Emotional intelligence (EQ) is the ability to identify, use, understand, and manage emotions in positive ways to relieve stress, communicate effectively, empathize with others, overcome challenges, and defuse conflict. Emotional intelligence impacts many different aspects of your daily life, such as the way you behave and the way you interact with others.
If you have high emotional intelligence you are able to recognize your own emotional state and the emotional states of others, and engage with people in a way that draws them to you. You can use this understanding of emotions to relate better to other people, form healthier relationships, achieve greater success at work, and lead a more fulfilling life.
Emotional intelligence consists of four attributes:
Why is emotional intelligence (EQ) so important?
As we know, it’s not the smartest people that are the most successful or the most fulfilled in life. You probably know people who are academically brilliant and yet are socially inept and unsuccessful at work or in their personal relationships. Intellectual intelligence (IQ) isn’t enough on its own to be successful in life. Yes, your IQ can help you get into college, but it’s your EQ that will help you manage the stress and emotions when facing your final exams.
Emotional intelligence affects:
Your performance at work. Emotional intelligence can help you navigate the social complexities of the workplace, lead and motivate others, and excel in your career. In fact, when it comes to gauging job candidates, many companies now view emotional intelligence as being as important as technical ability and require EQ testing before hiring.
Your physical health. If you’re unable to manage your stress levels, it can lead to serious health problems. Uncontrolled stress can raise blood pressure, suppress the immune system, increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, contribute to infertility, and speed up the aging process. The first step to improving emotional intelligence is to learn how to relieve stress.
Your mental health. Uncontrolled stress can also impact your mental health, making you vulnerable to anxiety and depression. If you are unable to understand and manage your emotions, you’ll also be open to mood swings, while an inability to form strong relationships can leave you feeling lonely and isolated.
Your relationships. By understanding your emotions and how to control them, you’re better able to express how you feel and understand how others are feeling. This allows you to communicate more effectively and forge stronger relationships, both at work and in your personal life.
How to raise your emotional intelligence
All information to the brain comes through our senses, and when this information is overwhelmingly stressful or emotional, instinct will take over and our ability to act will be limited to the flight, fight, or freeze response. Therefore, to have access to the wide range of choices and the ability to make good decisions, we need to be able to bring our emotions into balance at will.
Memory is also strongly linked to emotion. By learning to stay connected to the emotional part of your brain as well as the rational, you’ll not only expand your range of choices when it comes to responding to a new event, but you’ll also factor emotional memory into your decision-making process. This will help prevent you from continually repeating earlier mistakes.
To improve your emotional intelligence - and your decision-making abilities - you need to understand and manage your emotions. This is accomplished by developing key skills for controlling and managing overwhelming stress and becoming an effective communicator.
Developing emotional intelligence through a few key skills:
Emotional intelligence (EQ) is built by reducing stress, remaining focused, and staying connected to yourself and others. You can do this by learning key skills. The first two skills are essential for controlling and managing overwhelming stress and the last three skills greatly improve communication. Each skill builds on the lessons learned in practicing the earlier skills and include:
The key skills of emotional intelligence can be learned by anyone, at any time. There is a difference, however, between learning about emotional intelligence and applying that knowledge to your life. Just because you know you should do something doesn’t mean you will - especially when you become overwhelmed by stress, which can hijack your best intentions.
In order to permanently change behavior in ways that stand up under pressure, you need to learn how to overcome stress in the moment and stress in your relationships by remaining emotionally aware. This means that you can’t simply read about emotional intelligence in order to master it. You have to experience and practice the skills in your everyday life.
Emotional intelligence (EQ) skill 1: Rapidly reduce stress in the moment
Rapidly reduce stress
High levels of stress can overwhelm the mind and body, getting in the way of your ability to accurately “read” a situation, hear what someone else is saying, be aware of your own feelings and needs, and communicate clearly.
Being able to quickly calm yourself down and relieve stress helps you stay balanced, focused, and in control - no matter what challenges you face or how stressful a situation becomes.
Stress busting: functioning well in the heat of the moment
Develop your stress-busting skills by working through the following three steps:
Emotional intelligence (EQ) skill 2: Beat relationship stress with emotional awareness
Being able to connect to your emotions - having a moment-to-moment awareness of your emotions and how they influence your thoughts and actions - is the key to understanding yourself and remaining calm and focused in tense situations with others.
Many people are disconnected from their emotions - especially strong core emotions such as anger, sadness, fear, and joy. This may be the result of negative childhood experiences that taught you to try to shut off your feelings. But although we can distort, deny, or numb our feelings, we can’t eliminate them. They’re still there, whether we’re aware of them or not. Unfortunately, without emotional awareness, we are unable to fully understand our own motivations and needs, or to communicate effectively with others. We are also at far greater risk for becoming overwhelmed in situations that appear threatening.
What kind of a relationship do you have with your emotions?
Developing emotional awareness
Emotional awareness can be learned at any time of life. If you haven’t learned how to manage stress, it’s important to do so first. When you can manage stress, you’ll feel more comfortable reconnecting to strong or unpleasant emotions and changing the way you experience and respond to your feelings.
You can develop your emotional awareness by learning the mindfulness meditation in Helpguide’s free Emotional Intelligence Toolkit that helps you to get in touch with difficult emotions and manage uncomfortable feelings.
Emotional intelligence (EQ) skill 3: Nonverbal communication
Being a good communicator requires more than just verbal skills and the ability to manage stress. Often, what you say is less important than how you say it, or the other nonverbal signals you send out - the gestures you make, the way you sit, how fast or how loud you talk, how close you stand, or how much eye contact you make. In order to hold the attention of others and build connection and trust, you need to be aware of, and in control of, this body language. You also need to be able to accurately read and respond to the nonverbal cues that other people send you.
These messages don’t stop when someone stops speaking. Even when you’re silent, you’re still communicating nonverbally. Think about what you are transmitting as well, and if what you say matches what you feel. If you insist, “I’m fine," while clenching your teeth and looking away, your body is clearly signaling the opposite. Your nonverbal messages can produce a sense of interest, trust, excitement, and desire for connection - or they can generate fear, confusion, distrust, and disinterest.
Tips for improving nonverbal communication
Successful nonverbal communication depends on your ability to manage stress, recognize your own emotions, and understand the signals you’re sending and receiving. When communicating:
Focus on the other person. If you are planning what you’re going to say next, daydreaming, or thinking about something else, you are almost certain to miss nonverbal cues and other subtleties in the conversation.
Make eye contact. Eye contact can communicate interest, maintain the flow of a conversation, and help gauge the other person’s response.
Pay attention to nonverbal cues you’re sending and receiving, such as facial expression, tone of voice, posture and gestures, touch, and the timing and pace of the conversation.
Emotional intelligence (EQ) skill 4: Use humor and play to deal with challenges
Use humor to deal with challengesHumor, laughter, and play are natural antidotes to life’s difficulties; they lighten your burdens and help you keep things in perspective. A good hearty laugh reduces stress, elevates mood, and brings your nervous system back into balance.
Playful communication broadens your emotional intelligence and helps you:
How to develop playful communication:
It’s never too late to develop and embrace your playful, humorous side.
Conflict and disagreements are inevitable in relationships. Two people can’t possibly have the same needs, opinions, and expectations at all times. However, that needn’t be a bad thing. Resolving conflict in healthy, constructive ways can strengthen trust between people. When conflict isn’t perceived as threatening or punishing, it fosters freedom, creativity, and safety in relationships.
The ability to manage conflicts in a positive, trust-building way is supported by the previous four skills. Once you know how to manage stress, stay emotionally present and aware, communicate nonverbally, and use humor and play, you’ll be better equipped to handle emotionally charged situations and catch and defuse many issues before they escalate.
Tips for resolving conflict in a trust-building way: