What is Emotional Intelligence?

Have you ever wondered why some people are better at handling their emotions than others? Or how some people just seem to understand when others are upset and have something bothering them? Maybe you are one of these people, and you know exactly what I’m referring to. But, do you know why this is? It all boils down to one concept, emotional intelligence.  

What is Emotional Intelligence?

In the simplest terms, emotional intelligence, or emotional quotient (EQ) refers to identifying and managing your own emotions and the emotions of others.

Being skilled in emotional intelligence is very important in becoming successful. It affects all aspects of life, and at some time or another, if you lack these skills, they will come back to haunt you.  

Incredibly though, it’s not really a skill set that is focused on much through school. Maybe inadvertently, but not directly as an important asset to a successful life.

To really grasp emotional intelligence, it is important to break it down further. While the concept of it is pretty simple, actually becoming adept at it takes some time. For someone to have a full understanding of emotional intelligence, there are four areas that need to be mastered.

Each of these is as important as the other to accomplish a well-rounded emotionally intelligent person. The areas are as follows: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management.

4 Attributes of Emotional Intelligence

  • Self-Awareness: The ability to recognize our own emotions and understanding how they affect thoughts and behaviors.
  • Self-Management: Being capable of regulating/managing emotions, behaviors, and thoughts in a positive and healthy way. This usually comes after self-awareness, because we must recognize emotions before they can be controlled.
  • Social Awareness: Similar to self-awareness, it is the capability of recognizing and empathizing with the emotions of others. This is a very powerful skill because you can understand the needs and concerns of other people.
  • Relationship Management: The ability to create, manage, and maintain strong relationships. It also means inspiring others, communicating well, and working efficiently in a team environment.

Signs You Have Low Emotional Intelligence

When lacking in emotional intelligence, there are certain behaviors that are exhibited. By recognizing these, we can work on changing the behaviors and improving our EQ.

Emotional intelligence is a funny trait because those of us who need to work on it the most are the ones who do not realize this.

Since it takes a certain degree of self-awareness to address our shortcomings, those who seriously lack EQ will find it hard to identify.

Clinical psychologist, Seth Gillihan, outlines 8 signs of low emotional intelligence in his article on webmd.com.

I have taken his signs, along with my own, and compiled a list of the 6 biggest red flags of low EQ.

If any of these signs indicate behaviors you are someone you know exhibits, then working on improving emotional intelligence could be very beneficial.

"Emotional intelligence is a funny trait because those of us who need to work on it the most are the ones who do not realize this. Since it takes a certain degree of self-awareness to address our shortcomings, those who seriously lack EQ will find it hard to identify."

6 Signs of Low Emotional Intelligence:

  1. Difficulty reading people. This refers to not knowing someone else is upset or bothered. A good example is when in a relationship, someone with low EQ will have a hard time knowing when their partner is hurt or mad at something they said.
  2. You’re not sure how you feel. With a lack of self-awareness comes a misunderstanding of our own emotions. This leads to impulsive actions and emotions become the driving force of our lives, running free without any control.
  3. Difficulty with emotional management. Building on the previous sign, not understanding your emotions means little to no control over them. Without knowing what you feel, a cause cannot be pinpointed. So, there will be great difficulty in managing emotions that you are unsure of where they come from.
  4. Low empathy. Empathy refers to understanding and relating to how other people feel. It is basically the meaning of the phrase, “walk in someone else’s shoes.” If you have low emotional intelligence then this will be very difficult to do. You will not be able to relate and empathize with people’s emotions.
  5. You struggle in relationships. Whether professional or personal, relationships are difficult for those with low emotional intelligence. Due to the inability to empathize with others, accompanied by uncontrollable emotions, conflicts will often arise. This can put a strain on even the strongest of relationships.
  6. You are emotionally unstable. With emotions going uncontrolled and misunderstood, instability takes hold. One second you can be happy, and then the smallest misfortune can send you into a spiral of anger and frustration. The worst part is you do not understand why. Since there is no clear reason for the emotional shift, it is hard to get control over. This can be very frustrating and difficult to deal with for the individual and those around them.

4 Ways to Build Emotional Intelligence

Anyone can benefit from building their emotional intelligence. Even those with the highest EQ can continually improve. Especially if any of the preceding 6 signs are behaviors you exhibit.

Much like any lasting change, increasing our emotional intelligence can be a long process. The best way to do so is to break down each of the four areas. Then, work to improve them one by one.

Each area is a topic unto itself, and I will write articles going deeper into them in the future.

For now, here are 4 ways you can start improving emotional intelligence today!

Practice Observing How You Feel

The first way to build emotional intelligence is to become more aware of our feelings.

Self-awareness is really the building block of EQ. So, a wise place to start is observing our own thoughts.

Since thoughts directly influence feelings and emotions, they are what you want to focus on.

A term you have likely heard due to its increasing popularity is mindfulness. Mindfulness encompasses what I am referring to here. Becoming “mindful” of our own thoughts and feelings.

It can be an interesting concept if you are unfamiliar with it. I mean, who isn’t aware of what they are thinking?

It turns out most of us, at least not at a conscious level.

Think about how many times an emotion has taken hold and you have no idea where it came from. I know that I used to feel anxious for no reason. It wasn’t until I became mindful that I started to notice where these feelings were coming from.

Observing our thoughts and feelings is a practice and should become a habit if you wish to improve.

There are different ways you can practice this; it all depends on your preferences.

"Self-awareness is really the building block of EQ. So, a wise place to start is observing our own thoughts. Since thoughts directly influence feelings and emotions, they are what you want to focus on."

Ways to Practice Mindfulness

  • Mindfulness Meditation
  • Go for a Long Walk
  • Journal Daily
  • Go for a Jog
  • Reflect on Your Day
  • Go for a Long Drive
  • Take Pauses to Think “how am I feeling right now?”

Start Taking Responsibility for How you Feel

I would say this is one of the toughest parts of emotional intelligence. It is a process that requires us to be very patient with ourselves.

All our lives we’ve used terms such as, “he made me mad,” “she hurt my feelings,” and “the other team made me nervous.”

Bear with me with what I am talking about because it is a strange concept. One that takes a lot of time and practice to master. I myself have barely scratched the surface of this but have noticed great benefits in my life.

Our feelings are our own responsibility. No one person or situation can “make” us feel a certain way. It all boils down to our thought process. We are conditioned to think a certain way in specific situations, and as a result, feel a certain way.

Grasping this concept begins to give us greater control over our emotions. Once we can recognize that how we feel is our own responsibility, a great power is taken back.

Now, instead of being at the mercy of external people and situations, we can begin to master ourselves.

Empathize with Yourself & Others


If one term could single-handedly cover the idea of emotional intelligence, it would be empathy.

Psychologytoday.com describes empathy as the ability to recognize and understand the thoughts and feelings of another. It can range from a person, animal, or fictional character.

However, we can also have empathy for ourselves. By understanding our own thoughts and feelings, we display personal empathy.

It’s a fairly simple concept to explain, though a difficult one to master. Some people are naturally more inclined to be empathetic. I would put myself into this category.

So, how do we go about building empathy?

By focusing on specific techniques.

Empathy Building Techniques:

  • Learn to Listen-by listening more, both to your own thoughts and what others are saying, you will gain a better understanding of them. This will lead to a higher level of compassion and empathy.
  • Pay Attention to Body Language-we say a lot with our bodies. Noticing people’s body language can help get a better understanding of how they are feeling.
  • Help Others-once you begin to help others more, you will become more aware of when they are in need. Then, you will become more perceptive of such needs in the future.
  • Cultivate Patience-having patience with yourself and others is a great way to build empathy. First, be patient with yourself when cultivating the skill. In turn, you will begin to understand yourself better and build personal empathy. With others, practice being patient with them. It will allow time for you to understand their perspective and how/why they think a certain way.

Begin Consciously Responding

One of the ultimate goals of emotional intelligence is to have control over our emotions. To accomplish this, we must first learn to recognize why we feel a certain way.

That was covered in the first section on observing how you feel.

We now come to the second part of that, which is to begin consciously responding to the external world.

It’s not a realistic goal to say be conscious of every action, all day every day.

That would be a little ridiculous.

What you want to do is begin by choosing one part of your day to start practicing with. Say, how you speak.

Before responding to anyone, just take a moment to reflect on what you would like to say. It doesn’t have to be longer than a second or two. Just long enough to ensure your response is a conscious one, rather than reactionary.

As time progresses, this will start to feel more and more normal.

The goal is for you to become completely in control of the actions you do and words you say.

"Before responding to anyone, just take a moment to reflect on what you would like to say. It doesn’t have to be longer than a second or two. Just long enough to ensure your response is a conscious one, rather than reactionary."

Final Thoughts

Emotional Intelligence is a crucial skill to develop. Demonstrating high levels of EQ gives us greater chances of success in life.

Having a strong sense of emotional intelligence makes us better communicators, listeners, partners, and friends.

It is one of those characteristics that, if worked on, will benefit almost every aspect of your life. As a result, it truly is an incredible trait to possess.

Emotional Intelligence is narrowed into four categories: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management.

Focusing on each of these categories individually is a great way to build lasting emotional intelligence.

But, to start out simply, there are four techniques you can begin practicing today that will lead to great improvements in your life.

Start practicing observing how you feel, taking responsibility for how you feel, empathizing with yourself and others, and consciously responding. By following these, you will begin to see improvements in your emotional intelligence, and, consequently, your life.

I hope this post was helpful to you and provided you with some valuable tools.

I would love to hear about your experiences with emotional intelligence, especially if you’ve ever come across someone who lacks it. Please leave your comments below.

Feel free to reach out to me with any questions or concerns you have regarding emotional intelligence or any performance psychology-related topic.

I wish you the best of success in all that you do.

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