5 Steps to Improving Your Emotional Intelligence

Emotional IntelligenceFor those of us who were in high school before the 1990s or so, a GPA above 3.5 and SAT scores 1400 and above were seen as solid indicators of intelligence and, to some degree, that person’s potential for success in life. Colleges weighed these two quantitative pearls when considering admissions, and so these numbers legitimized and perhaps even sanctified one’s capacity for smarts and all that went with them. Businesses hired similarly with intelligence (again that GPA or class rank from college) and prior work experience as being the two most sought after attributes. This may still hold true except that another element has come to have a prominent role in evaluating candidates’ strength and potential: they are also now likely to be evaluated based on their capacity for something called Emotional Intelligence.

What is Emotional Intelligence?

For most of the 20th Century, Intelligence used to be thought of as an entity that was rendered as an Intelligence Quotient (IQ), a number that had 100 as a mean for “Average” and ranges that extended both below and above that magic number, which itself fell, statistically-speaking, between 90 and 109. Extending upwards, terms like Above Average (110 – 119), Superior (120-129), Very Superior (130 and above) described scores that became more rarely achieved. The term Gifted (or Highly Advanced) is well known in the world of education as conferring a special status and corresponds with an IQ in the range of 130-144; if one can achieve a score of 145 and above then they are considered to be Highly Gifted or Advanced. These scores get into the top 1-2% of the population and confer special privileges onto those who can pull them down on specialized tests where subjects define words, assemble colorful blocks, detect visual patterns, repeat back long strings of digits, do difficult math problems in their head, name Presidents & poets — and can do so quickly, efficiently, and consistently. There are even some tests that have problems where the subject must display knowledge of social conventions and common sense. In the end, there is assumed to be a mixture of factual knowledge and an ability to solve novel problems that equates with one’s “g factor” and which is hopefully captured in the singular expression of the IQ score — which, as time went on, was seen as often skewed by cultural membership and a number of other biases, and became somewhat dubious in many circles. The relationship of IQ to actual functional, adaptive Intelligence became somewhat obscured and controversial.

In the 1980s, psychologist Howard Gardner proposed that there were Multiple Intelligences that were attributes people possessed, which he numbered at first as being of 8 types: Visual-Spatial, Linguistic-Verbal, Logical-Mathematical, Bodily-Kinesthetic, Musical, Interpersonal, Intrapersonal, and Naturalistic; later he added a ninth type, Existential.  A decade later, psychologists Salovey and Mayer, and most popularly science-writer Daniel Goleman focused their research on Gardner’s “Interpersonal” category, calling it Emotional Intelligence, with the bold assertion that Emotional Intelligence (E I ) was more important to success than IQ!

Emotional Intelligence is the process of understanding your emotions and how your emotions affect the people around you. Emotional Intelligence also involves your perceptions of others and how they feel so that you can effectively manage relationships. People with strong EI are empathic listeners that seem to know what to say and how to say it, leaving people feeling validated and heard. They are often described as “level headed” as they manage their emotions despite highly charged or stressful situations. They are able to acknowledge their emotions but do not become overwhelmed by them allowing for a pragmatic, solution-focused approach. People with strong EI take criticism well and are willing to take a look at themselves honestly without defensive denials.

People with high emotional intelligence are often found in leadership or higher level positions because they listen to others so that they feel heard; frequently validate the experience and feeling of others; are skilled motivators and focus on encouraging others; they take responsibility for their missteps and accept vs defend feedback from others; and they are able to do all of this from a responsive and collaborative approach. Testing instruments that measure EI are often required in interviewing for business positions, and courses that bolster emotional intelligence are required aspects of training in the business environment. And so it seems that we have come full circle with regard to the battle between IQ and EI.

Characteristics of Emotional Intelligence

Goleman developed a framework of five elements that define emotional intelligence:

  1. Self-Awareness – People with high emotional intelligence understand their emotions, and they don’t let their feelings rule them. They’re confident and they trust their intuition. They’re willing to take an honest look at themselves despite challenging personal feedback from others. They are aware of their strengths and weaknesses, and work on these areas. Self-awareness is often thought of as the most important part of emotional intelligence.
  2. Self-Regulation – This is the ability to control emotions and impulses. People who self-regulate are able to manage and adaptively cope with their feelings and don’t allow themselves to be overcome emotionally. They think before they act. Characteristics of self-regulation are thoughtfulness, openness to change, integrity, and trustworthiness.
  3. Motivation – People with a high degree of emotional intelligence are usually motivated. They’re willing to defer immediate results for long-term success. They are often driven by internal satisfaction and are highly productive, love a challenge, and are persistent towards goal achievement.
  4. Empathy – The ability to recognize the feelings of others, even when those feelings may not be obvious. Empathic people are often good at relating to other peoples experiences and feelings while reflecting care and compassion. Empathetic people are usually excellent at managing relationships, listening, and avoid judging/stereotyping others.
  5. Social Skills – People with strong social skills tend to skilled at building rapport with others. They are easy to talk to with a naturally and reciprocal communication style. Those with strong social skills are typically team players. Rather than focus on their own success first, they help others develop and shine. They can manage disputes, are excellent communicators, and are masters at building and maintaining relationships.

While cognitive intelligence can suggest a potential for professional success, so can EI for success interpersonally. There are many people who are off-the-charts IQ smart, yet their inability to motivate and socially relate to others hinders them. The following are ways you can improve your emotional intelligence:

  • Hear and Validate others. Listening to someone talk and hearing what they are saying are not the same things. We are driven by our own thoughts and feelings. At times the need to make our point can prevent us from understanding others thoughts and feelings which can lead them feeling unimportant or invalidated. Learning to reflect back (So what I am hearing you say is…, My understanding of what you are saying is….) to others what you have heard, allows for a more validating and collaborative interaction.
  • Recognize and manage your emotions to prevent emotional overwhelm. Being aware of how your emotions influence your thoughts and actions can help you remain calm as well as focused in tense situations. For most of us, our ability to problem solve and remain objective becomes increasing difficult when we are feeling strong core emotions (sadness, anger, fear, and joy). Finding ways to soothe yourself (focused breathing exercises, listening to music, a splash of water on your face) can help to shift to a more balanced emotional state.
  • Become honest with yourself and evaluate your strength’s and weaknesses. Personal growth often comes from our own honest self-appraisals. Do you tend to judge or are you critical of others? Are you open to others thoughts and feelings or are you self-focused. Do you become defensive when given feedback or are you able to use feedback as a way to improve your own self-awareness? Being open to and using feedback to improve self-awareness are hallmarks for strong EQ.
  • Consider others’ thoughts, feelings, and needs. Being in tuned to how others feel around you, or how your actions may make others feel is an indicator for EQ. Being able to put yourself in the place of another and relate to how they may feel is a sign of empathy; cornerstone of EQ. Considering how your actions will affect others can help you to plan for the most thoughtful and effective outcome.
  • Strengthen Self-Awareness. Begin the day by rating your overall sense of well-being from 0-10. Take notice of linked thoughts and feelings and explore possible solutions (putting off the report is making me dread having to go to work. I know I will feel better if I start it today). Set realistic expectations for yourself and what is in and out of your control. Lastly, learn when it’s time to stop looking inward and be present in the moment. Too much self-reflection and over-focus on yourself can affect your mood and become counterproductive. Emotional intelligence involves not only the ability to look within, but also to be present in the world around you.

People are complex, dynamic creatures. We all have minds, hearts, and intuition, and we utilize these attributes to varying degrees, depending on our temperaments, personal histories, interests, and purposes. We often do our best when we develop a balanced approach as to how we value ourselves and others. Too often, we can overvalue the intellect and rationality at the expense of truly understanding ourselves and others as we interact in the social-emotional matrix that makes up perhaps the most significant, meaningful, and satisfying part of our lives. As Woody Allen once profoundly quipped, “I always felt that the brain is the most overrated organ!”

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