The Basics of Emotional Intelligence

Nov 19, 2020

What is it?

The term ‘emotional intelligence’ was coined by psychologists nearly 30 years ago, but in recent years has become quite a buzzword. As more research is conducted, we’ve come to realize the value of emotional intelligence (EQ), and how individuals with more of this quality possess greater self-awareness and are in a better position to foster healthier relationships. These are two crucial areas where most of us strive to grow and improve.

Psychology professor John D. Mayer originally defined emotional intelligence as: “the ability to accurately perceive your own and others’ emotions; to understand the signals that emotions send about relationships; and to manage your own and others’ emotions.”

Differences between IQ vs EQ

Often, when considering emotional intelligence, it’s tempting to compare it to our standard definition of intelligence (IQ). The link between both types of intelligence offers significant relevance to our development as a whole. However, it’s important to consider each separately before making comparisons.

Whereas emotional intelligence measures one’s ability to recognize, understand, and manage emotions, IQ (short for intelligence quotient), is defined as the measure of a person’s reasoning ability. In short, it is supposed to gauge how well a person can use information and logic to answer questions or make predictions.

Simply put, the semblance boils down to not how much we know but how much we want to learn. Instilling curiosity about others leads to exploration and meaningful connections, creating greater intrinsic motivation.

In an important article written in the Harvard Business Review in 1998, Rutgers psychologist Daniel Goleman suggests, “without EQ, a person can have the best training in the world, an incisive, analytical mind, and an endless supply of smart ideas, but they still won’t make a great leader.” People with high EQ are known to be better at challenging the status quo by speaking up with ideas and suggestions for bettering the world we live in or the places we work.

It’s worth thinking about what kind of leaders we hope our girls to grow up to be. Do we envision a world where girls are encouraged to be “emotion scientists” — people who can ask good questions to understand emotions — or ones that have intellectual capacity without the ability to relate to others on a human level?

Goleman found through his work that “the most effective leaders are all alike in one crucial way: they all have a high degree of emotional intelligence.” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is an excellent example of this. He demonstrated remarkable skill in managing his own emotions and in sparking emotions that moved large audiences to action.

It’s not that IQ and technical skills are redundant. Of course, they matter, but there’s a finite limit of how far they can take leadership skills to be highly effective.

How does one go about gaining EQ?

Teaching our children to manage emotions, according to researchers in the field, should result in less bullying and more cooperation. For example, if we were to cultivate emotional intelligence among leaders and doctors, we could foster more caring workplaces and more compassionate healthcare.

Because of the focus on this ability in recent years, emotional intelligence is beginning to be more widely taught in secondary schools, business schools, and medical schools. However, we have not yet recognised the importance of getting it into primary and middle schools. This is especially pertinent during the preadolescent stage of development, where emotions are at their most heightened state and the growing pains of being a young teen are at their peak.

Becoming educated in emotional intelligence is not intuitive to many. Resources and training are essential for parents and teachers alike. Most of us, educators included, are neither in touch with our emotions nor adequately equipped with the necessary tools to regulate them.

Educating Adults and Students

In her research, author and professor Brené Brown found that when she asked people to write down emotions they could recognize in themselves and others, the mean number of emotions subjects provided was three. Most commonly, her subjects identified the emotions bad, sad, and glad. This was a shocking demonstration of the primitive level of understanding most of us have of our own emotions.

The Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, run by founding director Marc Brackett, is another institution that’s delving deeper into questions surrounding emotional intelligence. Brackett runs a social-emotional training program, RULER (Recognition, Understanding, Labelling Expression), which to date has taught educators and students in more than 2,000 American schools what it means to understand and manage their emotions.

The more educated students and adults are about the complexities of emotions, the better we can regulate our emotional state and have better wellness all around. Brackett is actively working with school districts to implement new curriculum around emotional literacy within the middle school years. This is something that other cities and countries should be inspired by.

What’s the difference between a feeling and an emotion?

According to Wharton psychologist and professor Adam Grant, “a core skill of emotional intelligence is treating your feelings as a rough draft. Like art, emotions are works in progress. It rarely serves you well to frame your first sketch. As you gain perspective, you can revise what you feel. Sometimes you even start over from scratch.”

Brackett offers the following explanation, defining feelings as “a core experience, but the emotion…is more granular, more specific.” Emotions often result from differing root causes. He explains, “anger is about injustice, but disappointment is about unmet expectations.”

This revelation may be new to most, but research has proven that most individuals are not able to identify the cause of their emotions and how to regulate them. In fact, most young teens are on autopilot and tend to suppress their emotions rather than deal with them. They are not aware that repressing them does not make them vanish. Instead, unprocessed emotions linger and evolve, obstructing vital aspects of our growth.

Emotional intelligence should be hyped even more than it currently is by leaders, policymakers, and educators as one of the solutions to a wide range of social issues in raising our youth to be well-balanced individuals.

Improvements in all of the following areas will help our kids build healthier relationships and become more successful both academically and professionally:

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-regulation
  • Motivation for work that goes beyond money and status
  • Empathy for others
  • Social skills, such as proficiency in managing relationships

Understanding and teaching EQ

According to Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradberry, “EQ is so critical to success that it accounts for 58% of performance in all types of jobs.” Defining success for our youth is an important factor to consider, of course.

Grant poignantly explains that a “mark of EQ is treating unpleasant feelings not as unwelcome intrusions but as teachable moments”. Recent research shows that these skills can improve academics and graduation rates, as well as student health and well-being.

It is more important than ever to understand what EQ is and how it can help both adults and children better understand themselves, their surroundings, and each other. After all, if as Helen Keller suggests, the best and most beautiful things in life are those that cannot be seen or touched but be felt with the heart, then surely emotional intelligence is something worth investing in.