How to Cultivate Emotional Intelligence
Dr. Kevin Boll
Have you heard of the phrase “emotional intelligence”? Many workplaces use this concept as a tool to foster corporate growth since employees with high emotional intelligence are thought to be more motivated and better at conflict resolution.
The effects of having high emotional intelligence can be seen not only in the workplace but in one’s personal life and relationships, too.
Origin of the ConceptEmotional intelligence as a term became popular in the 1990s after Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer came up with the phrase to describe how people manage their own emotions and relate to others.
Since then, “emotional intelligence” has been used as a measurement for social, communication, and self-regulation skills in the workplace and in interpersonal relationships. Someone with high “EQ,” or emotional intelligence quotient, is said to have a better chance of success in life, possibly even more than someone with a high IQ (intelligence quotient).
Emotional intelligence is defined as “The ability to identify and manage one’s own emotions, as well as the emotions of others.” One’s emotional intelligence can also be called their emotional IQ, or emotional quotient (EQ).
Fast Facts About Emotional Intelligence
- The concept of emotional intelligence can be used in therapy to cultivate self-awareness and empathy.
- Although social skills are a part of emotional intelligence, someone with outwardly good social skills may still struggle with being in touch with their own emotions and relating to others with genuine empathy.
- Therapy or counseling can help a person improve their EQ.
- No one has perfect emotional intelligence, and it is not a simple matter of whether you have it or not; it exists on a scale.
Five Elements of Emotional Intelligence
In general, experts recognize five elements of emotional intelligence. Let’s discuss each one in greater detail.
1. Emotional Awareness
The first component of emotional intelligence may sound simplistic, but emotional awareness is less common than you might think. Yes, we can identify basic emotions: happiness, sadness, fear, indifference, etc. But are we skilled at recognizing our own emotions in the moment, as well as how they influence our behavior?In childhood, many of us are taught (either implicitly or explicitly) that our emotions are false or irrelevant. Worse, some of us are ridiculed for how we feel, or subjected to emotional abuse.
Why is simply identifying our emotions so important? It’s the first step in being able to manage them. When we are aware of our emotions, we can understand their role in affecting our behavior.
Daniel Goleman, an emotional intelligence expert, describes self-awareness this way: “You know what you are feeling and why – and how it helps or hurts what you are trying to do. You sense how others see you and your self-image reflects that larger reality.” He refers to self-awareness not as a static state, but as an ongoing practice: “Every moment is an opportunity to be self-aware or not.”
According to Jessie Zhu, “The ability to monitor our emotions and thoughts from moment to moment is key to understanding ourselves better, being at peace with who we are and proactively managing our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.”
So, while self-awareness is valuable, it isn’t an end in itself. If you are sad and you can identify that feeling, that’s an important first step but that doesn’t make you emotionally intelligent. It’s what you do with the sadness that matters.
Imagine a preschooler who is throwing a tantrum and yelling, “I’m mad!” The child can identify the emotion of anger but that self-awareness doesn’t go far enough. The next component of emotional intelligence refers to the critical importance of being able to manage emotions, not just identify them.
Self-regulation can be thought of as knowing how to express one’s emotions appropriately – that is, at the right time and in the right context. Daniel Goleman says that self-regulation is “the quality of emotional intelligence that liberates us from living like hostages to our impulses.”Self-awareness on its own would seem to place feelings on the throne. “I am angry” is one thing; “I am justified in however I want to express that anger” is quite another. Validating your own feelings is the first step toward managing them, but managing them effectively is the goal.
In an ideal world, everyone would begin learning the skill of self-regulation in early childhood. Young children should learn that although their emotions are important, if left uncontrolled, they can have negative effects on themselves and others. But not everyone internalizes this truth as a child, and many of us still struggle with self-regulation as adults.
Self-regulation means self-control, and in reference to emotions, it means you have the ability to change how you’re feeling based on your values and reality, and you can calm yourself down, or withhold emotional expression until an appropriate time and place.
Some people struggle with self-regulation particularly because of previous trauma. Therapy or Christian counseling for self-regulation can help even if you have not experienced previous trauma but need help developing the skill of emotional self-regulation in your everyday life.
3. Social Skills
Emotional intelligence doesn’t start and end with the individual. Relationships are the crux of the matter. Social skills in one’s EQ are “the skills needed to handle and influence other people’s emotions effectively.” If you can understand your emotions and those of others, you’ll handle interpersonal interactions and conflict much better.
Sometimes social skills are referred to as “soft skills” or social awareness. At the most basic level, social awareness is the ability to recognize and interpret others’ social cues and respond to them effectively. In other words, “True emotional understanding involves more than just understanding your own emotions and the feelings of others – you also need to be able to put this information to work in your daily interactions and communications.”
Social skills are rooted in empathy, which means you can understand and relate to someone else’s emotions. Then, because you are aware of their emotions, you can allow this understanding to influence how you interact with the person.Some people are cognitively intelligent enough to understand others’ emotions. They can pick up on social cues, for example, and they can read facial expressions. However, they don’t actually care about others’ emotions. They don’t allow their knowledge of how someone else might be feeling to influence their response. This means that they may be socially intelligent, but they are not emotionally intelligent.
Allowing yourself to be impacted by someone else’s emotions doesn’t mean you agree with their response to a situation; it just means that you are able to use that information to navigate your relationship with them more effectively.
Emotional intelligence is also closely related to intrinsic motivation. Someone with high EQ is motivated to do what’s best for themselves and others because of their internal desire for positive results in relationships and life, not just because they are looking for a specific external reward.
Employers who emphasize emotional intelligence in the workplace often point out that internally motivated employees tend to be much more successful and easier to manage; they don’t need constant external reinforcement in order to do a good job, because they seek the inner satisfaction of knowing that their job was well done.
How to Cultivate Emotional Intelligence
- Reflect on your emotions, which often means pausing to identify how you’re really feeling.
- Recognize the way you behave in response to that emotion.
- Recognize the effect this behavior has on yourself and others.
- Name how someone else is feeling.
- Consider how you react to stress.
- Consider whether you choose to express your emotions at the right place and time.
- Manage your negative emotions by looking at the situation from multiple perspectives. Find an outlet that helps you relieve stress: nature, exercise, art, music, or journaling, to name a few.
- Use “I” statements when describing your feelings.
- Consider using the XYZ technique: I feel X when you do Y in situation Z. This technique can help you be assertive in stressful situations where you need to express a negative feeling.
- Consider counseling to help you learn to identify and manage your own emotions and empathize with others and respond to them better.
- Work on being proactive instead of reactive. Plan ahead rather than responding according to the impulse of the moment.
If you want to work on your emotional intelligence quotient with help from a professional, consider Christian coaching for workplace issues, or Christian counseling for relationship issues. Emotional intelligence is a key concept for personal and career success, and it is something that you can improve with effort and encouragement.
“Friends”, Courtesy of Naku Mayo, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Follow the Leader”, Courtesy of Jehyun Sung, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Posing for the Picture”, Courtesy of Naassom Azevedo, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Young People”, Courtesy of Alexis Brown, Unsplash.com, CC0 License