What is Emotional Intelligence?
Emotional intelligence has been defined as “the ability to monitor one’s own and other people’s emotions, to discriminate between different emotions and label them appropriately, and to use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior” by Peter Salovey and John Mayer. This definition was later broken down and refined into four proposed abilities: perceiving, using, understanding, and managing emotions.
In a nutshell, your emotional intelligence depends on your ability to recognize and understand emotions, then channel them into your relationships and interactions without letting them run the show.
Emotional intelligence doesn’t mean that you do not get angry or frustrated or feel any other negative emotion. Rather, when you do get angry, are you able to figure out exactly what caused that anger and detach yourself from the feeling enough to fix the situation without ruining the relationship?
When someone else gets angry at you, can you help them to see your point of view without invalidating theirs and thereby making them defensive and less likely to cooperate?
Why is Emotional Intelligence important?
Studies have shown that people with high emotional intelligence have better mental health, on-job performance, interpersonal relationships, and even leadership skills.
Knowing how to manage your feelings will not only improve your relationship with yourself, it will also improve your performance and relationships with those around you, while empowering you to effectively motivate, influence, and manage conflict without having to sacrifice the relationship or affect how others feel about themselves while they are with you.
If you can control your feelings, you can deal with any uncomfortable life situation and effectively steer it towards the results you want.
How can you improve your Emotional Intelligence?
It all starts with awareness
The first thing you need to do is to monitor yourself and your feelings in relation to your environment and/or circumstances. Find a way to keep track of your emotions and what triggers them. A good way to do this would be journaling.
Take note of how you feel and when/ why you feel this way. Are you extremely happy? Why is that? What are you doing? Who are you with? What makes you sad or angry or disappointed?
This information will empower you to know both your emotional triggers and antidotes, and thus plan effectively.
The key is to notice without judging yourself. It doesn’t matter why you feel that way. It just matters that you notice it, accept it, and redirect your focus towards working out a solution.
Extend that awareness to other people
Once you have a good handle on your own emotions, you will be in a better position to notice other people’s feelings, empathize with them, and NEVER take anything personally.
When dealing with a difficult person or situation, it helps to take the initiative to understand them and their motivations. Instead of assuming, ask questions and listen to what they have to say. Be open to feedback, whether good or bad. Afford them the benefit of the doubt. Use your experience with your own feelings to recognize that emotions are hard to control.
Knowing this, you’ll be better equipped to either help them see reason, or work out a solution that can accommodate their feelings without sacrificing the results you seek.
Disengage from difficult situations
Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you will not be able to change how you feel in the moment.
When you know yourself enough to recognize that your emotions have taken the front seat or someone else is acting out of anger or something similar, have the presence of mind to suggest a time out from the situation.
Giving yourselves the opportunity to cool off and look at the problem with fresh eyes will enable you to separate what you feel and/or think from what’s actually true, and thus get you back to a place of reason.
Practice, practice, practice
Emotional Intelligence is hinged on the acceptance of the fact that emotions are by nature, illogical. Don’t waste your time trying to rationalize, justify, or even suppress them. All you need to do is know yourself enough to know what makes you feel a certain way, and what you can do to fix it, and extend that courtesy to everyone that you deal with.
Be patient with yourself and with others. It takes more than a few tries to successfully improve your emotional awareness and adeptness.
Above all, always remember that emotions are like an internal compass that helps us figure out what is important to us. Even though we shouldn’t let them control us, we should always listen to them and allow them to guide us towards a life that we will find meaningful and fulfilling.