What Is Emotional Intelligence?

What Is Emotional Intelligence?

The term 'emotional intelligence (EI)' was created by researchers Peter Salovey and John Mayer in their 1990 journal on imagination, cognition and personality. It was subsequently popularized by Dan Goleman in his book, Emotional Intelligence, in 1996.

Salovey and Mayer described this then new term as a form of social intelligence, where an individual is able to recognize their own, as well as another person’s, feelings and use this information to guide them through a situation.

In everyday life, it means being aware of what leads us to do certain things and behave in certain ways, and to be able to navigate our emotions positively towards ourselves and other people.

A person with emotional intelligence can acknowledge and understand why someone is showing emotions in a certain way, such as being angry. They are then able to help them change to a positive emotion.

Different Types of Emotional Intelligence

Mayer and Salovey identified four traits of emotional intelligence that can be recognized individually, as well as interconnecting.

Other theorists imitate and expand on these traits and components, but let's take a look at Mayer and Salovey's.

Perception and Expression of Emotion

The first in the emotional intelligence model is when a person can notice the emotions of both themselves and others, and be able to identify hidden emotions and feelings that someone is harbouring.

Using Emotion to Facilitate Thought

A person with emotional intelligence may also use particular emotions to make decisions, recognize thought patterns and reason a process.

Understanding and Analyzing Emotions

This trait is not to be confused with the second type, as this is about understanding why certain emotions and feelings are happening. It is breaking down and analyzing why a particular situation is making someone angry.

This type of emotional intelligence could help to stop a situation escalating or an argument to break out.

Reflective Regulation of Emotion

After identifying and tackling trait three, the final component is about having the ability to regulate one’s own emotions and the feelings of others to help with development and growth.

Why Does Emotional Intelligence Matter?

As with all types of intelligence, EI is important in both personal relationships and the workplace, and brings many benefits to the person who has it and the people they interact with.

Some of the ways in which emotional intelligence can help include:

  • Managing change – For example, a new job role may be overwhelming and conjure up many new emotions. Using emotional intelligence can help to recognize and manage these feelings.

  • Enhance a person’s ability to deal with stressful times – In life and the workplace, there are many times when a person will experience stressful situations. Using the traits of emotional intelligence will help them to notice emerging emotions and use these to facilitate their thought process.

  • Giving and receiving constructive criticism – If a manager has to give an employee an appraisal, emotional intelligence can help them preempt any emotions their feedback may create. They can then prepare and decide the best way to navigate from this. Equally, an employee may leave an appraisal feeling disappointed, or even angry. EI will help them to identify their feelings and decide how to grow from the experience.

  • Helping with social interactions – When meeting someone for the first time, it can be easy to interpret their interaction with you in a negative way. Using emotional intelligence will provide the ability to recognize how a person is feeling and analyze why they might be feeling this way. They may be very shy but appear aloof, or seem serious, but actually be upset.

What Is Emotional Intelligence?
What Is Emotional Intelligence?

How Can Emotional Intelligence Help in a Workplace Environment?

Emotional intelligence can help in many ways in a work environment. Here are just two examples to give you more insight into why it is important.

Example 1

A man and woman in a team work well together. They always bounce off each other with work assignments and are often seen having lunch together.

The man suddenly becomes very withdrawn at work, avoiding the woman and not applying himself to his work. The woman, who has applied for a promotion seems unaware of the change in her colleague.

Their manager quickly identifies the change in the man’s emotions, and he addresses it by calling the man in for an informal discussion. He recognizes the man’s mood change seems to be directly connected to the woman’s possible promotion, so he encourages him to be honest with her about his feelings.

The situation is resolved and the pair’s working relationship continues positively.

The manager had the emotional intelligence to recognize the feelings of others and use this to move forward and resolve the situation.

Someone lacking in EI may have let the situation escalate.

Example 2

A CEO can use emotional intelligence to motivate their team and boost morale.

For example, a company has had to make a number of people redundant, which has left the current employees worried about their own jobs and upset about their colleagues who have left.

The CEO uses her emotional intelligence to recognize this feeling among employees and employ strategies to lift the mood and reassure employees their jobs are safe.

This could include an email and face-to-face chat with each employee or a team building event that would boost morale.

If the CEO did not have emotional intelligence, she would not have recognized what the employees needed.

How Can You Improve Your Emotional Intelligence?

There are some ways that emotional intelligence can be improved to ensure that you can reap the benefits of EI in life and work:

  • Think ahead – If you feel a project or new process at work may cause negative emotions, it would be good to plan in advance how to manage these.
  • Use strategies – Try and help manage your own emotions with strategies such as mindfulness and physical exercise. Even if you are not feeling stressed or upset, it may be an idea to keep on top of emotions with one or more of these tactics.
  • Be proactive – Try to be proactive about the feelings of others and how they react to certain information and news. Then you can identify areas that may need work.
  • Recognize patterns – Look at recognizing your patterns of emotions. This way you can catch them early and regulate them efficiently.

Final Thoughts

Emotional intelligence is just as important as the other forms of intelligence, and although everyone possesses some of the traits of EI, it can always be advantageous to sharpen them.

There are many benefits of emotional intelligence in all aspects of life and, with regular improvement and awareness, those traits can be applied to create positive results.


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