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What is emotional intelligence?

Updated 9 August, 2018

This week has seen Wimbledon return to our screens, and it's got me thinking about how our emotions affect our ability to both play and watch sports. Read on to find out how emotional intelligence can help you take control of your emotions, and use them to your advantage.

Before going any further, something fundamental needs to be cleared up; emotional intelligence is not the same as being emotional.  Just because you don’t consider yourself a particularly ‘emotional’ person, doesn’t mean that emotional intelligence isn’t something you possess and can develop. 

Emotional Intelligence is a skill that we all have the potential to benefit from in some way, so even if you don’t sob your way through The Notebook, I’d encourage you to read on.

We all have emotions; we’re hard wired by evolution to have them for various reasons, and they play a critical role in our thought processes, both consciously and subconsciously.  

Contrary to popular belief, all genders experience emotions and it’s not necessarily the emotions themselves that differ, but instead the way we recognise, understand and portray them.  

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Emotional intelligence is not, and should not, be considered particularly feminine or masculine. Instead, it should be thought of as a universally applicable concept that can improve our health, wellbeing and even workplace performance.

Emotional intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ

We often think of intelligence in terms of academic or technical ability and use it interchangeably with the concept of being ‘clever’.  In fact, intelligence comes in different forms and overall describes an ability to approach certain challenges and work through them with understanding.  

When applied to emotions, it refers to a range of skills and abilities that help you to be aware of, understand and manage your emotions, and also those of others.  This can then be used to guide our thoughts and behaviour and build relationships.

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Most importantly, unlike IQ which is thought to be fixed from a young age, emotional intelligence is something that can, like other skills, be learned and improved through awareness and practise.  

In its most basic form, emotional intelligence (also known as EQ) can be broken down into four main components:

1. Self-Awareness

No one knows you better than you know yourself, right?  Developing emotional intelligence encourages us to get to know and understand ourselves and our emotions a little better.  

Often, we instinctively feel a certain way and don’t put much thought in to exactly what the emotion is, where it has come from or how it’s affecting our thoughts or behaviour.

By digging a bit deeper and focusing on these things, we can develop our EQ and ultimately learn more about what makes us tick.

2. Self-Regulation

We can’t stop emotions from happening, but the more we understand them, the better we can become at regulating how they affect us and our actions.  The better we are at this, the more we can channel our emotions and put them to good use.

For example, if you are anxious and stressed about an interview, recognising this and putting strategies in place such a breathing exercises or mindfulness to try and reduce the stress, can allow you to channel the motivation and energy that come with it to help your performance.

3. Empathy

Empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and have an awareness of their emotions, and how these might be affecting the way they’re thinking and behaving.  

Emotional intelligence isn’t just about our own emotions. It’s also about trying to understand how other people are feeling and the impact this might be having on them, you and your interaction.  This understanding will help you respond in a way that is positive for them and you.

4. Social Interaction

Good interpersonal skills can enhance our personal and professional lives, and many of these skills have their foundations in your EQ.  

By combining a deeper understanding of ourselves with a deeper understanding of others, navigating social situations becomes a whole lot easier and more positive.

Why is emotional intelligence helpful?

Since the 1990s, the media have been promoting emotional intelligence as the ticket for success in all areas of life.  

Whilst it might not be the silver bullet that some of the hype would like you to believe, studies have shown that developing your EQ can be beneficial for your mental health, stress levels, personal relationships and in your professional life.

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Seeing your emotions more clearly, logically and in the context of your situation and thoughts can make them feel less overwhelming, reduce stress levels and make you feel more in control.  

Being empathetic towards others can help you navigate social interactions, build relationships and give yourself and the other person an overall more meaningful and positive experience.

Labels aside, gaining a better awareness of emotions and using this to guide your actions and interactions doesn’t seem to have many down sides.

How can I increase my emotional intelligence?

Emotional intelligence isn’t an innate ability that we’re born with, it’s something we learn and develop over time through practise and experience.  

Here are five ways which can help you work on increasing your EQ:  

Write down your feelings


It can be difficult to know where to start when trying to improve self-awareness, but writing down how you’re feeling can give an opportunity to look at emotions more objectively.  

Once awareness of emotions starts to improve, these written emotions can be put into the context of situations and reactions, deepening your understanding of them.  

It doesn’t need to be a daily ‘Dear Diary’, but jotting down a few bullet points when you get the chance can help you work towards a higher EQ.

Listen


Do you ever ask someone how they are and then not even wait for an answer? By taking the time to find out about how people are actually feeling, we can develop our understanding of people’s emotions and our empathy skills.  

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At the same time you’re giving that person a positive experience by showing that you’re genuinely interested and care about how they are.  Try to go beyond the “I’m fine”.

Mindfulness  


Mindfulness is a technique for bringing your awareness to the present moment, both to yourself and what’s going on around you.  

Not only can this be great for your mental health and wellbeing, but it can also help you tune in to how you’re really feeling at that moment and how it’s affecting you, hence improving self-awareness and emotional intelligence.  

This guide to mindfulness can help you get started.

Manage emotions by reducing stress


Easier said than done, but when we are stressed and on high alert it’s difficult to focus on, and regulate, our own emotions and behaviours, never mind be empathetic towards others.  

Therefore, reducing stress can help develop EQ, and EQ can help reduce stress – a positive spiral!  We all de-stress in different ways and it’s about finding out what works for you, for example exercise, reading or going for a walk in a green space.

Check out these tips on how to manage stress.

Sleep  


The more we learn about sleep, the more we realise how fundamental it is to our health and wellbeing.  

Sleep deprivation can have a number of negative impacts, including making it harder for us to effectively regulate our emotions.  If it’s not possible to increase the amount of sleep you get, focus on improving the quality of your sleep.

Ways that you can try and get a better night’s sleep are explained in this blog post.

Not everyone will find the concept of emotional intelligence easy to embrace or develop, but as with any skill practise is the key to improving.  

Rather than striving for perfection, consider any improvement, no matter how small, as potentially beneficial to your mental health, wellbeing, personal life and professional life.

Topics: Mental Health, Men's health