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Most people are aware of general intelligence, and maybe you’ve even taken an IQ test to see where your noggin ranks. But there’s another type of intelligence you may not realize you have (or don’t have): emotional intelligence, aka your emotional quotient (EQ).

Yes, how you share all the feels and understand other people’s emotions is a form of intelligence too. Here’s everything to know about emotional intelligence.

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Illustration by Wenzdai

Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand and manage your emotions. Not everyone has this trait, but those who do also have the ability to understand and influence the emotions and behavior of others.

The term “emotional intelligence” was popularized by researchers in the 1990s to describe a set of abilities comparable to general intelligence (the ability to learn, apply knowledge, and solve problems). Emotional intelligence is basically the same idea but related to emotions.

The main traits of someone with emotional intelligence are:

  • self-awareness
  • empathy
  • emotional self-control (the ability to identify and manage emotions)
  • social skills
  • ability to manage relationships

These traits can be further explored as the five elements of emotional intelligence.

1. Self-awareness

Self-awareness is a critical part of emotional intelligence. It means you can recognize and understand your emotions and you’re aware of how your moods, actions, and emotions impact other people.

2. Self-regulation and self-management

Emotional intelligence also includes the ability to regulate and manage your emotions, such as by expressing your feelings only when it’s appropriate. People who can self-regulate don’t typically make impulsive decisions — they think about their actions before proceeding.

3. Motivation

Motivation plays a big part in emotional intelligence. It means being productive and driven, with a passion to fulfill your long-term needs and goals — even if you have to make sacrifices in the short term. It also includes being committed and good at taking initiative.

4. Empathy and social awareness

If you have emotional intelligence, you’re less likely to be self-centered. You can empathize well with others, and you’re a good listener who understands others’ needs and wants. Emotionally intelligent people are seen as loyal, compassionate, and trustworthy.

5. Social skills and social awareness

Being emotionally intelligent means you have good social skills and work well in teams. You’re often seen as a good leader and may also be a good active listener, have strong communication skills, and be able to lead a team and manage relationships.

Emotional intelligence is important because it can help you motivate yourself and create positive social interactions. This can benefit you both personally and professionally in a few different ways.

Mental health

Emotional intelligence deals with the perception, expression, and regulation of moods and emotions, which suggests there’s a direct link between emotional intelligence and improved mental health.

Because emotional intelligence helps you think clearly when solving problems, it can be beneficial when you’re dealing with stress and other anxiety-inducing scenarios (like *side-eye* COVID-19).

Healthy relationships

Being able to comprehend your emotions and the emotions of others allows you to think more rationally in conversations and disagreements.

Emotional intelligence gives you the ability to question the reasons behind your emotions and to acknowledge and consider others’ feelings without getting angry or defensive.

This can help you respect your partner’s feelings while calmly and constructively expressing your own. You may also be able to settle disagreements before they escalate into tear-jerking, plate-throwing arguments.

Workplace success

Emotional intelligence has big benefits in the workplace. It could even help you progress in your career.

You’re less likely to make impulsive or poor decisions that could affect your performance as an employee, and you consider every action. You can accept constructive criticism without getting defensive — instead, you welcome the criticism to help you improve your performance.

You’re logical and reasonable, and you have talents in teamwork, problem-solving, and leadership.

Leadership skills

Speaking of leadership, emotional intelligence can help you be a boss.

Since it allows you to be more approachable and decisive, it’s super helpful in leadership roles. You’re aware of what makes your team happy and motivated, which encourages a positive environment that improves productivity.

Emotional intelligence also gives you the ability to deal with stressful situations without getting overwhelmed and to address problems without getting angry or blaming other people.

Some people are naturally emotionally intelligent. They’re #blessed with natural positivity and people skills. Other people are just naturally more moody, shy, or insecure.

The good news is that emotional intelligence can be learned. But long-term improvements require some serious dedication. Essentially, your EQ can age like a fine wine if you help it out.

Signs you may be lacking in emotional intelligence:

  • trouble taking charge
  • not handling feedback well
  • holding grudges
  • being easily offended
  • feeling misunderstood

We’re not saying you’re a full-blown sociopath if you’re a bit low on emotional intelligence. But maybe you could get better in tune with your and others’ feelings and change up how you respond to emotions.

Here are some ways to build emotional intelligence.

Self-management

Let go of intense emotions and try to act more thoughtfully and appropriately.

Try to remove yourself from a situation until you can calm down and think rationally. Take a few deep breaths and imagine yourself as the other person. Consider how they feel. Think about how you’d like to be treated, and replicate that with the other person.

Self-awareness

Get in touch with your emotions. Your ability to manage core feelings like anger, sadness, fear, and joy often depends on the quality and consistency of your emotional experiences in early life.

Positive childhood experiences can help you become more emotionally intelligent. Confusing, threatening, or painful experiences might make you distance yourself from your emotions.

To challenge this and build your emotional intelligence, try to reconnect to your core emotions. You can do this through practicing mindfulness, which enables you to purposely focus your attention on the present moment, without judgement.

Social awareness

To improve social awareness, you need to practice mindfulness in social settings. This will help you pick up on subtle nonverbal cues in yourself and in others, even when you’re thinking about other things.

When you’re in a conversation, be present in that moment. Try to set your other thoughts aside and focus on the interaction. Actively listening to what others have to say is also key.

Relationship management

Emotional intelligence includes the ability to recognize and understand other people’s experiences.

It’s normal to have disagreements, but you can focus on resolving conflict in healthy ways without threatening, raising your voice, or becoming aggressive. Practice staying calm. This can help build safety and general happiness in a relationship.

Emotional intelligence means you can manage your emotions and understand the emotions of other people. If you have self-awareness, social awareness, self-regulation, motivation, and empathy, you have emotional intelligence.

While emotional intelligence comes naturally to some people, those who lack it can learn it over time. By taking a look at your emotional behaviors, you can increase your emotional intelligence — and that can improve your work life, personal life, social skills, and relationships.