We probably all know people, either at work or in our personal lives, who are really good listeners. No matter what kind of situation we’re in, they always seem to know just what to say – and how to say it – so that we’re not offended or upset. They’re caring and considerate, and even if we don’t find a solution to our problem, we usually leave feeling more hopeful and optimistic.
We probably also know people who are masters at managing their emotions. They don’t get angry in stressful situations. Instead, they have the ability to look at a problem and calmly find a solution. They’re excellent decision-makers, and they know when to trust their intuition. Regardless of their strengths, however, they’re usually willing to look at themselves honestly. They take criticism well, and they know when to use it to improve their performance.
People like this have a high degree of emotional intelligence. They know themselves very well, and they’re also able to sense the emotional needs of others.
So, what exactly is emotional intelligence, and what can you do to improve yours?
Emotional intelligence is an awareness of your actions and feelings – and how they affect those around you. It also means that you value others, listen to their wants and needs, and are able to empathize or identify with them on many different levels.
The ability to recognize your emotions understands what they’re telling you, and realize how your emotions affect people around you. It also involves your perception of others: when you understand how they feel, this allows you to manage relationships more effectively.
What Does It Mean to Be Emotionally Intelligent?
An emotionally intelligent individual is both highly conscious of his or her own emotional states, even negativity—frustration, sadness, or something more subtle—and able to identify and manage them. Such people are especially tuned in to the emotions that others experience. It’s understandable that sensitivity to emotional signals both from within oneself and from one’s social environment could make one a better friend, parent, leader, or spouse. Fortunately, these skills can be honed.
We all have different personalities, different wants and needs, and different ways of showing our emotions. Navigating through this all takes tact and cleverness – especially if we hope to succeed in life. This is where emotional intelligence becomes important.
Characteristics of Emotionally Intelligent Individuals
People with high emotional intelligence are usually very self-aware. They understand their emotions, and because of this, they don’t let their feelings rule them. They’re confident – because they trust their intuition and don’t let their emotions get out of control.
They’re also willing to take an honest look at themselves. They know their strengths and weaknesses, and they work on these areas so they can perform better. Many people believe that this self-awareness is the most important part of emotional intelligence.
This is the ability to control emotions and impulses. People who self-regulate typically don’t allow themselves to become too angry or jealous, and they don’t make impulsive careless decisions. They think before they act. Characteristics of self-regulation are thoughtfulness, comfort with change, integrity, and the ability to say no.
People with a high degree of emotional intelligence are usually motivated. They’re willing to defer immediate results for long-term success. They’re highly productive, love a challenge, and are very effective in whatever they do.
This is perhaps the most important element of emotional intelligence. Empathy is the ability to identify with and understand the wants, needs, and viewpoints of those around you. People with empathy are good at recognizing the feelings of others, even when those feelings may not be obvious. As a result, empathetic people are usually excellent at managing relationships, listening, and relating to others. They avoid stereotyping and judging too quickly, and they live their lives in a very open, honest way.
It’s usually easy to talk to and like people with good social skills, another sign of high emotional intelligence. Those with strong social skills are typically team players. Rather than focus on their own success first, they help others develop and shine. They can manage disputes, are excellent communicators, and are masters at building and maintaining relationships.
Emotional intelligence can be a key to success in your life – especially in your career. The ability to manage people and relationships is very important in all leaders, so developing and using your emotional intelligence can be a good way to show others the leader inside of you.
How to Improve Your Emotional Intelligence
The good news is that emotional intelligence can be learned and developed. As well as working on your skills in the five areas above, use these strategies:
1-Observe how you react to people
Do you rush to judgment before you know all of the facts? Do you stereotype? Look honestly at how you think and interact with other people. Try to put yourself in their place, and be more open and accepting of their perspectives and needs.
2-Look at your work environment
Do you seek attention for your accomplishments? Humility can be a wonderful quality, and it doesn’t mean that you’re shy or lack self-confidence. When you practice humility, you say that you know what you did, and you can be quietly confident about it. Give others a chance to shine – put the focus on them, and don’t worry too much about getting praise for yourself.
3-Do a self-evaluation
What are your weaknesses? Are you willing to accept that you’re not perfect and that you could work on some areas to make yourself a better person? Have the courage to look at yourself honestly – it can change your life.
4-Examine how you react to stressful situations
Do you become upset every time there’s a delay or something doesn’t happen the way you want? Do you blame others or become angry at them, even when it’s not their fault? The ability to stay calm and in control in difficult situations is highly valued – in the business world and outside it. Keep your emotions under control when things go wrong.
5-Take responsibility for your actions.
If you hurt someone’s feelings, apologize directly – don’t ignore what you did or avoid the person. People are usually more willing to forgive and forget if you make an honest attempt to make things right.
6-Examine how your actions will affect others – before you take those actions
If your decision will impact others, put yourself in their place. How will they feel if you do this? Would you want that experience? If you must take the action, how can you help others deal with the effects. Using your emotional intelligence can be a good way to show others the leader inside of you.
Although “regular” intelligence is important to success in life, emotional intelligence is key to relating well to others and achieving your goals.
Building Emotional Intelligence Isn’t as Hard as You Think
Five rules for approaching our feelings with greater wisdom and effectiveness using the RULER method.
The first step toward productively managing any feeling is to recognize that we’re having it. Although this may sound easy, it’s equally easy to ignore our feelings. Have you ever said, “I don’t care,” about a situation when you really did? Have you ever gotten a head or neck ache, only to later realize you were actually feeling emotionally stressed?
How much energy does this emotion have?
How pleasant is this emotion?
Emotions can be high in both, low in both, high in energy and low in pleasantness, or low in energy and high in pleasantness. Emotions high in both energy and pleasantness include joy, excitement, and optimism; while emotions low in both include sadness and depression. Anxiety, anger, and frustration are examples of feelings high in energy but low in pleasantness, whereas calmness and contentedness are examples of feelings low in energy but high in pleasantness. By at least identifying in which of these categories our feelings fall, we lay a foundation for wisely dealing with them.
The next emotion skill involves understanding our feelings. In short, this involves asking the question, “Why am I feeling this way?”
What just happened? What was I doing before this happened?
What happened this morning, or last night, that might be involved in this?
What has happened before with this person that might be connected?
What memories do I have about the situation or place in which this emotion occurred?
Understanding the causes of our feelings can help provide clues about how to address them. If I’m feeling anxious because my new boss reminds me of a person from my past who was cruel to me, I’ll want to deal with the situation very differently than, if my anxiety results from a particular managerial decision my boss just made. Of course, it could be both—so it can take serious time and introspection to really sort out what we’re experiencing and why. Be patient and keep at it.
It’s not enough simply to recognize and understand an emotion; we also can benefit from finding the right word to describe it.
Many of us have a relatively limited emotion vocabulary. Some of us stick with two words: bad and good. Others might have three or four: happy, sad, mad, and scared. Still, others may not use emotion words at all, but prefer figures of speech like, “on top of the world” or “burning up.
For a start, knowing precisely what feelings we’re experiencing can give us clues about how to manage them. Although you may recognize that you’re experiencing a negative, high-energy emotion, both “stressed” and “overwhelmed” might fit that general description. But which of these labels most accurately describes our feeling really matters, because they mean different things.
“Stress” generally means we feel that what we’re trying to do or handle exceeds our capabilities, whereas “overwhelmed” means there’s just too much of it, regardless of our capabilities. If we’re feeling overwhelmed, the best approach may be to reduce our workload the best we can, whereas if we’re feeling stressed, the best approach may be to upgrade our capabilities by learning new skills or reorganizing the way we do things.
If the R, U, and L of R.U.L.E.R. are about getting into touch with our emotions, the E and R are about what to do with them.
There are lots of reasons we hesitate to express our feelings. Especially when emotions fall on the negative end of the spectrum, we may be afraid they’re inappropriate, will embarrass us, or will somehow injure the person we express them to.
“Hurt feelings don’t vanish on their own. They don’t heal themselves. If we don’t express our emotions, they pile up like a debt that will eventually come due.” So it’s important to express them in some way.
But this doesn’t mean we should let our emotions run wild, saying everything that’s on our minds to everyone we wish. The skill of expressing our feelings “means knowing how and when to display our emotions, depending on the setting, the people we’re with, and the larger context.”
If we’re feeling hurt by something our boss said, for instance, it’s in our best interest to express this differently than if a close friend said something similar to us. Depending on the level of trust, we may make ourselves more vulnerable to our friend than our boss, expressing our feelings in greater depth or detail. If there’s a good chance we could lose our job, we may even choose not to express our hurt at all to our boss, instead of confiding in and seeking support from someone else.
The final emotion skill involves determining how to cope with our feelings.
Whether or not we choose to express them, feelings impact us. Regulating our emotions involves dealing with them in a way that allows us to best meet our personal and professional goals—or at least prevent our feelings from interfering with them. This certainly doesn’t mean ignoring our emotions as this doesn’t work well. Instead, it involves learning to accept and deal with them wisely.
Emotion regulation can also be very simple. “Your parents are coming to visit and you don’t want them to see some of your artwork? Hide it until they leave. You’re tired? Splash some water on your face.” The important thing is to acknowledge our feelings—not avoid them—and then take productive steps toward dealing with them.
Learn to be more emotionally skilled. It won’t eliminate all our negative feelings or bring about a constant state of bliss. Such goals are probably impossible. But part of emotional intelligence is realizing that our feelings aren’t our enemies. In fact, if we approach them wisely, they can be some of our best friends. Let’s all get to know these friends a little better.
By Zainub Jada
Mental Health & Wellness Coach