Emotional intelligence (EQ) is defined as “the ability to perceive, control and evaluate emotions.” EQ is not just some nice-to-have trait — it’s essential for our general wellbeing. Although different types of people handle emotions differently, anyone can learn how to increase emotional intelligence with the right knowledge and tools. Find out how to increase your emotional intelligence to experience more joy, peace, and satisfaction with these ideas. (Estimated reading time: 8-9 minutes)
“The emotional brain responds to an event more quickly than the thinking brain.”— Daniel Goleman
Emotional intelligence, or EQ, has become a buzzword. We hear it in almost every field, from social sciences to leadership.
But emotional intelligence is not just some nice-to-have trait — it’s essential for our general wellbeing. In our era of uncertainty, ambiguity, and general unrest, it’s a must.
The formal definition of emotional intelligence is “the ability to perceive, control and evaluate emotions.” In other words, it’s knowing how to deal with our feelings, good or bad, at any given moment and interpreting events in ways that strengthen and bolster us.
For many years, intelligence was seen as one-dimensional — cognitive intelligence (IQ) was the only metric used to gauge people’s capabilities and potential. It wasn’t until the second half of the 1900s that our assessment of intelligence began to shift.
Although the term “Emotional Intelligence” was first coined in 1990 by psychology professors John D. Mayer of UNH and Peter Salovey of Yale, it gained popularity after the release of the 1995 best-selling book “Emotional Intelligence,” authored by science journalist Daniel Goleman.
Psychologists and social scientists far and wide now agree that emotional intelligence is a superpower. When you understand how you handle problems and joys, you become a better communicator, a stronger leader, an empathetic friend and partner, and generally happier.
Everyone handles emotions differently, but anyone can learn how to increase emotional intelligence and benefit from it with the right knowledge and tools.
Gaining emotional fluency: understand the language of emotions
Humans are inherently sentimental beings. Unfortunately, we’re not educated about our emotions. Emotional intelligence is seldom taught in school, and our culture isn’t designed to make us smarter in this aspect. Most people are ill-equipped and lack sufficient knowledge.
Becoming “smart” emotionally means learning through experience and trial and error. If the path to figuring it out is relatively smooth and doesn’t cause too much damage or loss, we can consider ourselves one of the lucky few.
For the most part, people suppress, bury, or numb their feelings. The more unpleasant the emotion, the more they try to avoid it. It’s counter-intuitive to think that facing them head-on can liberate us.
Emotional fluency is the bedrock of emotional intelligence. Having the right words to describe and name what we feel puts us in a stronger position to understand and process it.
It begins with self-awareness and asking ourselves the simple question: how am I feeling now?
By doing this, we must go beyond the “mad, glad, sad,” triad, as author and researcher Brené Brown likes to call it.
According to Brown, most of us can name only those three because we didn’t learn about the different shades of emotions. Some studies reveal that there are 27 emotions, while others say that there are around 34,000!
In her new book “Atlas of the Heart,” Brown explores eighty-seven of the emotions and experiences that define what it means to be human. What struck me most when reading the book is that the English language lacks words to describe several emotions.
For instance, there is no English word to describe the experience of joy and pleasure we feel at the failures and misfortunes of others. We’ve had to borrow the German word “Schadenfreude” to capture the true meaning accurately.
The Greeks have words to describe different types of love we experience: “Storge” is the word for love for family, “eros” is romantic love, “philia” is love for a close friend, and “agape” is the love felt on a collective level where the feeling “we are all one” exists.
If this seems overwhelming to you, know that grasping basic emotions is a good first step on how to increase emotional intelligence. As you build your vocabulary, you’ll find a once elusive feeling can be named and put you in a position of power that enriches your life.
The keys to emotional intelligence: 5 characteristics of emotional intelligence
You’ve most likely been in the presence of someone with low emotional intelligence. The whining, playing the victim, rudeness, tactlessness, selfishness, and inconsiderate or cold demeanor may have left you feeling repulsed and hurt.
We’re all prone to such behaviors at some point. When pushed to the edge, we are triggered, and the worst of us can rear its ugly head. The good news is that the more we build our emotional intelligence, the less frequently this occurs.
Based on the framework developed by Daniel Goleman, emotional intelligence consists of five elements:
1. Self-awareness: People with high intelligence understand their emotions, drives, values, strengths, weaknesses, and how it impacts their decisions and reactions. They don’t let their emotions rule and can assess themselves honestly and objectively.
2. Self-regulation: This ability involves regulating our emotions and preventing them from disrupting our lives and getting out of control. Extreme emotions cause us to lash out, be impulsive and careless. Emotionally intelligent people prefer to think before acting.
3. Empathy: Empathy is being able to consider other people’s feelings and interests. It allows us to listen and be open to hearing other points of view without judging too quickly or stereotyping. When we put ourselves in another person’s shoes, we can understand their viewpoints, needs, and wants.
4. Social skills: People with good social skills generally get along with most people and are team players. When working with others, they focus on becoming successful as a group instead of focusing on their personal agendas. They’re also skilled at conflict management and building and maintaining relationships.
5. Motivation: Emotionally intelligent people know what drives them. Awareness of their end goals and why they’re motivated leads to high productivity and effectiveness, a love for challenge, and a willingness to defer immediate gratification in favor of long-term wins.
In looking at this list, ask yourself how you would grade yourself in each element on a scale of 1-10. Which ones do you excel in, and which ones do you need to work on?
It’s important not to judge or criticize yourself as you do this. We’re all works in progress and knowing your shortcomings is empowering, especially when you act on changing them.
Becoming emotionally savvy: how to increase emotional intelligence
All of us are in different places on our emotional development journeys. Our temperament, upbringing, and experiences play an important role in determining where we are. Some of us will have to work harder at it than others.
No matter where you are, emotional intelligence is a skill that can be learned and developed. Find out how to increase your emotional intelligence with these ideas:
1. Become more self-aware
- Measure your EQ: While EQ can seem abstract, it can be measured. You can take the Global Emotional Intelligence Test (GEIT) based on Daniel Goodman’s framework or the quiz on the Greater Good Science Center website.
- Ask the right questions: An effective way to reframe your experience is by asking empowering, open-ended questions. Check-in with yourself and ask questions like, “how am I feeling about this?” or “why do I feel uncomfortable?” or “is there another way to see this situation?”
- Identify your feelings: Tune into your body and notice all the sensations within you. This should give you additional clues about your emotional state. Another way to identify your feelings is by using tools and charts like Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions and the Mood Meter by Dr. Marc Brackett.
- Know your triggers: Not everything will go our way, and not everyone will behave in ways we want them to, but some things will irk us more than others. Perhaps it’s a messy room, rude behavior, or unsolicited advice. Figure out the specific triggers that set you off so you can be more mindful when they appear.
2. Step away and get some space
- Stay calm and don’t react: This is especially important when we feel our buttons have been pushed and we’re going to have a knee-jerk reaction. In such cases, the best thing to do is to disengage and step away from the situation. Taking a step back will prevent us from saying or doing something we’ll later regret.
- Breath: When we’re upset, our breathing gets quicker and shallower. One way to calm down the body and get back into balance is to practice slow and deep breathing. You’ll notice that you instantly feel better and more in control of your feelings.
- Take time out: In addition to breathwork, you can try other techniques to calm down, like emotional freedom techniques, tapping techniques, meditation, or mindfulness. You can do numerous things to redirect your attention and get centered.
- Reflect: When the waves of emotions subside, examine and figure out what made you feel the way you do and if it’s a recurring pattern you need to resolve. Find out the source and how you evaluated the situation based on your perception.
3. Manage and regulate your emotions
- Express yourself: Expressing feelings can help you feel better about yourself and the issue. Whether we’re offloading our grievances or sharing our joys, sharing them in the presence of someone who can hold a safe space for us can have tremendous therapeutic effects. You can also express feelings through a creative outlet like dancing, painting, singing, or writing.
- Have a positivity toolkit: A positivity tool is a collection of things that cheer you up that you can quickly dip into for motivation or inspiration whenever you’re feeling down. If we catch our negative thoughts and anxiety spiraling out of control, change its course with an uplifting song, favorite photos, funny videos, quotes, a feel-good movie, or hobbies.
- Cultivate a spiritual practice: Having a spiritual practice can make a person feel supported by a Higher Power to surrender their worries and troubles, instead of holding on to them. When you have faith in something bigger than yourself, you’ll find that you can cope, no matter how tough life gets. Incorporate spiritual practices like meditation, prayer, journal writing, and anything else that appeals.
- Develop a healthy and active lifestyle: Exercise of any kind releases feel-good hormones that instantly uplift us. Incorporating it into a healthy lifestyle that includes eating healthy meals and getting enough sleep will positively impact your emotional health. You’ll also want to avoid substances that can cause unstable moods, like caffeine, alcohol, and drugs.
4. Take others into consideration
- Listen and tune in: Observe your behavior during social interactions. Notice any patterns in how you react and interpret people’s words and actions. Do you tend to rush to judgment before knowing all the facts? Do you label others before getting to know them? Are you offended easily? Are there certain types of people you gravitate towards and others you avoid?
- Take responsibility for how you communicate: We generally focus on how others make us feel versus the other way around. Before saying or doing anything, take a moment to think about how others might receive it and how it will impact them. It’s important to consider non-verbal communication as it plays a significant part in your message. If you do hurt someone’s feelings, apologize, and accept your role in it.
- Empathize: Empathy is the ability to attune to other people’s feelings. You try to understand their emotions, concerns, and needs, and pick up on verbal and non-verbal cues. One way to become more empathetic is by practicing deep listening, acknowledging another person’s opinion, and understanding it, instead of just responding with your own.
- Practice compassion: A byproduct of feeling empathy is compassion — wanting to express caring, kindness, and showing a willingness to help those in need. When we see a victim of war or someone we love feeling distressed, we want to help them in the best way possible and be there for them. This opens the doorway for love to flow through us.
Our emotions fluctuate like a thermostat. Our role is to keep checking and regulating our temperature not to get hot or too frigid. Neither do we want it to be volatile. It’s well worth the effort as emotional intelligence is the gateway to a peaceful and balanced life.
All my best on your journey,
Question for you: Do you have any personal tips and techniques on how to increase emotional intelligence? How does it help you stay balanced and centered?
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John Minano says
Very nice, Seline. Thank you.
You’re most welcome, John!