1 Nov 2019

Career Development

What is Emotional Intelligence?

Written by Dennis Stanley

Businesses are increasingly recognising that it is just as important for their employees to possess high levels of ‘soft skills’, such as resilience and emotional intelligence, as it is for them to have the ‘hard skills’ traditionally sought after in the recruitment process, such as technological capability.

In this article, I want to focus on emotional intelligence (EI). I’m going to take a look at what it is and why it’s so beneficial in the workplace, as well as how you can increase your own level of emotional intelligence.

What is emotional intelligence?

Emotional intelligence is a combination of self-awareness, self-management and the ability to harness both your own and other’s emotions to benefit the situation. It’s one of those things that we all inherently possess at one level or another and that we rely on to navigate social situations – without realising we ever had it in the first place.

In the days when a person’s IQ was seen as the pinnacle of how successful they would be, it didn’t make sense that those with standard IQs often outperformed those with high IQs. The introduction of the theory of EI provided the solution to that anomaly – and it has since become a widely recognised defining factor in what makes someone successful.

In fact, research has shown that EI has a correlation with high performance in the workplace due to their interpersonal skills and strong decision-making abilities.

If this has left you feeling like you’re missing out, you may be interested to know that, although some people have inherently higher EI, you can work on increasing your own level through practice and habit forming. I’m going to discuss how you can do this later, but first let’s take a look at the characteristics of EI.

The characteristics of emotional intelligence

There are five characteristics of emotional intelligence. They are:

Self-awareness: This covers not only the ability to recognise your emotions as soon as they start to manifest but also the impact that you can have on other people through the way you express your emotions.

Self-regulation: The more you know and understand your own reactions to situations, the better able you are to take charge of your emotions and move forward in a logical and beneficial way. When you consider the importance of being able to regulate your emotions in this way, it’s important to remember that emotions are contagious. If you smile, those around you smile. Though more importantly in the workplace, calm begets calm.

Motivation: People with high EI are motivated to fulfil their own needs and goals. Instead of striving for material and external rewards, they are passionate about their own achievements.

Empathy: An important factor of EI isn’t just being able to recognise your own emotions and how they affect you, but also being able to understand this in other people. If someone is feeling sad, how will they react if you react in an angered way? Or if they are happy, what could you feeling sad do to their mood?

Social skills: Understanding how others may be feeling, and the impact your emotional reactions may have on them, isn’t enough. It’s important that you can then act accordingly to leverage this understanding. Are you able to communicate effectively (and this is a two-way street – I don’t just mean whether you are able to get people to listen to you!)? Can you build rapport and morale among a team?

How to improve your emotional intelligence

As I mentioned above, while some people are naturally more emotionally intelligent than others, thankfully it is something that everyone can learn. Here are a few of the techniques that I use with my clients to help them increase theirs;

  • Keep a journal: Make a note of your emotional reactions and interactions, so that you can begin to gain a full understanding of your triggers, tolerance levels and reactions. Beginning to understand yourself is the first step in understanding others.

  • Slow down: When you rush through life it is easy to miss what is going on, even within yourself. Develop your own emotional scanning system so that you become aware of emotions as soon as they start and pay attention to the feelings of those around you.

  • Find a way to regulate negative emotions: I can’t think of an example where too much of a positive emotion could have severe negative repercussions, but I certainly can with negative feelings, such as anger or disappointment. There are a host of techniques that you can learn to help with this, such as taking time out from the situation and mastering slow breathing exercises, but what works for one person won’t always work for another. It’s important that you figure out which works for you.

  • Practice active listening: The people around us tell us a lot about what is going on with them, but, often, we aren’t fully listening and can miss key information that’s hidden among general chatter. When you’re communicating with someone, practice actively listening to them. Ask questions about what they are talking about and hear their replies. Demonstrate that you are engaged with what they are saying and encourage them to continue using affirmative noises and gestures. Make them feel listened to. You’ll discover that people are much more like an open book than you think!

If you’d like to find out more or think you could benefit from increasing your emotional intelligence, then get in touch to discuss one-to-one coaching by emailing me at dennis.stanley@marriage-stanley.com.