What is Emotional Intelligence?
Emotional intelligence, or EI, is the ability to monitor, identify, understand, and manage your emotions as well as those of the people around you, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI). People with low EI don’t generally understand what they’re feeling or what their emotions mean.
People with high EI, however, are generally more successful in both personal and professional endeavors.
According to a publication on understanding and developing emotional intelligence, the following are the four major emotional intelligence abilities you’ll need to have high EI:
- the ability to recognize emotions
- the ability to reason with emotions
- the ability to comprehend emotions
- the ability to effectively manage emotions
EI is incredibly important for your success at work. Here are some interesting stats:
- A 40-year study at UC Berkeley reported that emotional intelligence is nearly 4 times more powerful than IQ at predicting success.
- An internal study by PepsiCo revealed that managers with high EI levels outperformed annual targets by 15–20%.
- According to a study by Motorola on SHRM, 93% of employees at a Motorola plant became more productive after adopting different emotional intelligence programs for stress relief.
- According to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report, EI will break into the top 10 job skills from 2021 onward.
10 Emotional Traits to Learn
Where can you start to improve your emotional intelligence? Let’s review the areas of emotional intelligence so you can rate yourself.
Self-awareness refers to one’s capacity to better understand why they feel what they feel. Focusing on yourself helps because you’ll be able to better understand your own motivations and actions, and therefore be able to see situations more objectively.
People with high self-awareness:
- know their own strengths and limitations—and do not overestimate themselves or downplay their strengths
- have a good sense of moral values and purpose
- can more easily control their thoughts and behaviors
People with low self-awareness:
- often get trapped in the zone of people pleasing
- have a hard time accepting and hearing feedback from others
- often make excuses to avoid facing harsh truths
Actionable Tips to Boost Self-Awareness:
- Take things slow: When you experience anxiety, anger, or other strong emotions, stop, take a deep breath, and examine why. Get to the main cause of your emotions by asking yourself why more and more until you get to the root.
- Acknowledge weaknesses: If you’ve ever answered the interview question “What is your biggest weakness?” with a reply like “I tend to work too much” or “I show up too early for meetings,” then you’ve got some work to do. Take out a pen and paper and write down your 3 biggest weaknesses. Or, if you can’t think of them, ask your closest friends and family. This isn’t an exercise to see how bad you are, but a chance to acknowledge where growth can happen.
- Write in a journal: If you’re unaware of your thoughts or why you do things (I’m feeling the urge to escape/quit/flee, but I am not sure why!), then keeping a journal might be for you. Writing helps you focus on your thoughts and visualize. You can also use your writing to pinpoint the root cause of your frustrations, such as writing down the time you got in a conflict with your team members.
Self-regulation refers to the ability to keep harmful emotions, thoughts, and impulses under control. Unlike self-awareness, self-regulation takes things a bit further by actually controlling these thoughts and emotions. Leaders who actively regulate themselves are less likely to verbally attack employees or individuals, especially during a crisis when everyone is looking to them for reassurance.
People with high self-regulation:
- are able to control their thoughts and actions
- are more flexible with changes in their circumstances
- hold themselves personally accountable for things that go wrong
People with low self-regulation:
- are often impulsive and give in to their bad habits
- have low self-confidence and self-esteem
- might have angry outbursts or treat others unfairly
Actionable Tips to Boost Self-Regulation:
- Dig deep into your values: Do you know when to compromise and when not to? Do you understand the values dearest to you? Take some time to examine your ethical codes and figure out what’s important to you. If you don’t know where to start, take a deep dive into what it means to be the best version of yourself.
- Self-accountability: You’ve missed a deadline. You have to pay your taxes. Your neighbor’s dog suddenly decides to chase you down the street. Whatever it is, try not to play the victim. Instead, take control of what you can change. Ask yourself, “What can I do differently next time?” Identify one thing you’ve been holding off on doing and take responsibility.
- Be like water: The next time you’re in a pickle, take Bruce Lee’s famous advice “Be like water” to heart. Do you calm down by freaking out others and getting into addictive, negative behaviors, or do you practice meditation or go out for a nice walk in the park? Being like water means adapting to changes in your environment. The next time you’re faced with stress, take a deep breath and think of what you can control.
Essentially, motivation is the underlying drive of employees and leaders to perform well and achieve desired goals and objectives in the workplace. Factors that influence motivation include the company’s culture, the types of operations, and the hierarchical structure of the company. Self-motivated leaders have extremely high standards for the quality of work they do in terms of effort, time management, and consistency.
People with high motivation:
- think of their goals often
- are able to get their tasks done on time
- feel positive and eager to accomplish their goals
People with low motivation:
- distract themselves with unnecessary things, like endless Netflix marathons
- have a hard time focusing on important tasks
- tend to procrastinate
Actionable Tips to Boost Motivation:
- Think “big picture”: When we run out of motivation, we often do so because we’ve burned out. We start losing sight of the long term and dive into the world of short-term pleasures. Remind yourself what your goals are and what they will achieve for you in the future. If you don’t have goals, try our goal setting method.
- Become a Smart Optimist: Pessimism is a great way to kill motivation. But optimism is a great way to get your hopes crushed. So what do you do? Lean toward optimism, but be smart about it. You’ll want to master the art of being an optimist while also adjusting your attitude based on life’s circumstances. How? Take a deep dive into this TED Talk:
Empathy is the ability to understand or connect with another individual’s feelings, or at least their reactions to incidents. For leaders, empathy plays an essential role in people management within an organization. While empathetic leaders can’t exactly walk in other people’s shoes, they can imagine themselves in their subordinates’ situations and help them overcome different challenges with advice, feedback, and aid.
People with high empathy:
- often care for their teammates and listen to their opinions
- actively listen in conversations rather than trying to butt in
- are better able to understand their own emotions
People with low empathy:
- view emotions as a sign of weakness
- can be described as “rude” and “arrogant”
- often criticize others for expressing their emotions
Actionable Tips to Improve Empathy:
- Ask all the questions: The more you know someone, the more empathy you’ll have for them. To close the knowledge gap, become a question asker. The next time you’re in a conversation, try asking one of these 36 deep questions to connect.
- Pay attention to your body language: Even if you’re trying your best to listen or pay attention, your body might be giving off contradictory vibes. For instance, do you cross your arms, constantly fidget, or avoid eye contact while listening? These are all signs that signal closing yourself off. Instead, employ open body language like facing your torso, mirroring, and more. Check out more body language tips: 16 Essential Body Language Examples and Their Meanings.
- Get a pet: One interesting study examined the effects of having guinea pigs in the classroom on students’ empathy. Eight hundred fifty students were introduced to two or three guinea pigs per class, and at the end of the year, the students who had the guinea pigs in class reported higher levels of empathy—for both animals and humans! The researchers reported that daily nonverbal communication with the pets may have made it easier for the students to consider the feelings of others!
5. Social Awareness
Social awareness refers to one’s ability to accurately read and interpret social cues and communicate with others more effectively. Leaders with great social skills are good at dealing with different situations and getting their teams to back them up at all times. These emotionally intelligent people lead by example when turning things around, and they’re rarely satisfied until they accomplish their goals, be it executing a new project or solving an internal conflict.
People with high social awareness:
- know how to gracefully exit a conversation
- are good at avoiding arguments
- are able to control the flow of conversations
People with low social awareness:
- are often called “awkward”
- rarely get invited to hang out with others
- often misread social cues and dynamics
Actionable Tips to Improve Social Skills and Awareness:
- Give great compliments: There is a difference between fake and genuine compliments. And if you don’t have anything genuine to say to the other person, try a nonpersonal compliment. What are these? Check out this article on genuine compliments to find out more!
- Learn to communicate effectively: There are many ways to communicate effectively in the workplace, such as controlling your emotions, using nuances and hand gestures, and taking the time to think before speaking.
- Go out and socialize: How do you develop more social awareness? Practice. Go to networking events. Go to bars. Try local board game nights. Even random trips to the grocery store are opportunities to strike up a conversation and practice your social awareness.
Cooperation is when people voluntarily work together to complete a goal or project. Cooperation is a necessary skill because it allows tasks to get finished more efficiently and easily. People with high cooperation actively seek out help from others and understand their own limitations.
People with high cooperation:
- are more able to freely discuss their own opinions
- tend to listen to others’ feedback
- allow others to talk
People with low cooperation:
- tend to take on tasks first and ask for help later
- often take on more than they can handle
- often get into arguments with others
Actionable Tips to Enhance Cooperation:
- Group brainstorm: Try brainstorming together. If you’re in person, use your favorite whiteboard or screen projector. If you’re in an online group, software like Miro or your favorite communication tool can help you get the job done.
- Suggest, don’t command: Whenever you’re in a group, use phrases like “Do you think you can…?” and “May I suggest…” to avoid causing problems.
For more tips, check out Janine Driver’s TED Talk on the Cooperation Paradigm:
Influence is another form of social competency and among the most important EI traits. Influential leaders are more adaptable, flexible, positive, and empathetic in their expressions, meaning they can gather support from others with relative ease and put together a team that is not only loyal but actively engaged, motivated, and ready to pounce on tasks and opportunities.
People with high influence:
- are seen as natural leaders
- are often sought after for their advice and opinions
- often do better in career pursuits
People with low influence:
- have a hard time marketing themselves
- often struggle with getting people to follow their lead
- may get their ideas trampled on in meetings
Actionable Tips to Gain More Influence in the Workplace:
- Connect others: If you have social connections, try hooking people up! If you know your manager is looking for a great virtual assistant and you have an ex-colleague who’s looking for work, why not connect them? Develop this habit and you may be seen as a person with great connections.
- Lead to victory: Franklin D. Roosevelt said during WWII, “No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people, in their righteous might, will win through to absolute victory.” This was right after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and his speech inspired great confidence in others. Don’t focus on the negative—always talk positively and inspire others when giving them advice.
8. Analytical Mindset
The most emotionally intelligent leaders and employees think deeply and analyze different information streams and processes that come their way. From this information, they extract ways to improve by solving complex problems like modern philosophers, contemplating the root cause of the problems, and developing a healthy appetite for fixing them. These individuals always remain open to new ideas and strategies for self-improvement.
People with high analytical skills:
- are good at researching and finding relevant information
- make better decisions
- focus on numbers and statistics rather than emotions
People with low analytical skills:
- are easily swayed by irrational opinions
- tend to make quick decisions—or never make them at all
- have a hard time connecting ideas
Actionable Tips to Develop an Analytical Mindset:
- Become a bookworm: What was the last book you read? Try reading one of the best self-development books and following the wise advice inside.
- Exercise: The best way to stay mentally sharp isn’t necessarily playing brain games like chess or Sudoku. Research shows that exercise can actually keep the brain sharp. Try programs that target the four most important exercises to stay mentally focused.
- Learn how to argue better: Instead of arguing more, learn how to argue smarter. The art and science of arguing can make every single argument you get into productive. Check out how to argue like a pro: 9 Conflict Resolution Tips to Win An Argument Like a Jedi.
9. Needs and Wants
Emotionally intelligent people understand Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and wants, even if they’re unaware of the theory. This theory says that people need to satisfy lower-level needs (like food and shelter) before being able to pursue higher ones (like self-actualization and love).
People who are in tune with their needs and wants can easily discern things they need from things they desire and prioritize basic-level stuff like safety, sustenance, and survival before progressing to wants. The difference between a want and a need is the difference between buying a big mansion in a great neighborhood and renting a tiny apartment to put a roof over your head.
People with high understanding of needs and wants:
- can be described as “grounded”
- are usually wiser with their financial investments
- are more resilient
People with low understanding of needs and wants:
- have dreams and goals that are unrealistic
- are often disappointed when they don’t achieve their goals
- often look down on the “lower class”
Actionable Tips to Prioritize Your Needs and Wants:
- Live a minimalist lifestyle: Get rid of one unnecessary piece of furniture you can live without. To go even further, set a goal to declutter your entire space until every unneeded object is gone.
- Re-goal: Try this thought experiment: If you had $1 million to spend freely, what would you buy? Now imagine one of your role models. What would they spend it on? If there’s a dissonance between you and your role model, reset your goals and write down what would really matter to you financially.
A curious individual who’s willing to learn and improve is a potential success story in the making. Passionately curious leaders are driven to do their best by having their antennae for knowledge always up. This eagerness to learn affects other aspects of their personal and professional lives as well, such as networking and relationships.
People with high curiosity:
- always ask questions
- don’t give up until they find an answer
- question the social norms
People with low curiosity:
- play by the rules and don’t question authority
- rarely ask questions about others
- are generally not as sociable as others
Actionable Tips to Become More Curious:
- Start a chain reaction: Have you ever watched an amazing film or read a great book and wanted more? Follow that feeling. For example, if you finished watching Harry Potter and wanted to know more about how magic was viewed in the past, take a deep dive! Watch a YouTube video, scour the internet for a documentary, or consult your history-buff friend. Keep going down this rabbit hole until you find your answer!
- Question your beliefs: Why do you think that person is so smart/attractive/respected? Is it because you truly believe it, or is it a societal norm? Brainstorm your existing beliefs and attack them from all fronts. Ask a friend or a stranger if you’re brave enough! Great people ALWAYS question the status quo—this is where real change comes from.
Emotional Intelligence Training for Aspiring Leaders
Emotional intelligence training is a fruitful impetus to strong leadership and communication in the modern workplace. The EI training process consists of three different stages designed to help individuals adopt some or all of the emotional intelligence traits listed above:
1. Insight and Assessment
Any training process starts by realizing the need for change or improvement.
Once you determine what you need to change, the next step is to measure where you stand in terms of each trait. You can do this by taking different online EI tests, like the Global Emotional Intelligence Test.
Following the assessment, you may find there are some emotional intelligence traits you need to work on. For example, social awareness and certain skills can be improved by organizational behavior training. Luckily, there’s a course for that.
People School is our flagship program where we teach people to feel confident in every interaction, thrive in every conversation, and create new opportunities. We teach 12 advanced social skills aimed at increasing emotional intelligence, including the Likability Blueprint, conversation mastery, and influence.
Interested? Head on over to our course here:
The final and most important stage of the training process is incorporating all the concepts into your real life. Because even if you learn about EI, practicing it is what will take you to the next level. We teach our students how to apply these principles in our course!
4 Quick Emotional Intelligence Tips
- Take Strategic Breaks to Relax and Calm Down
Leaders with fluctuating emotional states should include transition times between events and meetings to pause, breathe, and refocus their attention on the task ahead. This typically requires 10 to 15 minutes of “me time.” But remember, you’re not the only one who needs it. Give your team breaks to relax too.
- Celebrate Your Victories as Well as Those of Others
No matter how many obstacles remain, don’t forget to celebrate small victories. Try to tally up your daily victories and celebrate the small wins—and encourage your teammates as well!
- Practice Trust Over Skepticism
There’s nothing wrong with a little skepticism in your workplace. However, this doesn’t mean you should never trust people. Make trust your default. Until they prove themselves guilty, give your colleagues the benefit of the doubt.
- Ask One Question
A great leader does not know everything. There’s great wisdom in delegating tasks and seeking assistance from others. Aim to ask someone at least one interesting (read: non-boring) question every single day.
13 Emotional Intelligence Quotes From Famous Personalities
Do you love a good quote? Here are my top picks for the best quotes on emotional intelligence:
- “There is an old-fashioned word for the body of skills that emotional intelligence represents: character.” – Daniel Goleman
- “Emotional intelligence is involved in the capacity to perceive emotions, assimilate emotion-related feelings, understand the information of those emotions, and manage them.” – John Mayer, David Caruso, and Peter Salovey
- “The value of measuring your EQ now is akin to learning the waltz with an actual partner. If I tell you how the dance works, you are likely to learn something and may even get the urge to try it yourself.” – Travis Bradberry
- “[Your emotional mind is] the lead system and source of happiness, satisfaction, joy, and love.” – Darwin Nelson and Gray Low
- “Emotionally competent teams don’t wear blinders; they have the emotional capacity to face potentially difficult information and actively seek opinions on their task processes, progress, and performance from the outside.” – Vanessa Urch Druskat and Steven Wolff
- “As more and more artificial intelligence is entering into the world, more and more emotional intelligence must enter into leadership.” – Amit Ray
- “Emotional intelligence is the ‘something’ in each of us that is a bit intangible. It affects how we manage behavior, navigate social complexities, and make personal decisions that achieve positive results.” – Travis Bradberry
- “We are dangerous when we are not conscious of our responsibility for how we behave, think, and feel.” – Marshall B. Rosenberg
- “Whatever is begun in anger, ends in shame.” – Benjamin Franklin
- “When awareness is brought to an emotion, power is brought to your life.” – Tara Meyer Robson
- “I had learned to hide what I felt. No, that’s not true. There was no learning involved. I had been born knowing how to hide what I felt.” – Benjamin Alire Sáenz
- “Not only does emotional intelligence and positive psychology appear to share a rather wide domain overlap based on the way both concepts have been described and defined, but the empirical findings presented here suggest that emotional intelligence has a positive and significant impact on performance, happiness, wellbeing, and the quest for a more meaningful life, all of which are key areas of interest in positive psychology.” – Reuven Bar-On
5 Best Emotional Intelligence Books to Read
If you’re keen on learning how to improve your emotional intelligence, you should add the following life-changing books to your reading list:
Go Suck a Lemon: Strategies for Improving Your Emotional Intelligence by Michael Cornwall
Goodreads Average Rating: 3.71
If you’re looking for a no-nonsense guide to emotional problem-solving, look no further. This book teaches you how to improve your emotional intelligence using a self-talk language designed to help you communicate with yourself.
- Dr. Cornwall suggests that adopting EI traits starts with a commitment to self-development.
- This book helps readers adopt a different perspective and look at their own logical and rational processes when it comes to emotions.
Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradberry, Jean Greaves, and Patrick M. Lencioni
Goodreads Average Rating: 3.84
For a comprehensive guide to emotional intelligence, read Emotional Intelligence 2.0. This book includes hundreds of proven strategies from a decade-long study to accurately measure emotional intelligence.
- The authors collectively link EI with today’s economic conditions and highly demanding organizations and offer tools that foster adaptability through the channeling of negative emotions.
- Emotional well-being is the key to the adoption of several EI skills, such as relationship management, self-regulation, and social awareness.
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey
Goodreads Average Rating: 4.13
When The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People came out, the book instantly cut through the noise online and in the business world as millions of people suddenly got up and realized that they were headed in the wrong direction. This book shows how simple it is to pursue a successful life by embracing a few good habits.
- Navigating our work and personal lives is much easier than we think it is. All we have to do is be proactive and synergize with our surroundings.
- By striving for success with integrity, dignity, and fairness, we can gain more control over our emotions.
Building Emotional Intelligence: Techniques to Cultivate Inner Strength in Children by Linda Lantieri and Daniel Goleman
Goodreads Average Rating: 3.81
Building Emotional Intelligence is a great read for leaders and professionals with kids. It helps readers understand that adopting EI skills starts from a young age. With a detailed guide, Linda teaches people to improve their self-awareness, self-esteem, and empathy.
- Education is not the most important part of a child’s development. Cultivating inner resilience to sustain social and emotional learning is.
- Enhanced concentration and awareness at a young age can lead to better communication skills in the future, which in turn lead to career and personal success.
Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ by Dr. Daniel Goleman
Goodreads Average Rating: 4.01
Daniel Goleman creatively offers a comparison between EI and IQ and uses psychology and neuroscience to explain why people require both to increase their achievements. With this book, you can understand the crucial skills you need for success in both your professional and personal life.
- Emotional literacy is a combination of rational and emotional thinking. Every parent, professional, or business leader can shape their destiny by taking control of both.
- Self-awareness, social awareness, self-management, and relationship management are the key domains of emotional intelligence.
High and Low Emotional Intelligence Examples in the Workplace
Let’s take a look at some more real-life scenarios to see emotional intelligence in action with the help of our imaginary friend named John.
John, a senior manager at a marketing firm, considers himself an emotionally intelligent person who’s kind, nice to be around, liked, and empathetic toward others. But is his emotional intelligence on point, or does his emotional intelligence need some sharpening?
Let’s consider the following scenarios:
1. Office Meetings
John hosts a quarterly meeting with the marketing team. In this particular meeting, nobody can really come to a definitive conclusion. John, taking control, asserts his own opinion and interrupts his colleagues’ thoughts because they are less experienced than him.
Emotional Intelligence Breakdown: This scenario is a sign of low emotional intelligence due to more speaking and interruption than listening. Even if John is more experienced, he could still listen to his colleagues’ opinions without interrupting them. It also shows a lack of mutual respect in the team, which means that John will most likely end the meeting with a bad feeling in the room.
John speaks to his team regarding a drop in sales during the last quarter. He knows this is a big deal, but instead of assigning blame or making someone a scapegoat, he speaks to everyone respectfully and positively while asking for their opinions on how to fix it.
Emotional Intelligence Breakdown: Not blaming others is key to great emotional intelligence. Respectful and encouraging talk leads to a department or organization in which individuals feel confident speaking their minds and expressing their emotions.
3. Team Events and Social Gatherings
John likes to hang out with his team for after-work drinks every Friday to have normal, non-work conversations. John feels these hangouts help him de-stress and form close bonds with his coworkers.
Emotional Intelligence Breakdown: In the workplace, people may think about keeping their work and personal lives separate. However, John tries to develop a deeper relationship with his coworkers than just surface-level water cooler talk. This not only boosts rapport and motivation in the team but is also a great example of high emotional intelligence.
4. Creative Freedom
John has refined his workplace rules over the years to what he considers his “unbreakable rules.” This has resulted in a hierarchy in which work roles are clearly defined and enforced. John prefers to stick to tradition over innovation—this means most of his employees’ creative impulses are discouraged.
Emotional Intelligence Breakdown: Allowing others to truly be creative helps them feel comfortable and free to innovate, and a lack of creative freedom and innovation is among the biggest signs of low emotional intelligence.
What’s Your Favorite Emotional Trait?
To be effective at work and in their personal lives, leaders and professionals must have a solid understanding of how their emotions impact the actions and behavior of others.
The better you can relate to and collaborate with others, the better your life becomes!
Want an emotional quick dive? Check out this article on the list of emotions: The Ultimate List of Emotions and How to Control Your Emotions.