What is Emotional Intelligence?
We all know what it means to be intelligent--or at least, we know intelligence when we see it. Intelligent people are easily able to listen, acquire new skills, and analyze information, sometimes so well that we are stunned.
Emotional intelligence is not only harder to identify, but also often less appreciated. Being able to recognize, understand and manage our own emotions when we are under pressure is emotional intelligence. There are moments where we get into uncomfortable conversations but don’t want to hurt others’ feelings--so we use our emotional intelligence. Other times, we may hurt someone’s feelings and realize an apology is needed--offering that apology is also emotional intelligence.
Like general intelligence, it is easy to convince ourselves that we are born able to handle our emotions, or not. But in fact, adults can and should practice managing their emotions under pressure. Sometimes, the people we believe are “handling” their emotions are actually suppressing or ignoring them, because they don’t know how to understand or express them. There are people who tend to get mad in the middle of a traffic jam or who speak impulsively and hurt others in the process. These kinds of people are not naturally emotionally intelligent--but they can learn. Dedication and practice are the key to being able to improve how to handle our emotions.
Why is Emotional Intelligence Important?
Studies from sources like Harvard, Stanford, and the Carnegie Foundation indicate that over 80% of success in life and business manifests through emotional intelligence and interpersonal skills that come along with it. Emotional Intelligence greatly helps us build stronger bonds with others, succeed in studies and work, and achieve what we've always imagined. In part, this is because we are in tune with our own emotions and can be HONEST about what we want, even if it is not what others want for us.
Emotional intelligence is also important to empower us to relate to others even when we don’t share backgrounds and experiences. Listening to understand and ask questions about others’ experiences is a foundational skill in emotional intelligence. When we learn to listen without trying to “win” the conversation or just wait for our turn to focus the conversation back on ourselves, this improves our relationships and also enriches our own perspective.
Who Should Learn About Emotional Intelligence?
Learning emotional intelligence is for everyone. No one is great at handling their emotions all the time, especially through life’s unexpected twists and turns. We will all be caught off guard by bad news, be challenged to interact with those who deliberately seek to offend us, and even have times where, through no outside influence at all, we just feel down.
Emotional intelligence starts with simply being able to name our emotions. Do you really make space for yourself to be angry, disappointed, or scared? Or do you just “rush through” those feelings to be more present for others?
Becoming more emotionally intelligent doesn’t mean that you STOP showing up for others. In fact, it improves the way you do so, because it means listening to your own emotions and setting boundaries about how, when, and why you choose to show up. This means less resentment or feeling taken advantage of, and fewer secrets lurking beneath the surfaces of our relationships.
Practicing emotional intelligence is for anyone who wants to deeply understand the importance of relating to others’ needs; who wants to improve their ability to solve problems and make decisions; and anyone who wants to improve their ability to support others.
Resources for Learning Emotional Intelligence
As an emotional intelligence trainer, I conduct group education sessions about emotional intelligence, tailoring a custom set of interactive exercises, anecdotes, and insights to help each organization make diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging more central to the employee experience.
If you’re not there yet, or are interested in becoming more emotionally intelligent as an individual, check out some of these resources for self-directed learning:
Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman: This is the book that popularized the concept of emotional intelligence in the 1990s.
Stretching For Success Workbook: This workbook helps users self-direct their learning of emotional intelligence in a way that aligns with their personal and professional goals.
Udemy Emotional Intelligence Courses: Udemy is one of many online platforms which offers access to both general emotional intelligence courses, as well as those focused on topics like EI in the workplace, conflict management, leadership, and more.
Practicing emotional intelligence is a journey. Some days you will do great and other days you will know that you could have done better. Just remember to keep an open mind, an open heart, and a humble spirit, and this journey will take you to amazing places with your personal happiness, friendships, family relationships, and career.