If you’re thinking “what the heck does Emotional Intelligence even mean?” then you are reading the right post. As a clinician I had a hard time wrapping my head around the concept because there really are a lot of layers to it.
When you think about emotional intelligence try to think about social intelligence. Emotional intelligence is a form of social intellect that involves our ability to recognize and manage our emotions in a healthy way that helps us achieve our goals and be effective in life.1 To learn more about what gets in our way of being effective and achieving our goals, check out my post on effectiveness here.
Emotional intelligence is generally broken into 4 domains which include self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management. Let’s take a brief look into each of these domains.
Self-awareness is pretty self-explanatory yet is not as easy as you might think. Self-awareness is the ability to identify what emotions you are experiencing and why you are experiencing them. (Although sometimes emotions arise out of nowhere and we may not be able to identify what caused them; that’s okay. When that happens, it may be due to fatigue, hunger or boredom.) It is also the ability to notice physiological changes in your body that are indicators of a particular emotion. For example, I notice that when I become anxious my heart starts to beat fast, I get a nauseous feeling in my stomach and my hands start to shake. Self-awareness is simple yet difficult. Self-awareness takes time and intention to develop.
Self-management is the ability to tolerate, effectively manage and let go of emotions. Self-management is the ability to recognize which emotions are helpful to us to in problem solving, which emotions we should be paying attention to and which emotions we should work on letting go of. Self-management is managing our emotions effectively as we are experiencing our emotions so we don’t cause more problems for ourselves by reacting to what we’re feeling.
Emotions can sometimes give us information about the world around us. For example, if I’m walking alone in a dark alley at 2:00 a.m., my emotion of fear indicates that I may be in danger and generate a heightened sense of awareness of my surroundings. Fear can also help us respond appropriately to triggers. If someone were to approach me in the alley, fear would trigger adrenaline to pump throughout my body so I can fight or run away.
Sometimes though, emotions aren’t reflective of reality. When that’s the case, recognizing that and letting the emotions go is part of self-management. Understanding that sometimes emotions aren’t helpful or healthy for us and working on letting them go is essential in regulating emotions. For example, a 6 year old is experiencing fear because he thinks that there is a monster in his closet. Although that emotion is valid to him, the facts of the situation don’t support the feeling and it is in his (and his parents) best interest to let that feeling go.
There is a saying in my line of work and I used it quite often with patients. The saying is “don’t always believe what you feel”. Sometimes feelings are based on facts and sometimes they aren’t. It’s up to us to recognize the difference and to let go of harmful and unhelpful emotions.
Social awareness is the ability to observe and recognize emotions in other people and to experience empathy for them. It is the ability to recognize what the other person may be feeling given their body language or what they have experienced and using that information to inform your response to them. Social awareness strengthens your ability to bond with a person.
Relationship management is your awareness of your relationship goals with a person. It is your ability to resolve conflict with the person, lead effectively, be an effective member of a team and positively influence other people. Relationship management is the ability to keep your relationship goals with the person in the back of your mind as you navigate your emotions and resolve conflict.
14 Signs You Are Emotionally Intelligent
- You can identify and label what you’re feeling in the moment. (Self-awareness domain) I am feeling angry right now.
- You have an understanding of why you feel the way you do. (Self-awareness domain)I’m feeling angry right now because my son was supposed to turn in his research paper today and his teacher called to tell me he didn’t.
- You have an awareness about your body’s physiological response to different emotions. (Self-awareness domain) My heart is starting to beat faster which is an indicator that I’m feeling angry.
- You recognize that feelings are what they are and you are able to validate your emotional experience. (Self-management domain) It is okay for me to feel angry, it makes sense.
- You are able to “shelve” your emotions until it’s an appropriate time to process them. (Self-management domain) I can’t address my emotions right now because I am at work and I have a job to do. I will address this when I get home.
- You are able to tolerate and manage emotions without letting them control your behavior. (Self-management domain) I am feeling angry at my son and I am resisting the urge to call him and aggressively yell at him while I’m at work.
- You can let go of unhealthy or unhelpful emotions. (Self-management domain) My anger is not going to help me effectively communicate with him, so I need to work through the anger and calm down before I talk to him.
- You can recognize emotional responses in others tone of voice, words and body language. (Social awareness domain) My son is crying and his cheeks are red, it looks like he is upset.
- You can acknowledge someone else’s truth and can validate it, even if you don’t like it, agree with it or understand it. (Social awareness domain) My son told me that he and his girlfriend broke up today which caused him to forget to turn in his paper. I can tell he is upset and he needs to turn in his paper.
- You experience empathy for other people’s internal experiences. (Social awareness domain) It’s hard to go through a break up.
- You understand timing and when it’s appropriate to express your emotions and when it’s not. (Social awareness domain) I can see that my son is hurting and although my emotions are valid, right now he needs time to process and work through his break up. I will address this later once he has had some time to calm down.
- You are able to work as an effective member of a team, provide support and guidance. (Relationship management domain) I will let my son know that I am here if he needs me. I will also let him know that we have to figure out a solution the problem of not turning in his paper today.
- You are able to effectively use your emotions to problem solve. (Relationship management domain) My son came to dinner looking calmer than he was two hours ago. I am going to approach the issue of him not turning in his assignment and work together to find a solution.
- You can use your emotions to effectively and healthily get your wants and needs met by others. (Relationship management domain) Relationship management domain) I will validate his emotions regarding the break up and I will effectively state my emotional response to him not following through with his school obligations.
If you would like to learn more about emotional intelligence, check out this YouTube video here. It is very brief and gives a quick overview of emotional intelligence.
Some people believe that emotional intelligence may be more important than IQ. While that debate is not the topic of this particular post, I can say with certainty that emotional intelligence is very important in our overall quality of life. Emotional intelligence affects or ability to make healthy decisions, follow through with difficult tasks, lead, work as an effective member of a team and maintain strong relationships with people. How emotional intelligent are you? Where do you think you need to improve?
I always recommend to my patient to start with the self-awareness domain. It is impossible to effectively manage and regulate your emotions if you are not aware of their existence. Being able to label the emotion(s) you are feeling and observe your body’s physiological response to emotions is essential to developing emotional intelligence.
- Mayer, J.D. & Salovey, P. (1993). The intelligence of emotional intelligence. Intelligence 17(1), p.433-442.
Harvard Business Review. (2017). Emotional intelligence has 12 elements. Which do you need to work on?