An Introduction to Emotional Intelligence

What exactly is emotional intelligence?

There have been many definitions of emotional intelligence, but most revolve around a few common areas. A generally agreed upon definition is the ability to recognize, differentiate, and manage our emotions and the emotions of others. The notion of emotions being important in our lives goes all the way back to the ancient Greeks. Aristotle said, “It is one thing to be angry, but we need to be angry at the right time, for the right reasons, with the right people.” 

While the ancient Greeks had an interest in emotions, it wasn’t until the 1900s that social scientists began to actively study emotions and come up with ways of measuring, testing, and harnessing them in real life. Previously, IQ was considered the prime measurement taken for assessing people’s abilities. However, many social scientists believed IQ was limited in its capacity and that there were many different intelligences involved in determining people’s abilities.

In 1995 Daniel Goleman, a science reporter for the New York Times and a psychologist, published his seminal book called Emotional Intelligence, Why It Can Matter More than IQ. Goleman’s book was a summary of the work that had been done behind the scenes. The book became a huge bestseller and graced the cover of Time magazine, and the world began to learn about emotional intelligence. The term emotional intelligence (EQ) was created by a couple of psychologists and researchers, Peter Salovey and John Mayer, in the journal Imagination, Cognition and Personality in 1990. The interest in EQ increased rapidly in the following decades, particularly among businesses that were constantly looking for ways to improve. Emotional intelligence looked like it could have some answers on how to help increase staff engagement, satisfaction, and productivity, as well as lessen turnover.

Why does it matter?

We know, from scientific data, that we feel before we think. We first become aware of something when it enters the amygdala (also known as the limbic or emotional brain), which regulates our fight/flight response. It takes several seconds for it to reach our neocortex (the thinking or powerful executive brain). It is during this time that we are vulnerable to acting strictly from our emotions, which often results in making bad decisions. Daniel Goleman referred to this phenomenon as an “amygdala hijack.” When our emotions are running high or out of control, our cognitive abilities become diminished and we lose control of our ability to think rationally, making decisions that we may come to regret later. Our ability to manage our emotions so that they do not override our thinking brain is crucial to our success not only in our working world, but in all areas of our lives.

As humans we are hardwired for connection. It is through making positive connections that our success, fulfillment, and happiness in all aspects reside. Maya Angelou and a number of other people have stated, “People may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” It is only through awareness of and regulation of our own emotions and awareness of the emotions of others that we gain the capacity to make positive impressions on others. It is through those impressions that we are able to make sales, get promoted, and develop deep, lasting relationships at and outside of work.

At the workplace, emotional intelligence helps us to create psychological safety, build and increase collaboration, motivate and coach others, and resolve conflict. Possessing emotional intelligence gives us the tools and confidence to have difficult conversations and address problems head on in a timely manner whenever they arise. 

What are the main characteristics of emotional intelligence?

While there are various characteristics of emotional intelligence, the main competencies are self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management. 

Self-awareness is the root or basis of all emotional intelligence. Self-awareness means being aware of our own emotions, both in terms of what we are experiencing and what is causing us to experience them as we do. Without self-awareness we are unable to determine what kind of impact our actions and words are having on others. Impulse control is our ability to manage our emotions so that we express them appropriately at the right time, with the right people under the right circumstances. Empathy is the primary way we are able to gain social awareness and in turn develop healthy relationships. It is the ability to be aware of what others are experiencing or going through. Even though we may not agree with them, we can build trust and strong connections with others by becoming aware of what is going on for them. It is the basis of cooperation and working together with others who may not think or feel the way that we do. 

People have a need to be heard, and developing empathy gives us the tools to allow people to feel they have been heard. People who have developed strong emotional intelligence share these characteristics. Another phrase to incorporate is “what I heard you say was . . .” and in saying this, the other person will definitely know they have been heard. We are often quick to reply to people and may miss what they are actually trying to communicate. 

About the Author

Harvey Deutschendorf is an emotional intelligence expert, speaker, trainer and internationally published author of The Other Kind of Smart: Simple Ways to Boost Your Emotional Intelligence for Greater Personal Effectiveness and Success. He also writes for Fast Company and has monthly column with HR Professionals Magazine. As well, he is a regular contributor to Real Leaders Magazine, the official publication of the Young Presidents Club.  Harvey is a TEDx Speaker with TEDx Beacon Street, Boston. In 2015 Harvey was recognized by Trust Across America as one of the top Thought Leaders in Trust.

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