Have you ever known people who always seem to keep their cool, who are able to handle even the most awkward social situations with grace, and who always seem to make others feel at ease? Chances are pretty high that those individuals possess what psychologists refer to as emotional intelligence.
Emotional intelligence involves the ability to understand and manage emotions. Experts agree that this type of intelligence plays an important role in success, and some have suggested that emotional intelligence, or EQ, might even be more important than IQ. In any case, research has suggested that possessing emotional intelligence skills is linked to everything from decision-making to academic achievement.
So what does it take to be emotionally intelligent? Psychologist and author Daniel Goleman has suggested that there are five components of emotional intelligence. Fortunately, you can learn to improve these emotional intelligence skills. By working on and increasing these skills, you can become more emotionally intelligent.What’s Your EQ? Test Your Emotional Intelligence1
Self-awareness, or the ability to recognize and understand your own emotions, is a critical emotional intelligence skill. Beyond just recognizing your emotions, however, is being aware of the effect of your actions, moods, and emotions on other people.
To become self-aware, you must be capable of monitoring your own emotions, recognizing different emotional reactions, and then correctly identifying each particular emotion. Self-aware individuals also recognize the relationships between the things they feel and how they behave.
These individuals are also capable of recognizing their own strengths and limitations, are open to new information and experiences, and learn from their interactions with others. Goleman suggests that people who possess self-awareness have a good sense of humor, are confident in themselves and their abilities, and are aware of how other people perceive them.
How to Improve Self-Awareness
- Ask for constructive feedback
- Keep a journal
- Learn new skills
- Pay attention to your thoughts and emotions
- Pursue your passions
- Practice mindfulness
- Reflect on your experiences
- Set goals
- Use positive self-talk
- Work on building a growth mindset
In addition to being aware of your own emotions and the impact you have on others, emotional intelligence requires you to be able to regulate and manage your emotions.
This doesn’t mean putting emotions on lockdown and hiding your true feelings—it simply means waiting for the right time and place to express them. Self-regulation is all about expressing your emotions appropriately.
Those who are skilled in self-regulation tend to be flexible and adapt well to change. They are also good at managing conflict and diffusing tense or difficult situations.
Goleman also suggests that those with strong self-regulation skills are high in conscientiousness. They are thoughtful about how they influence others, and they take responsibility for their own actions.
How to Improve Self-Regulation
- Be mindful of your thoughts and feelings.
- Build distress tolerance skills.
- Find ways to manage difficult emotions.
- Look at challenges as opportunities.
- Practice your communication skills.
- Recognize that you have a choice in how you respond.
- Use cognitive reframing to change thought patterns and emotional responses.
- Work on accepting your emotions.
3. Social Skills
Being able to interact well with others is another important aspect of emotional intelligence. Having strong social skills allows people to build meaningful relationships with other people and develop a stronger understanding of themselves and others.
True emotional understanding involves more than just understanding your own emotions and those of others. You also need to be able to put this information to work in your daily interactions and communications.
In professional settings, managers benefit by being able to build relationships and connections with employees. Workers benefit from being able to develop a strong rapport with leaders and co-workers. Important social skills include active listening, verbal communication skills, nonverbal communication skills, leadership, and persuasiveness.
How to Improve Social Skills
- Ask open-ended questions.
- Find icebreakers that will help start conversations.
- Notice other people’s social skills.
- Practice good eye contact.
- Practice your social skills.
- Practice active listening.
- Show interest in others.
- Watch your body language.
Empathy, or the ability to understand how others are feeling, is absolutely critical to emotional intelligence. But it involves more than just being able to recognize the emotional states of others.
It also involves your responses to people based on this information. When you sense that someone is feeling sad or hopeless, how do you respond? You might treat them with extra care and concern, or you might make an effort to buoy their spirits.
Being empathetic also allows you to understand the power dynamics that often influence social relationships, especially in workplace settings. This is important for guiding your interactions with different people you encounter each day.
Those competent in this area are able to sense who possesses power in different relationships. They also understand how these forces influence feelings and behaviors. Because of this, they can accurately interpret different situations that hinge on such power dynamics.
How to Build Empathy
- Be willing to share your own feelings.
- Engage in a cause such as a community project.
- Listen to other people.
- Practice loving-kindness meditation.
- Talk to new people.
- Try to imagine yourself in someone else’s place.
Intrinsic motivation is another important emotional intelligence skill. People who are emotionally intelligent are motivated by things beyond external rewards like fame, money, recognition, and acclaim.
Those who are competent in this area tend to be action-oriented. They set goals, have a high need for achievement, and are always looking for ways to do better. They also tend to be very committed and are good at taking initiative.
How to Improve Motivation
- Avoid overusing extrinsic rewards.
- Celebrate your results.
- Focus on setting small, measurable goals.
- Introduce challenges to keep things interesting.
- Set goals to help build intrinsic motivation.
- Work with a friend or co-worker to find accountability.