What is ’emotional intelligence?’ How to improve your EQ

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By Vivian Manning-Schaffel

If you work in a corporate environment (and even if you don’t) you’ve likely heard someone extol the virtues of ‘emotional intelligence.’ You may have even taken an emotional intelligence test at work (like DiSC, for example), to assess how you interact with others and gauge your strengths.

It’s no wonder: A study, published by the American Psychological Association, suggests that self-reported emotional intelligence predicts job performance beyond cognitive ability and personality traits.

“We know from research (and common sense) that people who understand and manage their own and others’ emotions make better leaders. They are able to deal with stress, overcome obstacles and inspire others to work toward collective goals. They manage conflict with less fallout and build stronger teams. And they are generally happier at work, too,” according to a 2016 article on the topic in the “Harvard Business Review.”

What is emotional intelligence?

Though it sounds like corporate mumbo jumbo, emotional intelligence was first established by psychologists as a way to understand if there were different types of intelligence, other than what’s known as “general intelligence.”

A paper, co-authored by John D. Mayer, a leading emotional intelligence researcher and professor of psychology at University of New Hampshire, claims that emotional intelligence suggests solid social functioning because people have an easier time tuning into the feelings of others, understanding their perspectives, and are better at communicating and regulating their behavior.

“I was very interested in how emotions were important to problem solving,” says Mayer. “What if there was an intelligence that gave credence to people’s emotions?” Mayer says, though emotional intelligence is related to general intelligence, it’s not “a lockstep connection.” “The jury is out if emotional intelligence is one ability or actually several,” he says. “People with general intelligence seem to be able to reason socially. People with emotional intelligence seem to have better relationships with people and fewer issues with problematic and aggressive behaviors. Most researchers would say that social intelligence should exist, but as of now there’s no way to measure it successfully.”

Emotions are a big part of what makes us human. The problem is when we let temporary feelings and moods rule our decision-making, leading us to say or do things we later regret.

Justin Bariso, author of “EQ Applied: The Real-World Guide to Emotional Intelligence,” defines emotional intelligence as a process of learning to understand and manage emotions in order to make decisions that are more in harmony with your true beliefs and values. “Emotions are a big part of what makes us human. The problem is when we let temporary feelings and moods rule our decision-making, leading us to say or do things we later regret,” he explains.

Emotional intelligence can help you make wiser decisions

Knowing how we feel about things — and having an idea of how others might feel — can be socially and intrinsically empowering. “Our emotions influence our decisions on everything — from what career path to follow, to where we will live, to who we choose to spend our lives with,” Bariso says. “Emotional intelligence, when combined with other factors, can help you make wiser decisions, leading to a happier, more purposeful life.”

Emotional intelligence can also help you harness negative emotions like anger, fear and sadness, explains Bariso. “For example, if we’re sad or angry there’s a reason for it. Identifying those emotions and their root causes can help motivate us to make changes for the better,” he says.

Emotional intelligence, when combined with other factors, can help you make wiser decisions, leading to a happier, more purposeful life.

With good intentions, an understanding of what makes people tick can be a very positive thing. But a 2011 study discusses the “Jeckyll and Hyde” aspect of emotional intelligence, when this understanding is used to mask your own emotions in order to “advance interpersonal deviance,” or, use what you know about others to manipulate them to your own ends.

Bariso feels the insights one can glean from emotional intelligence can arm you against these Machiavellian types. “That’s just one more reason you should continue working on your own EQ (emotional intelligence quotient), so you can recognize and protect yourself from these attempts to manipulate and control,” he says.

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