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What is Emotional Intelligence, and How can I develop it?

Updated: Nov 6, 2020

Emotional intelligence is one part of our psychological make up (others being personality and cognitive intelligence or IQ).  

Emotional intelligence is a set of capabilities encompassing understanding and expressing our own emotions, being aware of others around you, and being empathetic when communicating with others.  It is distinctive from personality and cognitive intelligence in that it is not a fixed attribute, it can be developed and improved over one’s lifetime, and has greatest influence on one’s ability to make an impact.

IQ was a driver of outstanding performance... But emotional intelligence proved to be twice as important as others for jobs at all levels. -- Daniel Goleman

Below are ten aspects to understanding and developing emotional intelligence:

1. Emotional Quotient

EQ represents the ability to be aware of others' feelings, concerns and needs, ability to manage one’s own emotions, ability to put things in perspective, ability to have positive disposition regardless of challenges of a given situation. EQ accounts for about five times more variance than IQ when explaining workplace performance.

2. Chain reactions

Emotions are part of a process that needs to be understood before trying to change it. Emotions are linked within a circular chain reaction that starts with a stimulus and ends with a consequence:

Chain reactions
Chain reaction from Stimulus to Reaction to Consequence

3. Emotional response

Emotional response is what catalyzes the chain reaction from stimulus to external response. Emotional response can work for and against your desired consequence. How one intercepts and productively directs emotional and physiological reactions determines quality of consequence.

4. System 1 and System 2 thinking

Daniel Kahneman defined lower brain and upper brain responses to stimulus as System 1 and System 2 thinking.  System 1 thinking is reactive, fast and emotional.  System 2 thinking is deliberate, slower, and rational.  Emotional intelligence allows one to avoid traps of System 1 thinking and tap into System 2 thinking and get into a state of “flow” to direct emotional responses productively.

5. Disruptive thinking

Through practice, skill can be developed to call on System 2 thinking to intercept unproductive emotional and physiological reactions. When faced with a triggering situation, slow down, remove yourself from situation, take slow deep breaths, ask questions of different people, read broadly to get perspective.  The additional perspective may help change underlying beliefs and interpretations of the stimulus, leading to productive external reactions.

6. Social awareness

While much about emotional intelligence is internally facing awareness of the self, it is also external facing with respect to awareness of others.  Social awareness shifts focus outward and use our senses (spoken and unspoken) to take notice of details about the environment around you.

7. Empathy

One builds social awareness by using empathy to put oneself in other people's shoes and sense other people's emotions without having to have lived in the person's exact situation. While others are the authority on their feelings, emotions and behaviors, one can build awareness by expressing appreciation and expressing support even without providing a resolution.

8. Building relationships

Emotional intelligence enables one to build trusting relationships with others.  Trust is developed by being authentic in intent, communication and actions. Make people feel understood. Put people at ease.  Have emotional and intellectual flexibility without being defensive, self-critical or hung up on one opinion over another.

9. Communication

Communication is the means to draw connections and problem solve (opposite of silence). Communicate clearly and directly.  Focus on the intention and impact you want to make or message to take away in communication rather than the message you want to convey.

10. Problem solving

Emotional intelligence supports problem solving by making it possible to see and act on a wider range of possibilities.  Emotional intelligence can be harnessed in problem solving through Flexible planning: Acknowledgement of the full range of possibilities; Creating thinking: Clarity of thinking and categorizing problems and solutions; Mood redirected attention: Focus on the most important priorities; Motivating emotions: Motivate persistence, preparation, confidence, self image.


Resources:

  1. Kahneman, Daniel. Thinking Fast & Slow.

  2. Goleman, Daniel. Emotional Intelligence: Why it Can Matter More than IQ.

  3. HBR on Emotional Intelligence in Leadership.

  4. Gemma Leigh Roberts course on Developing Your Emotional Intelligence.

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