Emotional Intelligence: Definition, Importance, & Ways to Boost It

Emotional intelligence is the ability to perceive, process, and manage your own emotions as well as build and foster relationships with others.

Emotional Intelligence: Definition, Importance, & Ways to Boost It main image

For a long time, emotional intelligence was considered secondary to IQ and, therefore, wasn’t given the attention it deserves. Nowadays, though, we know that emotional intelligence is the key to success, happy relationships, and a harmonious bond with yourself.

To learn more about emotional intelligence, its types, importance, and downsides, we’ve reviewed numerous studies written by top experts in the field. In this article, we will share some of their views on emotional intelligence.

So, let’s dive in.

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Key takeaways

Key Takeaways

  • Emotional intelligence is the capacity to understand and manage your own and other people’s emotions, as well as empathize with and build bonds with others.
  • Examples of emotional intelligence include self-awareness, self-regulation, empathy, social awareness, and relationship management.
  • You can improve emotional intelligence by empathizing with others, improving your listening skills, self-reflecting, trusting your intuition, reading fiction, and talking to people.
  • Emotional intelligence helps you perform better at school or work and fosters your mental and physical health.

What Is Emotional Intelligence?

What Is Emotional Intelligence?

What Is Emotional Intelligence?

Emotional intelligence is the ability to perceive, understand, control, and manage your emotions, as well as empathize with and respond to other people’s feelings. As a result, emotionally intelligent people are able to build stronger bonds with others and maintain healthy relationships.

There is a degree of overlap between emotional intelligence (EQ) and Gardner’s interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligence, but these concepts aren’t the same.

While Gardner’s interpersonal intelligence focuses on social skills, communication, and empathy for others, emotional intelligence also encompasses your relationship to yourself and prioritizes emotions.

In most cases, those with excellent interpersonal skills also have high emotional intelligence. However, the opposite isn’t always the case—even those who aren’t people-oriented can have high EQ.

On the other hand, emotional intelligence and intrapersonal intelligence are both about knowing yourself and your own feelings, motivations, and inner workings. However, emotional intelligence has an added interpersonal dimension that can’t be disregarded.

Finally, high IQ and emotional intelligence often go hand in hand, though not always. As a result, these two types of intelligence need to be tested separately.

5 Key Emotional Intelligence Skills

Key emotional intelligence skills include empathy, self-awareness, self-regulation, social awareness, and relationship management.

Let’s explore each of these skills in more depth:

  • Empathy. People with high emotional intelligence can put themselves in others’ shoes and intuitively understand their perspectives and feelings. In some cases, they may go so far as to actually feel the other person’s feelings as if they were their own.
  • Self-awareness. Emotional intelligence isn’t just about understanding others—it also helps you understand yourself better. As a result, you grasp your own emotions well, know your own strengths and weaknesses, and have confidence in your abilities.
  • Self-regulation. Understanding your own emotions usually means being able to process and control them, as well as manage them in healthy ways. In other words, you’re in charge of your emotions, not the other way around.
  • Social awareness. People with high emotional intelligence easily pick up on social cues, recognize group dynamics, and integrate seamlessly into new social environments. Thanks to that, they are generally at ease in social situations and quickly adjust to new groups and settings.
  • Relationship management. High emotional intelligence is crucial for building and managing relationships, as it facilitates communication and connecting with others. All relationships benefit from it, whether they are personal or professional.

Reasons Why Emotional Intelligence Is Important

an image of a woman hugging a boy

an image of a woman hugging a boy

Emotional intelligence is just as important as general intelligence, if not more. In fact, some psychologists suggest that it is a bigger predictor of success than IQ and makes all the difference in your personal and professional life as well as your relationship with yourself.

Here are some further reasons that explain why emotional intelligence matters:

  • Building relationships. Emotional intelligence helps you stay in tune with other people’s needs and feelings, making it easy to establish meaningful and long-lasting bonds in your personal and professional lives.
  • Resolving conflicts. Conflict resolution entails the ability to recognize the issue, examine it from various perspectives, and propose a compromise that satisfies both parties, keeping your emotions in check all the while. Unsurprisingly, people with high EQ make excellent mediators.
  • Leadership skills. There is a definite correlation between emotional intelligence and leadership, as all the best leaders are known to have high EQ. After all, a good leader needs to understand people’s feelings to effectively guide them.

How Is Emotional Intelligence Measured?

Emotional intelligence is measured similarly to general intelligence using a variety of tests. This method is by no means perfect, as true emotional intelligence can be gauged only by observing a person in real-life situations. However, since that’s not always possible, it serves its purpose.

Generally speaking, there are three types of tests that measure EQ: self-reporting, other-reporting, and ability testing.

Self-reporting tests ask you to assess your own emotional intelligence by answering a set of personality test-style questions. Although this is a good way to grasp your perception of yourself, self-reported data is rarely objective and thus not very reliable.

Conversely, other-reporting tests ask other people to assess your emotional intelligence. At first glance, this may seem more objective, but it’s very susceptible to personal bias. After all, what one person perceives as compassionate and empathetic, another may consider manipulative and disingenuous.

Finally, ability testing requires you to respond to certain situations and assesses your emotional intelligence using specific criteria. As a result, this type of test for emotional intelligence is the most reliable of the three types.

6 Ways to Improve Emotional Intelligence

The following six methods will help you improve your emotional intelligence, build healthier relationships with others, gain a better understanding of yourself, and boost your academic or professional performance.

#1. Empathize With Others

an image of a person sympathizing and the connection to emotional intelligence

an image of a person sympathizing and the connection to emotional intelligence

Contrary to popular belief, empathy isn’t something you're either born with or not—like any skill, it can be developed and improved with practice. Of course, some people find it easier to empathize than others, but, barring those with mental and personality disorders, everyone can pick up this ability to a degree.

All you need to do is pull yourself out of the “me” mindset and focus on the other person instead. Consider their feelings, thoughts, and perspectives, and try to understand where they are coming from, even when their response is entirely different from what you expected.

The more you immerse yourself in other people’s experiences, the better you’ll become at empathizing. Soon enough, it will become a natural response that requires no extra effort on your part.

#2. Improve Your Listening Skills

Empathy and listening skills go hand in hand, so if one is highly developed, usually the other follows suit. After all, you can’t truly empathize with or understand others if you don’t listen to them.

It’s important to note that listening isn’t just hearing what the other person is saying. Arguably, everyone can do that, and it’s not a skill that requires particular effort.

But active listening is something entirely different. It means staying engaged during the conversation, asking the right questions, showing compassion, and gauging what the other person needs.

In addition, you need to thread the conversation carefully, simultaneously relating to the person and ensuring you don’t make it all about you.

In other words, listening skills are crucial for building healthy relationships and are undoubtedly one of the most important aspects of emotional intelligence.

#3. Self-Reflect

Self-reflection is an important process in getting to know your emotions, understanding where they’re coming from, and learning how to effectively manage them. Once you understand yourself, you’ll have a much easier time relating to and empathizing with others.

The best advice we can give about self-reflection is to just start doing it. Check in with your feelings throughout the day, identify them, and try to understand what’s causing them. Eventually, these daily check-ins will become second nature to you.

If you’re struggling, consider putting your thoughts into writing. Journaling after a long day can be an excellent way to unwind, and it provides a safe space for you to open up and stay in touch with yourself.

#4. Trust Your Intuition

According to research, emotional intelligence and intuition are moderately correlated, meaning that people with high EQ tend to be more intuitive and vice versa. That’s because emotional intelligence helps you pick up on subtle cues, synthesize them, and form a conclusion before your cognition can fully catch up.

So, if you want to improve your emotional intelligence, start listening to your intuition. This process is tightly intertwined with self-reflection, but it requires more careful observation of your feelings to help you detect subtle shifts in your mood.

#5. Read Fiction

an image of a person reading a book

an image of a person reading a book

Have you ever been so touched by a fictional character’s story that you felt as if they were your actual friend? This isn’t an unusual phenomenon—in fact, empathizing with fictional characters and with real people involves exactly the same processes.

In other words, reading can stimulate your ability to empathize, introduce you to different viewpoints, and help you develop emotional intelligence.

That’s especially true when you’re reading books about characters and settings that vastly differ from your own experience. Such stories can broaden your horizons and make you more sympathetic to people you likely couldn’t relate to before.

#6. Talk to People

The best way to develop your emotional intelligence is, without a doubt, to talk to people. And we don’t mean just those you already know (though that is helpful too), but rather a variety of people from different backgrounds with unique life stories.

That may not be easy at first, especially if it’s not something you’re used to. So, take it slow and start with casual conversations on public transport or while waiting in a queue. When you get more comfortable, it will be easy to strike up a conversation with anyone, anywhere.

Besides, you can always use the internet to connect with diverse people from all corners of the world. Even if you can’t talk face-to-face, such conversations can significantly boost your emotional intelligence and people skills.

What Does Emotional Intelligence Impact?

Emotional intelligence impacts mental and physical health as well as performance in professional and academic settings, making it a crucial skill to develop.

Below, we explore the exact ways in which emotional intelligence affects various aspects of your life.

#1. Performance at School or Work

an image of a girl that has high emotional intelligence

an image of a girl that has high emotional intelligence

High emotional intelligence is linked with developed conscientiousness and a better ability to deal with negative emotions that may affect performance at school or work. Thanks to that, those with high EQ typically achieve better results in both settings.

In addition, emotional intelligence helps you deal with failure in a much more effective way. Whereas someone with low EQ might be crushed, lash out, or give up entirely, those who have high emotional intelligence can bounce back quickly and turn their negative feelings into productivity.

#2. Mental Health

an image of a girl looking out the window

an image of a girl looking out the window

Unsurprisingly, people with high emotional intelligence don’t struggle with mental disorders nearly as often as everyone else.

Some mental disorders, such as anxiety and depression, are frequently the result of improper management of emotions and inadequate responses to stress and failure. However, as we know, people with high EQ are excellent at processing and managing their emotions, which makes them fairly resistant to mental issues.

Not to mention, they usually have rich and fulfilling social lives, which are crucial for maintaining a healthy mind.

#3. Physical Health

an image of a person getting a massage having high emotional intelligence

an image of a person getting a massage having high emotional intelligence

The correlation between mental health and emotional intelligence may be obvious, but the one between EQ and physical health is a bit more obscure. Still, it does exist, as numerous studies have proven.

For starters, physical health largely depends on mental health—the worse you are mentally, the higher your stress levels, which directly affect your body. As we discussed above, emotional intelligence keeps your mental health in check and ensures you cope with stress in a healthy way.

Aside from that, though, people with high EQ may be more attuned not only to their emotions but also to their physical needs.

For instance, when they’re feeling cranky, they could identify that the underlying cause is hunger, which would prompt them to go and satisfy that need and avoid putting unnecessary stress on their body.

Potential Downsides of High Emotional Intelligence

Although high emotional intelligence is generally desirable, it does have certain downsides. For instance, it’s linked to aversion to risk, manipulation, and reluctance to give negative feedback.

Generally speaking, people with high EQ aren’t volatile enough to engage in risky behaviors. Instead, they tend to be rather conscientious and weigh the consequences of their actions before taking the leap.

There’s nothing wrong with this behavior in most situations, but it can be counterproductive when it’s overdone. Sometimes, you must take a risk to achieve success, and very high emotional intelligence can stand in the way of that.

Furthermore, emotionally intelligent people can use their ability to understand others’ emotions for less noble purposes.

They have an easier time manipulating people because they know what makes them tick and which buttons to press to achieve a desired result. That comes in handy when it’s done for a good cause, but it can also be deceptive and controlling.

Finally, people with high EQ may struggle with giving negative feedback, as their high empathy allows them to quickly put themselves in other people’s shoes. Consequently, they may prioritize others’ feelings over their own needs, causing them to avoid saying anything negative.

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Final Thoughts

If there is one skill you’d do well to develop, it’s undoubtedly emotional intelligence. Being able to understand your own and other people’s emotions opens many doors, both in a professional and private sense.

And remember—you’re not doomed if your emotional intelligence isn’t highly developed right off the bat. It might take you a little while to get there, but you can certainly boost it if you listen to yourself and others, empathize, and open your mind to the world.

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