Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify, understand, and manage your own emotions as well as the emotions of others. While some people may assume emotional intelligence comes naturally, it is a skill that anyone can develop with conscious effort.
In this guide, you’ll learn why emotional intelligence matters, what skills it encompasses, and how to improve your own emotional IQ through a simple 6-step process.
Why Developing Emotional Intelligence Matters
Emotions play a major role in our lives whether we realize it or not. They impact our decision making, relationships, health, and overall well-being.
However, many people lack a strong grasp of their own emotions. They may fail to understand where their feelings come from or how to constructively deal with them.
This not only leads to personal frustration and suffering, but also hurts one’s ability to understand others’ perspectives and emotional landscapes. Deficits in emotional skills negatively impact everything from friendships to work relationships.
Increasing research shows emotional intelligence offers profound benefits:
- Better decision making and judgment
- Increased empathy and social awareness
- More constructive conflict resolution
- Enhanced leadership abilities
- Improved relationships of all kinds
- Greater career success
- Better psychological and physical health
Given these benefits, improving emotional intelligence should be a priority for all of us.
The good news is emotional intelligence can be learned and enhanced at any age. By following some simple steps, you can become far more adept at navigating emotions in yourself and others.
What is Emotional Intelligence and What Skills Does it Require?
Most simply defined, emotional intelligence involves accurately identifying, understanding, and managing emotions. This encompasses both your own feelings as well as others’ emotional landscapes.
Emotional intelligence consists of three core skill areas:
- Emotional awareness – Accurately detecting your own emotions and recognizing how they impact your thoughts and actions. It also involves displaying empathy by detecting others’ unspoken emotions through things like body language and facial expressions.
- Emotion application – Harnessing the power of your emotions to enable more effective problem solving, reasoning, decision making, and creativity.
- Emotion regulation – Managing emotions effectively in yourself and others by controlling impulses, calming yourself or others when needed, and finding constructive ways to express feelings.
While someone who wears their heart on their sleeve may seem “emotional,” they often lack true emotional intelligence. Without the ability to constructively understand and handle their feelings, simply expressing emotions freely does little good and often alienates others.
Why Emotional Intelligence Goes Undeveloped
If emotional intelligence is so vital, why do so many people lack proficiency? There are a few key reasons.
1. Emotions Are Seen as Irrational
Emotions don’t seem logical on the surface. However, latest research shows our emotions and reasoning are intrinsically linked in the brain. Damage to emotional processing areas actually impairs decision making.
Seeing emotions as illogical remnants to be ignored or suppressed hampers development of emotional intelligence.
2. Emotions Are Taboo
Cultural norms discourage open acknowledgement or discussion of emotions. Children often hear “Don’t cry” or “Don’t be so sensitive” more than guidance on constructively handling emotions.
This shames and silences people, preventing them from developing emotional awareness and skills. It also inhibits asking for help.
3. Emotional Skills Aren’t Taught
While subjects like math, science, reading, and even foreign languages are standard parts of most school curriculums, education on emotions is glaringly absent.
Very few kids receive explicit guidance on topics like constructive emotional expression, empathy, impulse control, and more. This leaves their development up to chance.
4. Emotional Needs Are Ignored
Many kids have extremely packed schedules filled with academic and extracurricular activities. They often lack downtime to tune into their emotional landscapes and discover inner selves.
Without opportunities for self-reflection, children fail to develop a strong sense of identity vital for handling emotions effectively long-term.
This cultural dismissal and ignorance of emotional intelligence causes profound suffering for many. Deficits reach crisis levels in those prone to issues like anxiety, depression, addiction, rage issues, and chronic interpersonal struggles.
6 Steps to Improving Your Own Emotional Intelligence
Developing your own emotional intelligence requires commitment but is straightforward. You must:
- Acknowledge the importance of emotions
- Identify and analyze your emotions
- Accept and appreciate your emotions
- Reflect on your emotions’ origins
- Learn constructive ways to handle emotions
- Help others handle emotions
Implementing these six steps can transform your inner life and outer relationships. Here’s how to put these principles into action:
Step 1: Acknowledge Emotions as Valuable
Start by consciously acknowledging emotions provide immense value rather than viewing them as irrational annoyances.
Emotions offer vital intuitive guidance about what matters. They provide insights into often subconscious needs, desires, and reactions. Emotions also supply energy to fuel goals and drive change.
Openly appreciating and discussing emotions is hugely impactful. Simply asking “How are you feeling?” with genuine care encourages emotional awareness in yourself and others.
Similarly, answering honestly when others inquire about your feelings develops vulnerability and connection vital for growth.
Become committed to exploring emotions more rather than suppressing them.
Step 2: Identify and Analyze Your Emotions
Many people lump all emotions into broad categories like “stressed,” “upset,” or “unhappy.” In reality, more nuanced varieties like anger, sadness, loneliness, angst, and despair exist. Each emotion provides unique insights and requires tailored responses.
Start identifying and labeling your emotions more specifically through:
- Writing in an emotions journal
- Discussing feelings with trusted confidants
- Using mobile apps to log emotions
As you distinguish between different emotions, analyze them objectively. Seek understanding of each feeling’s function and message. Research shows just this awareness of why emotions occur can ease them constructively.
Step 3: Accept and Appreciate Your Emotions
Work on allowing yourself to fully experience emotions without judgment. Let go of society’s messaging that certain feelings like grief or anxiety are strictly “negative.”
In reality, all emotions merely supply helpful feedback. They become positive or negative depending how you apply their underlying guidance.
For example, disappointment stems from unmet expectations. It can fuel adaptive change rather than merely spelling failure. Loneliness points to unfulfilled social needs. Addressing these can yield increased happiness.
By accepting all emotions as neutral messengers, responding to them becomes more adaptive. Fighting or ignoring them fails to address core needs driving them.
Step 4: Reflect on Emotional Origins
Take time exploring what triggers your emotions. Sometimes obvious catalysts like loss or perceived mistreatment cause them. Other times, subtler unconscious dynamics subtly impact your emotional landscape over time.
Actively reflecting on emotions’ origins in writing or conversation elicits clarity. Even just understanding where emotions stem from equips you to handle them more constructively long-term by addressing root causes.
Step 5: Find Effective Ways to Handle Emotions
Once aware of your emotions and their origins, experiment with constructive responses. Numerous healthy strategies exist, including:
- Talking to trusted listeners – Verbal catharsis releases emotions safely
- Journaling – Writing provides non-judgmental emotional processing
- Soothing activities – Things like music, nature, and friends counter anxiety
- Creating/exercising – Expressing emotions through arts, sports discharges “stuck” feelings
- Time-outs – Taking breaks before reacting when emotions feel overwhelming
Keep trying approaches until you discover your own optimal toolkit permitting healthy emotional flow rather than bottling.
Step 6: Help Others Handle Emotions
Once you grow your own emotional skills, start assisting others. Display empathy by asking how they feel and if you can help in hard times. Recommend approaches that aid your handling when sought.
Ask people what self-care strategies they find effective. Helping loved ones develop emotional intelligence multiplies benefits throughout society.
The Power of Emotional Intelligence
Emotional intelligence allows accurately perceiving, understanding, expressing and managing emotions constructively. This builds self-awareness and identity vital for fulfillment. It also enables genuinely connecting with and helping others meet psychological needs essential for wellness.
While culture dismisses emotions as irrational and dangerous, they offer indispensable guidance. Developing emotional awareness, appreciation and regulation through conscious effort unlocks relationships, confidence and decision-making that greatly enhance lives.
By implementing these research-backed steps, you can tap into emotional intelligence’s benefits. Pursuing personal growth around emotions generates immense internal and interpersonal dividends helping you and others flourish. The investment needed is small compared to rewards of mastering this life-changing skillset.