There is an old saying that describes someone as, “Street smart instead of book smart,” and today’s psychology experts might rephrase that as, “He/she is emotionally smart”. The term emotional intelligence (or EI) is appearing more and more, and is now being cited as having as much or even more value than a high IQ.
Just what is emotional intelligence? Generally, it is defined as your ability to control, perceive or evaluate emotions. The emotions include your own as well as the emotions of others. As one expert explains EI, “The ability to express and control our own…[and] understand, interpret and respond to the emotions of others”. (Psychology.about.com, 2015)
Because it is earning more and more respect in professional communities, EI is being defined with more precision. There are now four branches of it (perception of emotion, reasoning with emotion, understanding emotion, and managing emotions), and yet even with so much clarification, we might not understand why it is such a valuable skill.
Let’s look at it simply in order to begin answering this question of value. For instance, let’s say that you would have to navigate a single day of your life without being able to know, recognize, or understand what friends, colleagues, or family members were feeling. Your spouse was sad, but you couldn’t understand or help; your friend was incredibly angry with you, but you had no tools for seeing or reasoning with them; and your boss was sorely disappointed in your performance, but you didn’t understand. The list could go on and on, and it only begins to touch on the value of emotional intelligence.
Now, we already said that EI may be as important, or even more so than IQ. However, we did not mention or acknowledge that both of these issues have “measures”. After all, we say that someone who is remarkably intelligent has a high IQ. The same goes for EI, and someone may have greater EI than someone else.
The Measure of Emotional Intelligence
How do you know if you have high EI or not? Again, we can consult the professionals:
“If you have high emotional intelligence you are able to recognize your own emotional state and the emotional states of others, and engage with people in a way that draws them to you”. (HelpGuide.org, 2015)
Just imagine what this does. You relate better, make stronger relationships, achieve success at work, and ultimately have what it takes to enjoy a fulfilling life.
Of course, this is something we would all like to say about ourselves, and so the goal becomes learning how to practice the skills essential to building or improving high EI. To do that, we can look at the example of a good friend who recently explained his efforts in strengthening his EI after a stressful life had started to take a toll on his health.
The Practice of EI
“I realized that I had zip for stress reduction skills,” he said as he began to talk about his effort at increasing his EI. “I wasn’t good at recognizing when I was stressed out and understanding how I responded to stress.” Once he began to recognize his personal stressors and how he was responding, he was able to implement stress-ending techniques. Key among them was engaging his senses to soothe, uplift or calm himself.
“You know,” he continued, “I didn’t know how stress interferes with your ability to read situations, listen to others, and even communicate clearly. Now that I learned about stress, I can better recognize my own emotions, and stop them from overwhelming me”.
We can easily become hijacked by outside influences, but EI demands that we recognize this in ourselves. This is the only way we can reconnect to our emotions, fully recognize our needs or motivations, and actually communicate with others.
“I too often let emotions factor into my decision making,” my friend explained, “And even worse was that I was pretty tuned out from my core emotions, refusing to accept them”.
Once he began to be aware of his emotional state from moment to moment, though, he was able to really strengthen his EI. This was when his ability to use nonverbal communication to emotionally connect with others really grew. “I wasn’t scattered anymore,” he explained, “I finally focused on the other person, made eye contact, and started to notice their nonverbal cues”.
It was only at this stage that he was able to see how he could begin to develop strong conflict resolution skills, a stronger sense of humor, and build stronger relationships.
“Emotional intelligence is not something we are born with, like IQ, but it can be strengthened to a huge degree. I am a more relaxed, creative, and successful person now because of the work I did to build my EI, and it is something everyone should consider if they are feeling disconnected or challenged in their lives.”