What is Emotional Intelligence and Why is it Important?

Most of us know (or know of) incredibly bright people who end up being unsuccessful in their personal or work lives, as well as people who struggled throughout school (or dropped out), yet became wildly successful, well-liked and on top of their game. How does this happen? We all know the value of intelligence; we discuss and compare IQs, grades, and test scores, and talk about how early our kids talked or read, or who graduated from what program. Lately however, what’s often considered to be more important than intelligence is our emotional intelligence (EI, or EQ), and how having high emotional intelligence can directly improve our lives and help us be more successful.

The key elements of emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence is a concept that’s been discussed in academia since back in the 1960s, but was widely popularized with the publication of Daniel Goleman’s 1995 book: Emotional Intelligence – Why it Can Matter More Than IQ.  In this and subsequent publications, Goleman discusses emotional intelligence and how we manage ourselves and our relationships with others, as “a different way of being smart”. Here are the main components of emotional intelligence that he outlines:

  1. Self-awareness – our ability to recognize and monitor our moods and emotions, and their effect on others.
  2. Self-regulation – this is our inner discipline; our ability to control or re-direct our moods or impulsive behaviours (thinking before acting). It also includes our adaptability, open-mindedness, and integrity.
  3. Internal motivation – this involves our personal reasons for doing something, our drive, commitment, optimism, and persistence to accomplish something beyond money or recognition.
  4. Empathy – this is the ability to identify and understand others’ emotions, and react to others appropriately depending on their moods and personal circumstances.
  5. Social skills – this is our overall ability to manage relationships, work in teams, build rapport, send clear messages, lead others, and manage conflicts successfully.

Recognizing what another person is experiencing emotionally is the key to understanding them as a person, and we can use this information to build more meaningful relationships. Our success in the workplace, and life in general, is dependent on our direct ability to manage emotions and stress, be resilient, and foster professional relationships. Simply being intelligent, or book smart, doesn’t cut it when it comes to complex human emotions. Some of those people with incredibly high IQs are simply unable to successfully manage workplace and personal relationships. Perhaps they are incapable of showing empathy and therefore come across as selfish or insensitive, maybe they can’t work well in teams, or reign in a bad temper. Those are examples of when all the intellect in the world still can’t help someone read, predict, manage, or understand people or social situations. You can see how this can negatively impact a person’s success, particularly in the workplace. That’s why it’s important to learn about emotional intelligence and why recognizing its impact on personal achievement is critical to understanding who we are and how we function in today’s society.

Understanding & developing emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence can be difficult to quantify or measure, because it is less tangible and more complex than IQ. Although there are tests you can take to gauge your emotional intelligence competencies, it doesn’t give you a definitive answer, because naturally each person and experience is so unique, and our emotions are so multifaceted. Emotional intelligence is generally influenced by our genetics and childhood experiences, and, similar to someone’s IQ, it’s not something that can be improved overnight. It’s not impossible, but it does take commitment, dedication, coaching and willpower to improve it. By understanding and exploring emotional intelligence, we can develop the skills and aptitudes needed to be more successful in our relationships and in managing our own emotions. For example, if someone has difficulty reading the moods or feelings of others, they can create systems to get that information – such as asking outright how they are doing, or how they feel about a topic, and can also learn to pay more attention to that individual and their verbal and non-verbal cues or body language.

Having emotional intelligence also allows us to make better decisions. When we can step back and accurately reflect on our own feelings while understanding the emotions of others regarding a specific issue or decision, we take irrationality and impulsiveness right out of the equation. People with high EI can assess their motivation behind a decision, anticipate an outcome, and be flexible and adaptable when dealing with change or obstacles. All of this makes for better-informed decisions.

Finally, we are starting to learn more about the link between emotional intelligence and mental health. People who struggle with mental health issues often identify that they have difficulty managing many of the components associated with emotional intelligence, such as: self-esteem, self-acceptance, regulating emotions, motivation, positive attitude, conflict management, building relationships, and so on. Not surprisingly, people with high emotional intelligence report fewer mental and even physical health concerns.

As you can see, emotional intelligence is an important and complex topic. Throughout this blog series, I will explore the various components of emotional intelligence in more detail, and share how we can all learn to maximize our EI to enhance our career success, relationships, and our overall happiness.

“If you are tuned out of your own emotions, you will be poor at reading them in other people.” – Daniel Goleman

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