way to practice empathy is to offer your support to someone who is in need. Helping someone, regardless of who they are and where they come from, is one of the easiest ways to show your humanity. Actions like these build trust and inspire others to follow your lead when it matters.
  • Responding positively to criticism – just like one should always strive to provide beneficial feedback, it’s important to try to see the good in constructive criticism. Criticism offers an opportunity to learn, finetune areas of weakness, and see how you’re perceived by others. When you’re on the receiving end of negative feedback, take a moment to ask yourself: how can this help make me better?
  • Celebrating the achievements of others – when you give someone the acknowledgement or appreciation they deserve, they feel valued, and are more likely to continue reaching for success. Praise gives people the drive to continue producing the quality of work you want to see. Recognizing the potential in others is a great way to connect with them, make them feel worthy, and inspire them to continue along their journey.

While emotional intelligence is a characteristic of human behavior unrelated to intellect, it is nonetheless a significant factor of every relationship you have, from friendships to business partnerships and beyond. The bottom line is that investing in your emotional intelligence may be every bit as advantageous as investing in your general intelligence, and your relationships will be better for it.

Author: Constance Capone

This blog was sponsored by The MS Design Thinking and Entrepreneurship program. To learn more about the MS Design Thinking and Entrepreneurship Program, click here.