What is Emotional Intelligence and How to Improve it?

What’s more important: IQ or EQ? If you think IQ is more important, you might be surprised at what you’ll learn in this piece – that’s not to say that IQ isn’t important, but there may be some traits that are even more influential on our success.

If you think EQ is more important, you probably already know a good portion of what we’ll cover in this piece-but hopefully you’ll learn something new as well!

If you’re not sure what EQ is, then you’ve come to the right place. Read on to learn about what emotional intelligence is and why you should know about it.

What is the Concept and Meaning of Emotional Intelligence?

Drawing from several different sources, a simple definition of emotional intelligence (also called the Emotional Quotient, or EQ) describes an ability to monitor your own emotions as well as the emotions of others, to distinguish between and label different emotions correctly, and to use emotional information to guide your thinking and behavior and influence that of others (Goleman, 1995; Mayer & Salovey, 1990).

Emotional intelligence is what we use when we empathize with our coworkers, have deep conversations about our relationship with our spouse or significant other, and attempt to manage an unruly or distraught child. It allows us to connect with others, understand ourselves better, and live a more authentic, healthy, and happy life.

Although there are many kinds of intelligence, and they are often connected to one another, there are some very significant differences between them.

EQ and Emotional Intelligence

EQ Versus IQ

EQ is emotional intelligence, which as we just learned is all about identifying emotions (in ourselves and others), relating to others, and communicating about our feelings (Cherry, 2018A).

IQ, on the other hand, is cognitive intelligence. This is the intelligence that people are generally most familiar with, as it is the type that is most often referred to when the word “intelligence” is used. It is also the type that is most often measured through testing and estimated through things like grade point average.

Social Intelligence Versus Emotional Intelligence

Social intelligence is more closely related to emotional intelligence than IQ is, as they both have to do with navigating social or emotional situations. However, these are two distinct types of intelligence even if they share some similar features.

Emotional intelligence is more related to the present, in that it is used to identify and manage emotions in the moment.

Social intelligence uses some of the same skills and abilities, but is often focused toward the future-it’s about how to understand the feelings, personalities, and behaviors of yourself and others to seek positive outcomes (Chou, 2016).

Emotional Intelligence in Psychology

Emotional intelligence filled a gap in the mainstream understanding of intelligence, especially for psychologists. The field always seemed to have a general understanding that IQ wasn’t everything, but the theories on what, exactly, the other important components were varied greatly and couldn’t agree on a single concept or idea.

When the idea of emotional intelligence was first introduced, psychologists found that this theory fit into the field like a puzzle piece that had been missing.

A Brief History of Emotional Intelligence

To get an idea of the timeline for the introduction and embrace of emotional intelligence within psychology, we can start with Peter Salovey’s work.

The Work of Peter Salovey

Peter Salovey, along with his colleague John Mayer, put forth one of the first formal theories of emotional intelligence in 1990. They coined the term emotional intelligence and described it as “the ability to recognize, understand, utilize, and regulate emotions effectively in everyday life” (Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, 2013).

It is their work that provoked such an explosion of interest in emotional intelligence, both within academic fields and in the general public. Judging by the proliferation of books, studies, and research questions centering on emotional intelligence, Salovey and Mayer truly struck a chord with their theory of emotional intelligence.

A Look at Daniel Goleman and His Renowned Book

Not long after Salovey and Mayer introduced emotional intelligence to the world, other researchers and psychologists began to pick it up and run with it. Daniel Goleman was one such psychologist; he published the national bestselling book Emotional Intelligence in 1995, which helped introduce emotional intelligence into the mainstream.

Goleman saw emotional intelligence as a vital factor in success, especially for children. He proposed that promoting “social and emotional learning” in children to boost their emotional intelligence would not only improve their learning abilities, it would also help them succeed in school by reducing or eliminating some of the most distracting and harmful behavioral problems (Goleman, n.d.).

His proposal has been welcomed by both the research community and the general public, and it is now almost taken for granted that emotional intelligence might be just as important-if not more important-for individual success than IQ. Schools, educators, and education researchers have also heartily welcomed the idea that emotional intelligence is not simply a genetic, “you have it or you don’t” sort of trait, but a set of skills that can be learned and improved upon.

Travis Bradberry and Emotional Intelligence 2.0

Following the groundbreaking book by Goleman, author Travis Bradberry and his colleague Jean Greaves capitalized on the growing interest in emotional intelligence and published his own book, Emotional Intelligence 2.0, which outlines a step-by-step program for enhancing emotional intelligence. Bradberry and Greaves propose 66 evidence-backed strategies to build emotional intelligence by teaching self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management.

This book, praised by the Dalai Lama himself, claims that it can help you understand the concept of emotional intelligence and the emotions of yourself and others better, and offers a pre- and post-test to prove it. You can learn more about it or buy it here.

Research and Studies into the Theory of EQ

There are numerous studies out there on emotional intelligence and its causes, associations, and consequences, but there are three relatively recent ones that have received a lot of attention (Sarkis, 2011):

  1. Researcher Lynda Jiwen Song and colleagues (2010) explored how emotional intelligence and cognitive intelligence affect college students’ academic performance and social interactions. They found that, while IQ is of course a strong predictor of academic success, EQ also makes its own unique contribution. Further, EQ is a significant factor in the quality of social interactions with peers, while IQ does not seem to have much of a role in a college student’s social life.
  2. Kimmy S. Kee, Peter Salovey, and colleagues (2009) asked a fascinating question about EQ and mental illness: do people with schizophrenia have significantly lower EQ than those without mental illness? They found that those with schizophrenia indeed had significantly lower EQ and performed significantly worse on three out of four EQ tests involving identifying, understanding, and managing emotions. Further, poor performance on the EQ tests was associated with more pronounced schizophrenia symptoms and lower overall functioning.
  3. Finally, researcher Delphine Nelis and colleagues (2009) posed one of the most important questions of all related to emotional intelligence; the title of their paper captures the gist of it: “Increasing emotional intelligence: (How) is it possible?” They designed an experiment in which two groups were tested on EQ, once at the beginning of the study and once at the end. The treatment group received a “brief empirically-derived EI training (four group training sessions of two hour and a half)” while the control group received no such training. At the end of the experiment, the treatment group showed significant gains in EQ, while the control group showed no such changes.

These three studies answered some important questions and opened the door for much of the innovative and important work done since; the results showed us that emotional intelligence is, indeed, a vital factor in success, that emotional intelligence is also a vital factor in how we relate to one another and the quality of our mental health, and-best of all-we can actually improve our emotional intelligence! It’s not necessarily a fixed trait handed down through one’s genes (although that may be where we receive a baseline level of EQ), but something that we can build and boost with practice.

The Framework of Emotional Intelligence

There are two numbers to remember to help you understand what emotional intelligence is all about: 5 and 4.

There are 5 components of the emotional intelligence model and 4 “dimensions.”

The 5 Components/Elements/Domains of the EQ Model

According to Daniel Goleman, there are five components or elements of emotional intelligence:

  • Self-Awareness
  • Self-Regulation
  • Motivation
  • Empathy
  • Social Skills

Self-awareness can be defined as “the ability to recognize and understand your own emotions” (Cherry, 2018B). It is the foundational building block of emotional intelligence, since regulating ourselves, having empathy for others, and so on on all rely on identifying and understanding emotion in ourselves.

Self-regulation is one step further-to have high EQ, we must not only be able to recognize our own emotions, we must also be able to appropriately express, regulate, and manage them.

People who are high in EQ are generally also high in intrinsic motivation; in other words, people high in EQ are motivated for internal reasons rather than to gain wealth, respect, fame, or other external rewards. Those with high EQ are motivated for their own personal reasons and work towards their own goals.

Empathy can be defined as the ability to understand how other people are feeling and recognize, on an intimate level, how you would feel in their shoes. It does not mean you sympathize, validate, or accept their behavior, just that you can see things from their perspective and “feel” what they feel.

Finally, social skills are the last piece of the EQ puzzle; these skills are what allow people to interact socially with one another and to successfully navigate social situations. Those with high EQ generally have higher-than-average social skills and are able to effectively pursue their goals and get the outcomes they want when interacting with others (Cherry, 2018B).

This framework has been adapted and molded to fit business and organizational contexts. In this organizational context, there are a few sub-skills and abilities under each component that contribute to higher emotional intelligence and greater success as an employee, group member, and organization member:

  • Self-Awareness
    – Emotional awareness: recognizing one’s emotions and their effects.
    – Accurate self-assessment: knowing one’s strengths and limits.
    Self-confidence: sureness about one’s self-worth and capabilities.
  • Self-Regulation
    – Self-control: managing disruptive emotions and impulses.
    – Trustworthiness: maintaining standards of honesty and integrity.
    – Conscientiousness: taking responsibility for personal performance.
    – Adaptability: flexibility in handling change.
    – Innovativeness: being comfortable with and open to novel ideas and new information
  • Self-Motivation
    – Achievement drive: striving to improve or meet a standard of excellence.
    – Commitment: aligning with the goals of the group or organization.
    – Initiative: readiness to act on opportunities.
    – Optimism: persistence in pursuing goals despite obstacles and setbacks.
  • Empathy/Social Awareness
    – Empathy: sensing others’ feelings and perspective, and taking an active interest in their concerns.
    – Service orientation: anticipating, recognizing, and meeting customers’ needs.
    – Developing others: sensing what others need in order to develop, and bolstering their abilities.
    – Leveraging diversity: cultivating opportunities through diverse people.
    – Political awareness: reading a group’s emotional currents and power relationships.
  • Social Skills
    – Influence: wielding effective tactics for persuasion.
    – Communication: sending clear and convincing messages.
    Leadership: inspiring and guiding groups and people.
    – Change catalyst: initiating or managing change.
    – Conflict management: negotiating and resolving disagreements.
    – Building bonds: nurturing instrumental relationships.
    – Collaboration and cooperation: working with others toward shared goals.
    – Team capabilities: creating group synergy in pursuing collective goals (Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations, n.d.; Goleman, 1998).

The 4 Dimensions of Emotional Intelligence + Chart

According to emotional intelligence “founding fathers” Salovey and Mayer, there are four distinct dimensions or “branches” of emotional intelligence that form a hierarchy of emotional skills and abilities:

  1. Perceiving emotion
  2. Using emotions to facilitate thought
  3. Understanding emotions
  4. Managing emotions

The first dimension, perceiving emotion, relates to being aware of and recognizing other people’s “states” (both physical and psychological states, like being in physical pain or feeling frazzled), identifying emotions in other people, expressing one’s own emotions and needs accurately and appropriately, and distinguishing between accurate, honest feelings and inaccurate, dishonest feelings.

Using emotions to facilitate thought involves redirecting and prioritizing your thinking based on the feelings associated with those thoughts, generating emotions that will facilitate better judgment and memory, capitalizing on mood changes so you can appreciate multiple points of view, and using emotional states to improve your problem-solving skills and creativity.

Understanding emotions is the dimension of EQ that includes understanding the relationships among various emotions, perceiving the causes and consequences of emotions, understanding complex feelings and contradictory states, and understanding the transitions among emotions.

The final dimension, managing emotions, refers to being open to both pleasant and unpleasant feelings; monitoring and reflecting on your emotions; engaging, prolonging, or detaching from an emotional state; and managing the emotions both within yourself and in others (Emmerling, Shanwal, & Mandal, 2008; Mayer & Salovey, 1997).

See the chart below to get a better idea of this hierarchy.

Emotional Intelligence Chart

Trait Emotional Intelligence Explained

For a quick refresher on traits vs. states, see the descriptions below.

State: temporary thought patterns/feelings/behaviors that are circumstantial and highly dependent on the environment as well as the individual’s personality.

Trait: permanent or semi-permanent thought patterns/feelings/behaviors that are consistent, long-lasting, and relatively stable characteristics that are much more dependent on personality than environment.

Based on these descriptions, we can see that emotional intelligence generally falls on the trait side of the state-trait continuum, although our emotional intelligence and our EQ-related skills and abilities can certainly vary based on our circumstances; for example, one could be more highly emotionally intelligent in personal relationships than in work situations, or vice versa.

However, emotional intelligence is most commonly considered a trait. Sticking with the trait conceptualization of emotional intelligence, let’s dive a little deeper into what makes someone high in EQ.

Characteristics of Emotional Intelligence: 29 Examples and of High and Low Emotional Intelligence

There are many characteristics that can be used to describe people high and low in emotional intelligence.

According to Success.com’s Rhett Power (2017), these are the 7 qualities that best describe employees and leaders with a high EQ:

  1. They aren’t afraid of change; they understand it’s a fact of life, and they’re quick to adapt.
  2. They’re self-aware-they know what they’re good at, what they can work on, and what kinds of environments suit them best.
  3. They’re empathetic. They can easily relate to others and understand what they are going through.
  4. They’re committed to quality but understand that perfection is an impossible standard.
  5. They’re balanced and able to have a healthy professional and personal life.
  6. They’re curious and open-minded, and they love to explore the possibilities.
  7. They’re gracious, grateful, and happy.

Further examples from the Zenful Spirit website include:

  1. They have a healthy work/life balance because they know when to work and when to play.
  2. They have a laser focus and don’t get distracted easily.
  3. They’re easy-going and “go with the flow.”
  4. They’re open-minded and amenable to new ideas.
  5. They’re a bit guarded, because they know when to open up and when to stick to their boundaries.
  6. They embrace their strengths and understand their weaknesses, and leverage the former to compensate for the latter.
  7. They have a true sense of empathy that allows them to relate to others and show compassion.
  8. They’re inquisitive, curious, and interested in people.
  9. They’re always looking ahead and focusing on how to move forward.
  10. They forgive others easily and don’t dwell or hold onto grudges (Health Personal Growth, 2017).

On the other hand, there are some good signs of low emotional intelligence as well; aside from simply flipping the characteristics above around, they include:

  1. They are unable to control their emotions.
  2. They are clueless about the feelings of others, even those close to them.
  3. They can’t maintain good relationships, whether work or personal.
  4. They always have a “poker face,” meaning others have a hard time reading them.
  5. They are often emotionally inappropriate for the situation.
  6. They have trouble coping with sadness.
  7. They are emotionally “tone deaf,” and have trouble reading emotions from tone of voice.
  8. They have trouble being sympathetic with others.
  9. They have no “volume control” over their emotions; they especially have trouble with “too-loud” emotional reactions.
  10. They are completely unmoved by emotional scenes in movies, TV, or books-no matter the genre.
  11. They trivialize the importance of emotions in general and elevate the importance of “cool, calm logic.”
  12. They are not aware of dogs’ emotion states-even their own dog’s emotional states-and even when the signs are clear (Riggio, 2015).

Why is Developing Emotional Intelligence Skills Important?

Why should we care about developing our emotional intelligence skills?

Because being able to understand your emotions is fundamental to understanding what it is that will make you more high-functioning and lead you to flourish. As humans, we tend to be highly emotional and social creatures. Being emotionally intelligent will help you connect with others, boost your performance at work, improve your communication skills, help you become more resilient, and much more. It turns out that having a high level of emotional intelligence will make you successful in just about every aspect of your life!

Emotional Intelligence for the Positive Psychology Practitioner

If you are a practitioner of positive psychology in any way-as a coach, a therapist or counselor, an educator, or any other positive psychology-related role-then you probably already know the benefits of high emotional intelligence. Being able to understand, recognize, and effectively manage both positive and negative emotions will help the positive psychology practitioner in their interactions with clients, boosting their performance and success rate with their clients.

Professionals who do not use emotional intelligence with their clients may find their own interventions ineffective; if the people you are working with cannot “read” you and do not get a good real-life example of emotional intelligence, they will have a tough time enhancing their own emotional intelligence.

Self-Management and Relationship Management

Self-management and relationship management are two vital skills to have in life; they not only help us to lead happier, healthier lives, they also help us to simply get through the day-especially the rough ones.

Self-management is the first step, as we must learn to manage ourselves before we can manage healthy, appropriate relationships with others. Learning self-management allows you to control your own emotions (to a certain extent) and motivate yourself in all situations. Improving your relationships management skills allows you to build healthy relationships and communicate effectively in all situations, including being open with others, getting your point across and persuading others, and being honest without alienating or offending others.

Building your emotional intelligence can help you with both of these important skills, as well as many others! For example, emotional intelligence can help you in the workplace-whether you are an employee, a manager, or a business owner.

Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace

Only in an organization in which the members are highly emotionally intelligent can they work together to maximum effectiveness. This can only increase the organization’s success, however that success is measured. The bottom line is that emotional intelligence is essential for excellence in business.

Emotional intelligence can do wonders for your business because using it at work will make you understand how people and relationships function. Emotionally intelligent colleagues will consistently excel in leadership, teamwork, partnership, and vision because they will have insight on their relationship between the staff, organizations, directors, customers, competitors, networking contacts, and so on.

An organization that is emotionally intelligent employs staff that are more motivated, productive, efficient, effective, rewarded, and likable, and their goals will be more aligned with the organization’s agenda. This is because emotional intelligence is applicable to every human interaction in business; having a high average EQ in the organization will help with customer service, brainstorming ideas, company presentations, and a myriad of other activities.

Emotional intelligence in the workplace will help you assess people better, understand how relationships develop, understand how our beliefs generate our experiences and learn to prevent power struggles, negative judgment, resistance, and so on in order to increase vision and success.

How Emotional Intelligence Effects Decision Making

Related to the previous point, high emotional intelligence will also improve decision-making abilities. Those who have a good understanding of themselves and those around them are more likely to weigh all the options, keep an open mind, and remove all irrelevant and unrelated emotions from the decision-making process (Huffington Post, 2013).

Those high in EQ don’t remove ALL emotions from their decision-making, just the ones that can interfere (like anxiety). This helps them stay more objective while also allowing them to rely on their feelings to a healthy extent.

Emotional Intelligence and Communication

To expand a bit on the previous section, emotional intelligence is closely related to communication skills; those high in EQ also tend to be proficient in their communication abilities.

Those who are high in emotional intelligence:

  1. Consider other people’s feelings.
  2. Consider their own feelings.
  3. Practice empathy for others and relate to them in conversation.
  4. Operate on trust, meaning they build trust through verbal and nonverbal cues and communicate honestly.
  5. Recognize, identify, and clear up any misunderstandings (Schmitz, 2016).

From this list, it’s clear how emotional intelligence affects communication; high EQ leads to high competence in conversations, and competence in conversation is a requirement for both a healthy personal life and a healthy professional life.

The Importance of Emotional Intelligence in Relationships

And speaking of a healthy personal life, communication leads directly to the next reason emotional intelligence is important to develop: building and maintaining healthy relationships.

EI and EQ in relationships

It’s easy to see how having a high EQ can translate to better relationships. People high in EQ can:

  • Read other people’s emotions and appropriately, effectively react to them.
  • Understand and regulate their own emotions, so they don’t bottle things up or let negative emotions burst out of them.
  • Understand that their thoughts create their emotions, and that regulating our thoughts allows us to indirectly regulate our emotions.
  • Connect their own actions to other peoples’ emotional reactions; they know what kinds of consequences their actions will have on others and how others might feel and behave in response (Hall, 2018).

It’s no wonder highly emotionally intelligent people have more stable, satisfying, and high-quality relationships than those low in emotional intelligence; they notice how others are feeling, react appropriately to others, regulate their own emotions to more effectively interact with others, and they watch their own behavior to ensure they don’t offend or upset others unnecessarily. These are the ingredients to a healthy, respectful relationship, whether that relationship is between lovers, friends, family members, or coworkers.

Emotional Intelligence in Nursing and Healthcare

Emotional intelligence has become a huge topic in the field of nursing, and for good reason. Nurses high in emotional intelligence not only outperform their colleagues, they are also more likely to stick around in their current positions, less likely to experience burnout, and more likely to maintain good health, both physically and mentally.

Nurses and other professional healthcare workers thrive in their careers when they are able to correctly identify the emotions in themselves, in their patients, in their patients’ family members, and in their coworkers and colleagues. Further, a high EQ allows healthcare professionals to reason more effectively; those high in EQ are comfortable “trusting their gut” but are also able to effectively marry the more objective reasoning with their subjective emotions (Codier, 2012).

All of these abilities add up to one very effective healthcare professional!

Building Resilience with Emotional Intelligence

Finally, another important reason to pay attention to emotional intelligence is its effects on our resilience. People who are high in emotional intelligence are also generally excellent at picking themselves back up when they fall.

In fact, emotional intelligence is considered by some to be a direct source of resilience; researchers Magnano, Craparo, and Paolillo (2016) found that emotional intelligence is directly related to resilience, and through resilience, indirectly related to achievement and achievement motivation.

In other words, those high in emotional intelligence are more likely to strive for success and pursue their goals, more likely to meet them when they do, and better able to get up and back on track after failure or disappointment. It sounds like emotional intelligence is a pretty important cause or source of just about all success!

Can We Test and Measure Emotional Intelligence?

Emotional intelligence has been a popular trait to measure since its inception, and many scales exist to measure it.

Emotional Intelligence Scales and Other Tests, Quizzes, and Assessments for Measuring Levels of EQ

According to the Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations, there are 9 measures of emotional intelligence with evidence to back them up.

These measures are:

  1. BarOn Emotional Quotient Inventory (EQ-i 2.0)
    a. Author(s): Reuven Bar-On
    b. Intended Population: 18 and older
    c. Subscale(s), if any: Self-Perception, Interpersonal, Decision Making, Self-Expression, and Stress Management.
    d. Link for more information
  2. Emotional and Social Competence Inventory (ESCI)
    a. Author(s): Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and Hay Group
    b. Intended Population: Adults, but particularly college and graduate school students
    c. Subscale(s), if any: Emotional Self-Awareness, Emotional Self-Control, Adaptability, Achievement Orientation, Positive Outlook, Empathy, Organizational Awareness, Coach and Mentor, Inspirational Leadership, Influence, Conflict Management, and Teamwork
    d. Link for more information
  3. Genos Emotional Intelligence Inventory (Genos EI)
    a. Author(s): Genos International
    b. Intended Population: Adolescents and adults 17 to 75
    c. Subscale(s), if any: Self-Awareness, Awareness of Others, Authenticity, Emotional Reasoning, Self-Management, and Positive Influence
    d. Link for more information
  4.  Group Emotional Competence Inventory (GEC)
    a. Author(s): Vanessa Druskat and Steven Wolff
    b. Intended Population: Adults
    c. Subscale(s), if any: Interpersonal Understanding, Confronting Members Who Break Norms, Caring Behavior, Team Self-Evaluation, Creating Resources for Working with Emotion, Creating an Affirmative Environment, Proactive Problem Solving, Organizational Understanding, and Building External Relationships
    d. Link for more information
  5. Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT)
    a. Author(s): John D. Mayer, Peter Salovey, and David Caruso
    b. Intended Population: Adults 17 and over
    c. Subscale(s), if any: Four Branches: Perceiving Emotions, Facilitating Thought, Understanding Emotions, and Managing Emotions
    d. Link for more information 
  6. Schutte Self Report Emotional Intelligence Test (SSEIT)
    a. Author(s): Nicola Schutte and colleagues
    b. Intended Population: Adults
    c. Subscale(s), if any: Appraisal and Expression of Emotion, Regulation of Emotion, and Utilization of Emotion
    d. Link for more information
  7. Trait Emotional Intelligence Questionnaire (TEIQue)
    a. Author(s): V. K. Petrides
    b. Intended Population: Adults (Child version available)
    c. Subscale(s), if any: Well-Being Factor, Self-Control Factor, Emotionality Factor, Sociability Factor, Independent Facets (Adaptability and Self-Motivation)
    d. Link for more information
  8. Work Group Emotional Intelligence Profile (WEIP)
    a. Author(s): Peter Jordan, Neal Ashkanasy, Charmine Härtel, and Gregory Hooper
    b. Intended Population: Adults
    c. Subscale(s), if any: Ability to Deal with Own Emotions (including Ability to Recognize Own Emotions, Ability to Discuss Own Emotions, and Ability to Manage Own Emotions) and Ability to Deal with Others’ Emotions (Ability to Recognize Others’ Emotions and Ability to Manage Others’ Emotions)
    d. Link for more information
  9. Wong’s Emotional Intelligence Scale (WEIS)
    a. Author(s): Chi-Sum Wong, Kenneth S. Law, and Ping-Man Wong
    b. Intended Population: Chinese adults
    c. Subscale(s), if any: Appraisal and Expression of Emotion in the Self, Appraisal and Recognition of Emotion in Others, Regulation of Emotion in the Self, and Use of Emotion to Facilitate Performance.
    d. Link for more information

Look through each link carefully and read up on the scales before choosing, and you’re sure to find one that suits your needs.

Can EQ Be Taught and Learned?

Yes! As mentioned earlier, emotional intelligence is not all the way to the “trait” side of the state-trait continuum. Although it is relatively stable and does not change much on its own, it absolutely can be improved with practice.

With concerted effort, it can be taught by parents, teachers, coaches, and other educators or practitioners, and it can be learned by just about anyone.

How Can We Improve Emotional Intelligence?

How to improve EI and EQ

So, the real question is “How do we teach/learn emotional intelligence?” Luckily, research has given us some answers to this question!

Emotional Intelligence and Mindfulness

Mindfulness is one such answer; we can use mindfulness to build and maintain our emotional intelligence through enhanced self-awareness and self-regulation. Mindfulness meditation has been shown to work wonders on reducing or eliminating your distress when faced with tense situations.

4 Self-Assessment Tools

If you’re interested in improving your emotional intelligence, it’s a good idea to start with an assessment. As the Harvard Extension School blog points out, there are four helpful tools to get an accurate assessment:

  1. Psychology Today 146-question assessment
  2. Mind Tools 15-question assessment
  3. Institute for Health and Human Potential 17-question assessment
  4. Talent Smart 28-question assessment

To learn more about these tools and see which is best for your purposes, read the introduction to them here. Once you’ve assessed your current level of emotional intelligence, it’s time to get started on boosting your EQ.

18 EQ Tools and Strategies to Improve EQ Competency

The Mind Tools team offers six great tools and strategies to boost your own emotional intelligence levels. If you’re ready to get started, try:

  1. Observing how you react to others, making a concerted effort to put yourself in their place, and committing to being more open and accepting of the perspectives and needs of others.
  2. Taking a look at your work environment and work behavior; if you’re seeking attention for your accomplishments, try practicing humility.
  3. Engage in self-evaluation to identify your weaknesses and get an honest picture of yourself.
  4. Examine how you react to stressful situations and work on staying calm, collected, and under control.
  5. Taking responsibility for your actions-this includes facing your mistakes head-on, apologizing, and trying to make things right.
  6. Examining how your actions will affect others before taking those actions, and putting yourself in their shoes to fully understand the consequences of those actions.

Ten further tips come from the folks at Six Seconds: The Emotional Intelligence Network. These strategies include:

  1.  Getting fluent in the “language of emotions,” or learning how to identify, differentiate between, and discuss different-but related-emotions.
  2.  Naming your emotions (this means not just identifying or recognizing them, but literally naming or labelling them).
  3. Using the third person to distance ourselves from our emotions-but without trying to deny or push them away.
  4. Observing our own emotions without trying to fix them; no emotions are bad, and it’s important to recognize that and embrace our emotions.
  5. Feel your emotions in your physical body-whether that’s sweaty palms, tense muscles, heart pounding, etc. It’s vital to feel our emotions in order to better understand and regulate them.
  6. Bust the myth of “bad” emotions; there are no bad emotions and we should not be suppressing or fighting any of them.
  7. Noticing the build-up of emotions before we’re “triggered.” This means we should pay attention to the incremental contributors to our big emotions before they become BIG emotions.
  8. Recognizing recurring patterns; this can take place in this form: “When [stimulus happens], I [my typical reaction].” For example, you might say “When I get angry, I bottle it up.”
  9. Write down your feelings throughout the day. Keeping a journal is a great idea for a lot of reasons, and this is one of them.
  10. Remind yourself that emotions are data. This means that emotions are actually valuable information that can help you see from a new perspective, find the truth, and make better decisions (Freedman, 2018).

As you can see, many of these tips and strategies boil down to a couple of simple (but not always easy) ideas: pay attention to your own feelings, try to remain objective and accepting of them, and think about how your actions affect others.

EQ Training Courses, Workshops, and Certification

Did you know that you can also become accredited in emotional intelligence? The Langley group is offering professional accreditation to help consultants’ coaches, psychologist, and human resources, and businesses how to embed EI, positive psychology, and neuroscience into their companies. Check it out here.

In terms of training courses for emotional intelligence, Six Seconds offers a good one. Six Seconds is “the first and by far the largest global nonprofit community 100% focused on emotional intelligence” and offers a quick one-day introduction to the topic called Unlocking EQ here. At the same link, you can also learn about the other EQ-related trainings, including the EQ Educator program, the Youth Version Assessor Certification program, the Insights for People Management program, “Core” and “Integration” programs for emotional intelligence practitioners, and advanced certifications for those who just can’t get enough!

The University of California, Berkeley also offers a course on emotional intelligence called Empathy and Emotional Intelligence at Work. This course starts on January 6, 2019, so there’s still time to enroll! You can take it for free or get a verified certificate for a one-time fee of $149. Click here to learn more.

The Learning Tree International also offers an emotional intelligence training. It can be taken as a blended learning opportunity (in-class and online sessions) or as a completely live, instructor-led course. It can also be customized for the “team experience” if you want your whole unit to participate. Click here to learn more about this pricey but professional learning opportunity.

If you’re still looking for a good online “crash course” in emotional intelligence, check out these courses on udemy.com. These are not all vetted by professionals, so participate in them at your own risk! However, you can use the reviews to help guide you in your decision-making.

Finally, the EQ Workshop team offers a condensed, two-day workshop on emotional intelligence that will help participants enhance their self-awareness, their understanding of others, and their conflict resolution skills. They aim to “create growth experiences which challenge participants to journey through areas like communication and listening and stress management.” Click here to learn more about these workshops and see when and where the next one will be held.

Criticisms of Emotional Intelligence

Although emotional intelligence has been embraced by both the mainstream and the field of psychology, not everyone agrees that it’s a groundbreaking and important concept.

Jordan Peterson, psychologist and professional controversy-starter at the University of Toronto, has this to say about emotional intelligence:

“There is no such thing as an Emotional Intelligence Quotient… EQ is not a psychometrically valid concept. Insofar as it is anything (which it isn’t), it’s the Big Five trait agreeableness, although this depends, as it shouldn’t, on which EQ measure is being used (they should all measure the same thing)” (Peterson, 2016).

What Peterson is saying is that emotional intelligence is simply old theory wrapped up to look like new theory, and that the tests and scales intended to measure it do not do a very good job. Of course, this is just one psychologist’s opinion, but it’s worth noting that EQ is sometimes highly correlated with agreeableness. Is this because it is a related factor, or because it’s the same factor? Only time and further research will tell!

Another criticism of emotional intelligence comes not from a place of concern about validity, but a concern about ethics. Renowned management researcher and professor Adam Grant is worried about how emotional intelligence can be used for less kind-hearted reasons. In Grant’s own words:

“New evidence shows that when people hone their emotional skills, they become better at manipulating others. When you’re good at controlling your own emotions, you can disguise your true feelings. When you know what others are feeling, you can tug at their heartstrings and motivate them to act against their own best interests” (Grant, 2014).

This criticism is not of the theory of emotional intelligence or the rigor of research on this topic, but of what emotional intelligence can be used to do. Should we be teaching people how to improve their emotional intelligence if they may use it for “evil”? Where should our responsibility to promote truth and our desire to encourage self-improvement end and our commitment to doing no harm begin? It’s an interesting question without an easy answer, but if you’re interested in learning more, see Grant’s piece here.

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