Recognizing and Developing Emotional Intelligence

There are many ways to define intelligence, and the most commonly accepted definition being in relation to facts, figures, and reasoning. This leaves out the emotional, interpersonal, or social aspects of intelligence, known as the Emotional Intelligence Quotient, or EQ. According to Merriam-Webster, intelligence is defined as:

  • (1): the ability to learn or understand or to deal with new or trying situations : REASON also: the skilled use of reason
  • (2): the ability to apply knowledge to manipulate one's environment or to think abstractly as measured by objective criteria (such as tests)

Per Google, Emotional Intelligence is the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically. EQ is ruled by the portion of the brain that process emotion.

EQ is hard to measure, leading some to treat it as a lesser skillset, and classifying it as a soft skill. This is a titanic mistake, however, as EQ plays an equally important role as IQ in the workplace. Like so many other intangibles that contribute to success, EQ is instantly recognizable in others. 

Recognizing EQ

Highly developed EQ is reflected not just in how we interact with others, but how we manage ourselves. Per the Consortium for Research on EQ, it can be broken down into five skill sets:

  • Personal
    • Self-awareness - EQ actually starts from within, and recognizing one’s emotions and their effects, and being able to accurately self-assess in the moment are paramount to a high EQ.
    • Self-regulation - This one can be summed up by exercising self control, being consistent, and maintaining flexibility. People with great EQ are trustworthy, adaptable to changing situations, and have well developed impulse control. 
    • Self-motivation - People with high EQ strive for excellence, take initiative to achieve personal and group goals, and operate with a certain level of optimism that they can and will achieve their goals. 
  • Social
    • Social awareness - This is probably the most well-known aspect of EQ, and it can be distilled into having empathy for those around you. Empathy can be developed by taking an active interest in the feelings and opinions of others, and then acting in their best interest.
    • Social skills - This is unsurprisingly the broadest aspect of EQ.Social skills range from leadership and communication to conflict management and building relationships. Social skills are the most outward facing faset of EQ.

EQ affects every aspect of our lives, and it’s important to note that while some may be predisposed to have a naturally higher EQ, these skills can be learned, honed, and improved upon by anyone. It is in all of our best interest to work toward a high EQ  as it’s a key predictor of success: According to a study by Johnson and Johnson, the highest performers in the workplace were those who possess and display a higher EQ.

Developing EQ

It’s certainly true that practice makes perfect, or at least better, but how do you practice? I would argue that it comes down to three main actions:

Check in with yourself - What is happening around you, how does it make you feel, and how are you reacting? Is your reaction appropriate to the situation at hand, and if not, what feeling is driving your response? Knowing what’s going on internally and how it makes you feel is step one in developing EQ. Taking stock of your internal status is a wonderful practice, whether you are upset or elated. So many people only check in with themselves once they’re in a negative place, but why would you want to let it get that far? You shouldn’t. Checking in with yourself on the way could change outcomes. On the flip side, considering positive situations are a wonderful tool for developing EQ as well. Pinpointing which parts of the process lifted you up can contribute to you lifting up others in the future.

Successful communication - Once you are able to measure where you are internally, you need to practice communicating that to others in actionable and approachable ways. We’ve all been there: A project isn’t going well, the feedback loop is broken, and you’re ready to lose it. Before you get to this point, consider how many opportunities there were to hit pause, communicate, and change course. If no opportunities present themselves, then create them. As a member of a team, it is not only your right, but your responsibility, to contribute to the success of the group, and a group can’t succeed if they don’t know what you need. And your team can’t know what you need if you don’t tell them.

Practice empathy - Put yourself in someone else’s shoes - what’s going on in their lives and what experiences have they had that are influencing their current stance? Making a decision from a place of empathy isn’t always natural, but it is always your best bet. This means understanding and sharing the feelings of another, and then using that as the basis for next steps. Opinions and feelings always have an origin, and frankly, if they seem to spring from nowhere, it’s because you haven’t found the source of the trigger.  Practicing empathy is the most effective way to create pathways.

Reflecting on and developing your EQ is important

It is vital in today’s world of constant input, distributed teams, and trigger/cancel culture that your EQ becomes a skill and talent that you can rely on. We are all challenged to define our values, our professionalism, and our ability to work together to move forward in life. If you take the time to sharpen your EQ, you are going to find yourself rising above in your career and relationships.