Have you ever compromised with a family member to bring a resolution to an argument? Are you a manager who has had to deal with employees being in poor moods and having all-around bad days? When facilitating a group discussion, do you try to make sure everyone’s thoughts and ideas are heard equally? If you have been in any of these or similar situations, you’ve most likely used emotional intelligence, the ability to understand, use, and manage your own emotions in positive ways; communicate effectively; empathize with others; and overcome challenges.
In its simplest form, emotional intelligence is having the awareness that emotions can influence behavior and positively or negatively have an impact on other people.
The concept of emotional intelligence, often shortened to EI and also known as emotional quotient or EQ, was created by researchers Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer in 1990 and later popularized by psychologist Daniel Goleman through his 1995 book, “Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More than IQ.” Over the years, studies have concluded that emotional intelligence is necessary in the workplace, at home, and at school. Today, doctors continue to stress the importance of emotional intelligence for maintaining healthy relationships with others.
According to Goleman, there are five basic components of EI: self-awareness, self-regulation, social skills, empathy, and motivation. PositivePsychology.com identifies self-awareness as the capacity to recognize and understand one’s actions and moods as well as the emotions of others. (A big part of that is being able to identify emotions in the first place.) Self-regulation involves how we deal with emotions, including our coping mechanisms and how we manage conflict and difficult situations. The component of social skills is pretty straight-forward: It’s how well we interact with other people. Remembering that interaction involves good listening and verbal and non-verbal skills is important. Empathy, of course, refers to our ability to understand and relate to how other people are feeling. Finally, motivation includes being internally driven (as opposed to externally driven by rewards such as money) to meet personal needs and goals, as well as being action-oriented.
“EQ is actually amazing in that it can really propel people forward in an organization or really help people become the best leaders possible.” –V. Blue Lemay, faculty program director
So, what does this all mean? Why is emotional intelligence important? I posed these questions to some colleagues at Excelsior College and we all seemed to agree that emotional intelligence is an intrinsic part to who we are as human beings. “EQ is very much about how we can understand others and making sure that others understand our perspective and can appreciate us just as much as we appreciate ourselves and appreciate others,” says V. Blue Lemay, faculty program director of Excelsior’s humanities programs. Khamel Abdulai, director of training and talent management in the Human Resources unit, takes it a step further, saying EQ can also be seen as the alignment between the way we perceive ourselves and the way others perceive us.
Our personal perception and others’ perception of ourselves aren’t the only reasons emotional intelligence is important. In their 2019 article, “Improving Emotional Intelligence,” authors Jeanne Segal, Melinda Smith, Lawrence Robinson, and Jennifer Shubin break down the benefits and conclude EQ affects our performance at work and school, our physical and mental health, our relationships, and our social intelligence.
Having high emotional intelligence can help us deal with complex issues in the workplace as well as help us to be successful leaders. “EQ is actually amazing in that it can really propel people forward in an organization or really help people become the best leaders possible,” says Lemay. She adds that being knowledgeable in technical or industrial skills is important, but without EQ, we wouldn’t be leading to the best of our abilities. Mark Howe, vice president of human resources at Excelsior, says, “I’ve been able to tell if someone has high EQ when they’re able to make decisions that they can accept that don’t always benefit them — in fact, might hurt them — but they understand the greater impact.”
Emotional intelligence is a crucial part of many professions. In health care, for instance, EQ is evident in the interaction between medical professionals and patients. In the McGill Journal of Medicine article “Emotional Intelligence: Use in Medical Education and Practice,” author Jimmy Bejjani argues that being emotionally aware leads to making rational decisions and taking advantage of new opportunities. “Physicians care for themselves through self-awareness and reflection, which appears to be one of the most important things to provide good care to others. By being more sensitive to their own and their patients’ feelings and emotions, EI physicians use supportive behavior and provide psychological benefits,” writes Bejjani.
Lisa Rapple, faculty program director of undergraduate health care management, referenced her own clinical experiences in critical care, emergency medicine, and several other acute care areas when considering the significance of emotional intelligence. She says that with today’s technology, sometimes it’s hard for physicians to connect personally to patients, but that human interaction — the emotional intelligence aspect — is a necessary component to health care. Anna Zendell, faculty program director of graduate health sciences programs, agreed, saying, “To have EI you have to be able to hear and see other people in a very real way.”
As Bejjani points out, though, unless we are caring for ourselves, we cannot care for each other. Therefore, having a high emotional quotient is critical for our own health. For instance, if you can’t manage your emotions, you probably can’t manage stress either.
A high emotional quotient allows us to better express how we feel and to understand how others are feeling, leading to improved communication at work and at home. As a by-product, being emotionally intelligent connects you to the world around you. Lemay explains, “Emotional intelligence is really about the strategy, being aware of myself, being aware of the strategies that I can use at any moment.” She uses her real-life working relationship with Rapple to emphasize her point, saying the two are different in their work strategies, but being able to listen and understand each other balances them out. Zendell agrees, saying, “Self [awareness] and awareness of others, and that depth of awareness for others, is really the core — it’s essential to EI.” Abdulai adds to this thought by relating emotional intelligence to his experience in HR. “In HR, our primary function is one of service, so the extent that we are seen as approachable, empathetic, and for people to sort of understand where [other] people are coming from, I think that’s a very important attribute for our work,” he says.
EQ also has an important part to play in education. Lemay, Rapple, and Zendell have woven EQ principles into many of their courses at Excelsior. Interpersonal communication, conflict management, leadership, team building, and cultural sensitivity are themes found across many health sciences and humanities courses. In HUM 321 Medical Humanities, for example, students learn about the softer side of medicine. “That medical humanities course is really to infuse those professionals with an understanding of how important the human part of the medical establishment is,” says Lemay. Rapple adds, “We’re teaching students in health sciences [that] they can be clinicians, they can be leaders, and if [EQ] is not part of what we’re helping them to understand or evaluate in their own selves, then we’re doing them a disservice.”
That brought up the question, Can emotional intelligence be taught? As Abdulai deftly points out, “People are careful to say that it can be learned and not say that it can be taught, because the whole key thing is that a lot of how you acquire it is through self-motivation.” In short, you have to want to improve your emotional intelligence, and self-improvement leads to better relationships. “It’s a skill worth honing if you want to progress and you want to be successful in the workplace and in home life,” says Rapple.
An easy way to assess your emotional intelligence is by evaluating your own performance and comparing it to the opinions of your peers, according to Lauren Landry, who wrote the article “Why Emotional Intelligence Is Important in Leadership” for Harvard Business School Online. “Through this process, you’ll gain insights into your own behavior and discover how you’re perceived in the organization,” wrote Landry.
By being aware of our emotional intelligence and taking steps to improve it, we can improve our relationships and our success in life. In a CareerBuilder survey, 71 percent of employers valued EQ over IQ, citing that employees with high EQ are the employees who can best deal with conflict and pressure. Thus, being able to understand our own emotions and those of other people can benefit not only ourselves, but also the world around us. By understanding and improving our emotional intelligence or emotional quotient, we can better connect with our fellow humans. “What gives me hope is the idea that we now recognize that we’re a collective species and part of this is not just our physical survival, but our ability to connect on an emotional level as well,” says Abdulai.
Seven Tips to Boost Your Emotional Intelligence
- Be present. When you are truly “in the moment,” you are more able to notice and respond to other peoples’ emotions. You can notice their body language and changes in mood more readily. If you notice a change in a person’s behavior, you can then alter your way of communicating.
- Listen. It might seem easy, but listening to others requires a lot of skill. Pay attention to the words that are spoken to you. Repeat what you’ve heard back to the person, letting them know you’ve understood them, and even ask for confirmation on what you think they meant. Then give your response.
- Respond, don’t react. Instead of subconsciously reacting purely due to emotions, take a moment to pause and think over the situation. After you have recognized your emotions, you are able to respond in a more emotionally intelligent way.
- Take responsibility for yourself. Remember that how you act is your responsibility; no one is controlling you. Your emotions and behavior are under your control so remember to always take responsibility for how you feel and behave.
- Practice empathy. Empathy is the ability to put yourself into someone else’s position and relate to their situation. It involves being able to feel what the other person is feeling. Identifying and recognizing emotions is a good way to improve one’s empathy. Ask yourself questions such as, What is the reason for this emotion?
- Seek feedback from others. A good way to grow in your emotional intelligence is to ask others how they think you’re doing. Understanding their perception of you can help you work on different areas.
- It’s a lifelong process. You won’t get better at emotional intelligence overnight; you’ll be practicing and fine-tuning it as your life experiences unfold.