What Is Emotional Intelligence?

By BetterHelp Editorial Team|Updated July 8, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Dr. Natalie Feinblatt, PsyD

Did you ever feel puzzled or taken off guard by your emotions and those of others? Have you ever wished social interactions came more naturally? If so, you’re in good company. Emotions can be tough to understand at times and even harder to manage.

group of people walking together. what is emotional intelligence

Emotional Intelligence Can Help You Enjoy Life More

Define Emotional Intelligence

The concept of emotional intelligence is based on a theory first developed by psychologist Michael Beldoch in 1964 and later popularized by Daniel Goleman. In a 2017 scholarly article, Olivier Serrat defined emotional intelligence as the “ability, capacity, skill, or self-perceived ability to identify, assess, and manage the emotions of one’s self, of others, and of groups.”

Like IQ, emotional intelligence, also called EI or EQ, is a measure of your abilities. Yet, EQ refers to a different set of skills than those measured in IQ tests. Emotional intelligence includes various capacities you have for understanding yourself and others and dealing with personal challenges and social situations.

Is EQ Set In Stone?

Have you ever asked yourself, “Why should I worry about emotional intelligence when I’m just not good at understanding other's emotions?” And it’s understandable that if you don’t feel confident in your emotional and social skills, you might not enjoy dwelling on them. After all, worry usually isn’t very helpful. But what if you could change your emotional intelligence? Wouldn’t that be worth some thought and effort?

So, the question is: is emotional intelligence something you can change? That depends on whether it’s a trait or an ability. Over the years, scientists have come down on either side of this debate. However, most now agree that emotional intelligence is something that you can learn, develop, and enhance. For example, one research study concluded that emotional intelligence training promised to be more effective in traditional leadership training methods. The key to achieving higher emotional intelligence for most people is merely to practice the competencies of until they become second nature.

Benefits Of High EQ

emotional intelligence

Higher emotional intelligence comes with many benefits. The following are just a few of the ways increasing your EQ can change your life:

  • You’ll tend to have better social relationships.
  • Your relationships with loved ones will likely improve.
  • Higher academic achievement can come more easily.
  • You can have better relationships at work.
  • You may become a better leader at work and in your community.
  • Your emotional well-being can improve.
  • You may have better mental health.
  • You can have more compassion for yourself and others.

Four Abilities Of EQ

Some theorists have broken down emotional intelligence into four abilities. Having these abilities can enhance your self-understanding, improve your social relationships, and help you become more successful at work.

Perceiving Emotions

The first ability to consider is your ability to perceive emotions. That means noticing your own feelings as well as the feelings of those around you. Developing your ability to recognize emotions is the first step in improving your emotional intelligence.

Understanding Emotions

It’s one thing to notice everyone’s emotions, but understanding them can be a little harder. As you work to improve your emotional intelligence, it’s helpful to think about feelings, their source, and how they are impacting you, others, and the social environment you’re in at the time.

Regulating Emotions

When you can regulate your emotions, you can have a better sense of control over them. You can avoid hasty reactions that could cause trouble for you at the moment or somewhere down the road. It’s important to note that regulating emotions doesn’t mean denying how you feel. It means that you make better choices when deciding what to do about your feelings and the feelings of others, thus increasing emotional intelligence.

Using Emotions

By using emotions adeptly, you can achieve greater success, develop more satisfying relationships, and enhance your own well-being.

5 Elements Of Emotional Intelligence

Another way to break down emotional intelligence is to look at it as a set of capabilities that include five groups of competencies. Each cluster, then, has several individual abilities you can learn about and practice.


Self-awareness includes being aware of your emotions, assessing yourself accurately, and being self-confident.


The self-regulation cluster includes competence in self-control, being trustworthy, being conscientious, being adaptable, and being innovative.

Social Skills

Social skills encompass a wide range of abilities. With higher emotional intelligence, you can exert influence, communicate effectively, manage conflicts, be a leader, create change, build bonds with others, collaborate and cooperate with others, and thrive as a part of a team.


You can develop greater empathy by learning to understand others, help others improve themselves, provide service to others, embrace diversity, and become more politically aware.


Within the motivation cluster of competencies are several more abilities you can develop, including a drive for achievement, commitment to your goals, taking the initiative, and being optimistic.

Suggestions For Increasing Your Emotional Intelligence

Theories and concepts are great, but the real question is, what can you do to put them into practice? Here are a few suggestions to get you started on a path to increased emotional intelligence.

Think About Your Emotions

Take some time to sit quietly and think about the emotions you’re feeling. Consider what it was that brought up those feelings. At this moment, how is your mood affecting your thoughts and decisions? Ask yourself what’s behind your feelings and how your emotions are affecting others. Look back beyond this moment, too. Think about how you usually respond when something frustrating happens to you. Contemplate your emotional strengths and weaknesses overall. This will help you understand your emotional intelligence levels.

Get Someone Else’s Perspective

Thinking about emotions can be a very inward-facing thing. Yet, people with high emotional intelligence see how their emotions impact others. To gain more perspective, talk to someone close to you. Ask them about a time when you felt very emotional. Get their take on how you behaved, whether they noticed your intense feelings and whether you seemed to recognize their feelings. Remember that there is no right and wrong here. You’re only allowing yourself to see your emotions from another vantage point.

Record Your Observations

Record what you learn about your own feelings and those of others. Consider keeping an emotional intelligence journal where you can write down your thoughts and feelings about these observations. When you’re doing this activity regularly, you’re likely to pay more attention to what’s happening within and around you. As you do, you’ll learn more about feelings and develop higher emotional intelligence.

Be Authentic

Practice being as authentic as you can, whenever possible. Give yourself permission to say what you think when it matters to you or others. Stand up for your principles, even when it’s a little uncomfortable to do it. Although it’s easy to go through life as a pleaser, you may find that being authentic increases your emotional intelligence and overall wellbeing.

Take A Moment Before You React

When you’re feeling strong emotions, take a moment to pause before you react. Waiting a little bit before you speak or do something about your feelings often gives you a chance to make a better decision.

Three Question Method

Sometimes, in the heat of the moment, people say things they later regret. But people with high emotional intelligence do this less often. To practice, ask yourself three questions while you’re pausing before you speak. First, does what I’m about to say need to be said? Second, am I the one who needs to say it? Third, do I need to say it now? If you answer yes to all three questions, go ahead and say it. If not, consider whether you want to say something else or nothing at all.

Show Empathy

Sometimes, people may believe that you either have empathy or you don’t. Many people assume that if you don’t automatically feel empathy, you can’t just make it come. However, showing empathy is a part of emotional intelligence, and it’s something you can practice. Try the following steps to practice showing empathy:

  • Ask someone how they feel and acknowledge their feelings.
  • Put yourself in their shoes – imagine how you would feel if you were them and in their situation.
  • Recognize that their situation is theirs and may be different from yours.
  • Remind them of their strengths without downplaying how challenging their situation is.
  • Thank them for sharing their feelings with you.

Show Appreciation

Emotional Intelligence Can Help You Enjoy Life More

Make it a habit to show your appreciation for what others say and do and for who they are as a person. Practice looking for the good in others and sharing what you’ve noticed with them. Tell someone you appreciate something they’ve done for you, but also praise them for things that don’t impact you directly. Be a positive force in the world, and your emotional intelligence will increase.

Give Constructive Feedback

When someone asks you for feedback on something they’ve said or done, how do you respond? As you develop higher emotional intelligence, you’ll find that you can give them your perspective without making them feel bad about themselves. How does that happen? You learn how to make constructive comments that give them valuable information without judging them for who they are. To practice, next time someone asks you how they did, don’t answer with a statement that judges them as good or bad. Instead, focus on details of how they might improve as well as specific things they did well.

Ask Yourself What You Can Learn

The most important thing you can do when you’re trying to improve your emotional intelligence is to ask yourself continually what you can learn from each experience. Your curiosity will prompt you to glean more information from your own emotional responses, words, and actions, and those of others as well.

Consider Therapy

Would you like help to learn about and practice the elements of emotional intelligence? If so, you might find it helpful to talk to a mental health counselor who can guide you in your quest for higher emotional intelligence. They can equip you with psychological tools to make the going easier. Also, they can offer support as you work through the emotional problems you’re facing.

At BetterHelp, you can work with a licensed therapist to develop better social skills and improve your emotional competence. Many people find online therapy helpful, affordable, and convenient. At the same time, a strict privacy policy assures them that their counselor will handle their therapy sessions in the most discreet way.

You can also use the suggestions listed earlier in this article to practice on your own. Or, you might prefer to talk to a counselor you know or someone in your community. Whatever your choice -online therapy, local therapy, or working it out on your own – you can take steps now to improve your emotional intelligence and enhance your life.

Helpful mental health resources delivered to your inbox
For Additional Help & Support With Your Concerns
Speak with a Licensed Therapist
The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.