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  • Writer's pictureSarah Butler

Emotional Intelligence Explained

Emotional intelligence (EI) is our ability to recognise, understand, and manage our emotions, as well as to recognise the emotions of others. This is different from the Intelligence Quotient (IQ) which measures your mental ability or how 'smart' you are. However, IQ doesn't consider emotional awareness or social skills.

EI's importance goes beyond emotion regulation. It's a critical determinant of our personal and professional success. In our personal lives, EI enhances our understanding and management of emotions, enabling healthier relationships. Professionally, it enables better teamwork, leadership, and resilience, and it's often a predictor of high performance. Understanding and improving your EI can, therefore, elevate both your personal and professional happiness and success.

Four domains of EI

Emotional Intelligence is based on four key domains with each playing a critical role in how we understand and interact with our own emotions and the emotions of others.

1. Self-awareness

Self-awareness relates to the ability for you to recognise and understand your emotions, thoughts, and behaviours. It involves being aware of how your emotions influence your actions and how those actions impact others. Self-awareness helps you gain insights into your strengths, weaknesses, values, and beliefs.

By developing self-awareness, you can become more conscious of your emotional state at any moment, helping you better manage your reactions and make more informed decisions. It allows you to identify patterns in your emotions and behaviours, which can help you understand how you contribute to your own successes or challenges. Moreover, self-awareness empowers you to align your actions with your values and goals, fostering personal growth and enhancing your ability to navigate social interactions and relationships effectively. Developing self-awareness is a crucial aspect of emotional intelligence, as it lays the foundation for building strong self-management skills and positively impacts your overall well-being and success.

For example you may notice that you tend to become defensive and resistant to constructive feedback during team meetings when your ideas are challenged. However, your developed self-awareness allows you to recognise this pattern and take proactive steps to address it. By acknowledging your defensiveness and reflecting on the underlying reasons, such as fear of criticism or a strong need to be seen as highly competent, you can consciously manage your reactions and become more open to constructive feedback. This improved self-awareness enables you to create a positive work environment, actively listen to colleagues, and engage in meaningful discussions. Over time, it helps you build stronger relationships, enhance your professional growth, and become a more effective team member.

To enhance self-awareness, use these techniques:

  • Engage in self-reflection: Observe and contemplate your thoughts, feelings, and actions without judgment. Journaling can be helpful in identifying patterns, triggers, and responses in different situations.

  • Seek feedback: Have open conversations with trusted people and ask for their insights on your strengths and areas for improvement.

  • Practice mindfulness: Tune into your emotions and thoughts in the moment. Techniques like deep breathing, meditation, and body scans can help.

  • Pursue self-education: Read books, do self-assessment tests (many can be found online), attend workshops, and take courses on self-awareness, emotional intelligence, and personal growth.

2. Self-management

Self-management is also known as self-regulation and is about controlling your emotions. It refers to the ability to manage and control impulsive feelings and behaviours, maintain a positive outlook despite setbacks, and follow through on commitments even in the face of obstacles. This domain is not about suppressing emotions, but rather, appropriately managing emotional reactions to various situations.

For example, consider a manager faced with a project setback due to a team member's error. A manager high in self-management doesn't react impulsively or angrily. Instead, they take a moment to process the situation, control their initial frustration, and think about how to address the problem in a constructive manner. They discuss the mistake with the team member without resorting to criticism, focusing on understanding the root cause and finding solutions to avoid such mistakes in the future. This response not only prevents unnecessary conflict but also fosters a positive learning environment where team members feel safe to take risks and admit mistakes, promoting a culture of continuous improvement and positivity.

To enhance self-management, use these techniques:

  • Practice self-control: Take a moment to pause and breathe before reacting impulsively in challenging situations. Grow calm and thoughtful behaviours.

  • Develop resilience: Work on a positive mindset and the ability to bounce back from setbacks. Reframe negative thoughts into positive ones, find the 'silver lining' in situations and focus on finding solutions to challenges.

  • Form stress management techniques: Find healthy ways to cope with stress, such as exercise, deep breathing, or seeking support. Managing stress will help to minimise impulsive, negative reactions to situations.

3. Social awareness

Social awareness involves the ability to perceive and understand the emotions, needs, and perspectives of others. It involves being alert to social cues, such as body language and tone of voice, and being able to empathise with others' experiences and emotions. Socially aware people have a genuine interest in others, show respect for diverse perspectives, and are skilled at building and maintaining positive relationships. In the workplace, high social awareness can be recognised as being attentive to the dynamics of teams, noticing when others seem overwhelmed or disengaged, and offering support or guidance to alleviate their stress. It also includes actively listening to others, seeking their input, and making others feel valued and heard.

Take, for example, a leader noticing one of their team members seeming unusually quiet in a meeting. A leader with strong social awareness might pick up on this change and understand that something might be off. They would then approach the team member privately after the meeting, expressing concern and offering an opportunity for the individual to share if they're comfortable. The leader doesn't pry or insist, but the act of acknowledging and addressing the change in behaviour shows a high level of social awareness. This awareness can lead to better team cohesion, improved morale, and an overall more supportive and understanding work environment.

To enhance social awareness use these techniques:

  • Develop empathy: Put yourself in others' shoes and try to understand their perspectives and emotions. Use active listening and genuinely show interest.

  • Observe non-verbal cues: Pay attention to body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice to gain insights into others' emotions. Notice subtle cues that may indicate how someone is truly feeling.

  • Seek diverse perspectives: Engage in conversations with people from different backgrounds and perspectives. This helps broaden your understanding of different viewpoints and enhances your ability to navigate diverse social situations.

4. Relationship management

Relationship management is the ability effectively build, nurture, and maintain positive relationships with others. It involves using strong communication skills, resolving conflicts constructively, and inspiring and influencing others towards common goals. Those who are skilled in relationship management are good at collaborating, developing teamwork, and adapting their approach to suit different people and situations. In the workplace, high relationship management can be seen when a manager recognises the strengths of their team members and assigns tasks accordingly, ensuring each person feels valued and motivated. They also actively encourage open communication, provide constructive feedback, and facilitate team-building activities to facilitate a supportive and collaborative work environment.

Imagine a scenario where a leader has exceptional relationship management skills. The team is facing a challenging project with tight deadlines, and tensions are rising. The leader, recognising the need to create a positive and collaborative environment, calls for a team meeting. The leader actively listens to each team member's concerns during the meeting, providing a safe space for open discussion. With empathy and understanding, the leader addresses individual needs and motivates the team by highlighting the team's goals and the importance of their contributions. The leader encourages collaboration, assigning tasks based on team members' strengths and expertise, and ensuring everyone's opinions and ideas are valued. Throughout the project, the leader consistently communicates progress, provides support and feedback, and recognises individual and team achievements. By effectively managing relationships, the leader encourages a sense of unity, boosts morale, and ultimately leads the team to overcome challenges and achieve success.

To enhance relationship management use these techniques:

  • Improve active listening skills: Pay close attention to others when they speak, without interrupting or formulating your response. Practice empathy and strive to understand their perspective fully.

  • Develop effective communication: Communicate clearly, openly, and respectfully with others. Be mindful of your tone, body language, and non-verbal cues to ensure your message is conveyed accurately.

  • Cultivate conflict resolution skills: Learn how to navigate conflicts constructively by seeking win-win solutions, staying calm and composed, and actively collaborating with others to find resolutions that benefit all parties involved.

Benefits of high EI

High levels of EI can significantly contribute to career success in a variety of ways:

  1. Leadership skills: Leaders with high EI understand their own emotions and can perceive and respond to the emotions of their team. This ability allows them to motivate, inspire, and lead their teams more effectively, fostering a positive and productive work environment.

  2. Performance and productivity: EI can contribute to improved performance and productivity. By understanding and managing their emotions, individuals can maintain focus, stay motivated, and accomplish tasks more efficiently. They're also less likely to be derailed by emotional setbacks.

  3. Career advancement: Numerous studies indicate that EI can play a significant role in career advancement. Employers increasingly value these skills, and people with high EI often excel in roles that require interpersonal interaction, leadership, and decision-making.

Wrapping up

Emotional intelligence is essential for success in all areas of life. It involves understanding and managing your own emotions and relating to the emotions of others. This skill helps handle social situations effectively. Personally, EI leads to healthier relationships and well-being. Professionally, it enhances leadership, conflict resolution, and communication, boosting teamwork and productivity. Therefore, developing EI enriches personal connections and advances careers.

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