What Is Emotional Intelligence And Why It Matters

By Nicole Beasley |Updated August 1, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Lori Jones, LMHC

Emotional Intelligence

Everyone has different strengths. Even in regards to the same trait, there are different specialties in which someone can excel. Intelligence is a perfect example of this; there are many different ways in which someone can be "smart." Some people pride themselves on their "book smarts," or ability to remember information for schooling or exams. Others refer to themselves as "street smart," or having common sense, a good sense of direction, or the ability to figure their way out of difficult situations. But, one type of intelligence that is not discussed as often is emotional intelligence.

People tend not to think of emotional intelligence when considering the different ways a person may be "smart." But, emotional intelligence is very important to someone's well-being and maybe a more important skill in the long run than other types of intelligence. Simply put, emotional intelligence is the ability to identify and manage your own emotions, as well as the emotions of other people. The three main skills involved in emotional intelligence are emotional awareness, critical thinking, and emotional management.

What Signifies Emotional Intelligence?

To understand what makes someone emotionally intelligent, and see if you possess emotional intelligence yourself, it is important to grasp the different components of the skillfully.

Emotional Awareness

Emotional awareness is arguably the most crucial aspect of emotional intelligence. It may seem simple, or that everyone is naturally aware of their own emotions. But, emotional awareness is less common than you likely think. This is because many people try to deny, or "stuff down," any negative emotions that may arise, rather than fully experiencing them and learn how to handle them properly.

Self-awareness is key to emotional awareness. Everyone has had experience with someone who lacks self-awareness. This person seems not to understand the consequences of their actions and neglects to acknowledge their flaws. To be emotionally aware, and thus emotionally intelligent, you must possess self-awareness. This includes realizing when your actions were wrong, had negative consequences or caused hardship for someone else, and making an effort to improve yourself to avoid the same situation in the future.

But, emotional awareness does not necessarily require you to take action based on your emotions, at least not outwardly. Emotional awareness means that you recognize when you are feeling certain emotions, both positive and negative. If you do not accept thoughts about how you are feeling, especially when the feeling is negative, such as anger, frustration, or impatience, you lack self-awareness and emotional intelligence.

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Acknowledging what you are feeling, and taking the time to view the situation and see what sparked the emotion, can help you internally process your feelings rather than abruptly acting on any emotions, or worse, pushing them away. It is important to let yourself feel everything, both positive and negative. The important thing is not to act on these feelings without fully processing them. Accepting and reflecting on your feelings are important steps to improving your emotional awareness.

Emotional Intelligence, Critical Thinking, And Problem Solving

Another way to think about emotional awareness is that it is a form of critically thinking about oneself and the feelings one may have, and fully processing these feelings before taking action. Critical thinking and emotional awareness go hand-in-hand.

Critical thinking is an important part of emotional intelligence. Though there is overlap between emotional awareness and critical thinking, there are skills involved with critical thinking that differ from those of emotional awareness. Specifically, the ability to access an emotion on demand to better understand a person or situation, and the ability to regulate emotions for growth.

The former, the ability to access emotions on demand, is especially important for problem-solving. Accessing emotions on demand does not mean that you will fully go through all of the feelings or thoughts surrounding an emotion; rather, you have enough knowledge of a certain emotion that you can remember those feelings without actually having to go through them. This can be very important for problem-solving, because it allows you to view a situation, and the possible solutions or outcomes, from varying perspectives, and then use these perspectives to come to a solution. This is an important social skill for business and life in general.

Accessing emotions on demand also gives you the ability to utilize emotional forecasting. Emotional forecasting is useful in two ways: by preventing us from taking action on something negative, and by motivating us to take action on something positive. For example, if you know something is likely to make you feel frustrated, upset, or guilty, you are more likely to avoid that behavior. On the other hand, if you know something will make you happy, calm, or proud, you will feel motivated to perform that positive behavior or put yourself in that situation. This can lead to a greater overall sense of well-being and is one of the key examples of how we can regulate our emotions to live a happier and more fulfilling life.

Emotional Management: Regulating Your Emotions And The Emotions Of Others

The final component of emotional intelligence is the ability to manage emotions properly. This can be your own emotions or those of someone else who needs assistance. Again, this goes back to the concept of emotional awareness.

Emotional regulation takes emotional awareness one step further. It means controlling negative emotions, or not letting your emotions "get the best of you." When you can regulate your emotions, you will recognize that you are feeling a certain way, understand the source of that emotion, and then let the feeling go so you can objectively focus on the task or problem at hand. Without this regulation, it can be hard to make decisions or think clearly to arise at a solution to a problem. It is important to note that this type of emotional regulation is different from pushing emotions away. Someone who regulates their emotions recognizes and acknowledges what they are feeling, both positive and negative, but does not allow this feeling to control their actions or obstruct their thinking.

There is another side to emotional management- helping other people. Typically, this means that you are cheering someone up when they are down, or calming them down when they are angry or frustrated. It may seem simple, but to effectively help other people manage their emotions, you do need to possess a high level of emotional intelligence. You must be able to understand emotion, and what causes it, to effectively invoke that emotion in someone else. Along with problem-solving, this is the aspect of emotional intelligence that most greatly relates to other people, and is an important social skill. Understanding the emotions of others can be very important for building relationships in your personal life, as well as in a business or career setting.

How To Build Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is a very useful skill, both for your happiness and for the sake of your relationship with others. Fortunately, if you currently feel that you lack emotional intelligence, there are ways you can learn it and build upon existing skills.

Find Connections

One of the best ways to improve your emotional intelligence is by finding connections, both between your emotions and between yourself and others.

Finding links between your different emotional states is a great way to tap into what situations or experiences bring about a certain emotion. Perhaps you realize that you always feel angry, or frustrated, or anxious when there is a common variable involved, or you may realize that something from your past invokes an emotional response in certain situations. Realizing what brings about certain emotions is a great first step to mastering emotional regulation and management.

Though emotions are all about what goes on inside your head, building strong relationships with other people is also an important step to building emotional intelligence. First, viewing how other people handle certain situations may spark awareness about your behavior.

Additionally, a close friend can be a great tool for uncovering your own emotions when you are trying to push them away. Asking someone how you come across in a certain situation may open your eyes to behaviors or reactions that you were unaware you were portraying. But, you need to be close enough to the person that you know they are telling you the honest truth.

Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness is getting a lot of buzzes these days, and for a good reason. There are numerous benefits of mindfulness, from reducing anxiety to increasing focus. One of the other benefits of mindfulness activities is that they can help bring you more in tune with your emotions.

One way to utilize mindfulness to increase emotional intelligence is to check in with yourself periodically throughout the day. Starting early in the morning, take the time to close your eyes, take a deep breath, and examine how you are feeling in that moment. You must be honest with yourself about any feelings that are stirring in your mind, good and bad. Try to connect your feelings to past events or situations when you experienced a similar emotion. Then, go about your day. Repeat this exercise throughout the day, and over time you may come to notice your thought patterns or learn what you can do to manage your emotions better. The same benefits can arise from sitting in meditation and letting your mind wander.

Journaling is also a great tool for increasing emotional intelligence. You can choose to specifically write about how you are feeling at the moment, or simply free-write about your day. In both cases, you will see on paper how certain situations impact your mood and emotions. Seeing things written out in front of you can help you make connections between situations and your emotions, and provide clarity and a different perspective on how you handle situations and your emotional response. Journaling can also be a great outlet to let out any frustrations you may have without reacting to those frustrations immediately. Over time, this can translate into remaining calm in situations that previously would have invoked a negative reaction.

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