The 5 Things You Need for Emotional Intelligence

Self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills are the recipe for better relationships.

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What is emotional intelligence?

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Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize and reason about your own and others’ emotions. The term was popularized by Daniel Goleman in his book Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, in which he lays out five components to emotional intelligence: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills. With collaborative workplaces and globalization on the rise, “EQ” is more important than ever. “That expert who might have had a high IQ or was very brilliant at one thing is now finding themselves on teams,” says Jen Shirkani, author of Ego vs. EQ: How Top Leaders Beat 8 Ego Traps With Emotional Intelligence. “Their jobs require more well-rounded employees than in the past.” Check out these mental shifts that boost your emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence factor: Self-awareness

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Self-awareness has two parts: emotional and social, says Shirkani. Emotional self-awareness is recognizing your own strengths, weaknesses, personality traits, communication styles, and more. “It’s relatively easy to get emotional self-awareness because you can take personality tests or do a lot of self-reflection,” says Shirkani. “Once you know it, it’s something you carry with you.” Social self-awareness, on the other hand, involves knowing how other people see you, which can be trickier to recognize because perceptions can change and be tough to read.

How can I improve my self-awareness?

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Getting others’ opinions is important to being more self-aware, especially when it comes to social self-awareness. “One of the challenges of self-awareness is we don’t always know our blind spots,” says Bill Benjamin, emotional intelligence speaker and partner at the Institute for Health and Human Potential. He recommends signing up for a 360-degree assessment, which is a system for peers, managers, and even friends and family to give you anonymous feedback. If you’re wondering about a certain trait, though, you can also ask for a more specific critique, says Shirkani. For instance, you could have a coworker watch your listening skills during a meeting to see if you seem distracted or interrupt a lot. “If they know what you’re looking for specifically, they can give better quality feedback,” she says. “And if you give them permission ahead of time to call you out if they notice, that helps too.” Don't miss these ways to build trust with your coworkers.

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Emotional intelligence factor: Self-regulation

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Good self-regulation involves controlling your impulses to make sure you’re acting appropriately for the situation at hand. When emotions are running high, you might want to send a snide email or cry during a meeting. But channeling those feelings into a project or a walk instead shows emotional intelligence. Just be careful not to suppress your emotions while you’re working on controlling them. Acting stone-faced when someone is sharing why they’re upset, for instance, could make it seem like you don’t care about what they’re sharing. “Unintentionally you kind of flame the person up, raise their level instead of deescalating it,” says Shirkani.

How can I improve my self-regulation?

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Part of the reason it can be hard to control urges is that when the part of your brain responsible for emotions is triggered, it releases chemicals that make it harder to think clearly, says Benjamin. When you’re feeling worked up, simply taking a deep breath will feed your brain oxygen to minimize that effect and help you keep your cool. “Suddenly you aren’t so protective and lose some of your fight-or-flight behavior so you can step in more skillfully,” he says. Try saying one of these magic phrases that instantly calm anxiety while you inhale.

Emotional intelligence factor: Motivation?

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Emotionally intelligent people stay motivated, even when things aren’t going their way. “They’re the people who can overcome setbacks, be tenacious in the face of missing targets or goals,” says Benjamin. “They’re connected to their purpose.” Typically, motivated people feel like they’re making a difference in the world or have a job that works with their strengths. Check out these quotes that motivate you to dream big.

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How can I improve my motivation?

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When you lose your drive, find a mentor who cares about your development and won’t judge while you talk you through what’s behind that disheartenment, says Benjamin. On the flip side, be aware that highly ambitious people aren’t necessarily emotionally intelligent, says Shirkani. Running people over to meet your own goals, for instance, will only work against you and your team. “Blind ambition seems like a good thing because you’re getting stuff done and seeing progress,” she says. “What you don’t see is how much you’re wearing everybody else out.” If people around you seem to burn out quickly, you might need to dial it back. Start with these subtle signs you're more of a workaholic than you think.

Emotional intelligence factor: Empathy

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Empathy isn’t just about feeling people’s pain during hardship—it’s about understanding their points of view, challenges, and strengths. You don’t have to agree with those viewpoints, but they will help you realize why people act the way they do. Those conversations about how others feel might sound like a fluffy waste of time, but they actually help productivity, says Benjamin. “If you’re not connecting with people and there are emotions and frustrations not managed and dealt with, you end up spending way too much time on that stuff,” he says. Here are signs that you have incredible empathy.

How can I improve my empathy?

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Increasing your empathy is as easy as tapping in to your curiosity. “Everyone is wired so differently, and by asking more questions we can understand why somebody’s feeling the way they’re going to,” says Shirkani. “We assume that they’re like us, and so if they say or do something, that their motivations behind it are what ours would be.” Acknowledging others’ emotions can also improve empathy by validating others’ emotions, she says. Read this for more habits that can increase your empathy.

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Emotional intelligence factor: Social skills

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Social skills help emotionally intelligent people win other people over quickly. “This is that ability to make small talk, to build rapport quickly, and be comfortable in naturally social settings where they may not know people,” says Shirkani. Try out these magic phrases that make anyone trust you.

How can I improve my social skills?

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Social skills are particularly important during difficult conversations. Before giving constructive criticism, explain that you’re sharing your thoughts because you want to help—not judge or blame. That way, the other person can take in what you’re saying without stressing out about getting fired or losing your respect. “If they don’t know why the person is having that conversation, their emotional system starts to defend and fight,” says Benjamin. “Clarify a positive intention for the conversation, because that puts their emotional brain at ease.” Read this for more ways to give constructive criticism without offending.


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