The Ins and Outs of Emotional Intelligence: Why It’s Important and How to Improve It

Dr. Wiltshire

February 15, 2022

In this day and age (especially within the Western parts of the world), we have very rigid views of what traits make up strong, successful people. Ambition, drive, perseverance, stability, smarts – these all definitely find themselves at the top of the list. However, there’s something missing among this line-up that’s absolutely critical: emotional intelligence. 

What is Emotional Intelligence?

Heard of the term but don’t know all that much about the real-world definition? Emotional intelligence, also sometimes known as emotional quotient, can basically be summed up as the ability to recognize, manage, and actively use our feelings in a healthy, helpful way rather than shoving them down like most of us have been raised. 

A high level of this benefits us in several ways, allowing us to be less stressed, improving our communication with friends, family, and coworkers, enabling us to better diffuse conflict, and making us more empathetic, kind people. In other words, it grants us better relationships with ourselves and others, ultimately leading to more success in both our personal and professional lives. And, really, who doesn’t want that?

Of course, acquiring a good level of this quotient isn’t as easy as simply deciding you’re going to get more familiar with your emotions. Emotional intelligence truly is a skill you have to work at developing. It takes a great deal of dedication and personal awareness, requiring you to constantly observe your feelings and retrain yourself on how you react to them. 

That can be tiring for some, but it’s certainly worth the effort! After all, emotional intelligence can only take your life in a positive direction, lowering the stress that increases our risks for everything from wrinkles to heart attack, improving mental health, and enabling better social communication.

How Do You Know Your Levels?

A solid emotional quotient is integral if you want to turn intention into action, to spend less time on bottling your emotions or impulsivity-inspired damage control, and more time building personal strengths and positive connections. However, that’s all predicated on having a high level of emotional intelligence, which then inspires the question: how are you supposed to know what level you’re at, anyway? It’s intangible, so how are you supposed to keep track of it?

General self-awareness can definitely assist here, but assessments are a much more practical, chartable answer to this, built to help measure our emotional intelligence and allow us to track our progress over time. There are two flavors of these tests – self-reported and ability-based. 

The former of these is probably the more common option since they’re pretty easy to use and score. They’re like the Buzzfeed quiz of emotional skills, asking people to answer some simple questions by rating certain behaviors and attitudes. Meanwhile, ability-based tests are far less common, requiring people to demonstrate ability and respond to various scenarios. These then may provide more accurate measurements, but ones like the famous Emotional and Social Competence Inventory or the MSCEIT are put together and conducted by mental health experts, making ability tests far less accessible than their more common counterparts.

Don’t worry about this too much, though. While these ability tests are great if you have the time and cash available for them, they’re largely unnecessary, at least for most people. The vast majority of us just need a good, basic guideline of where we are with our emotional intelligence, and a self-reported test easily fulfills that. Pick any of the online inventories that pique your interest, and you’ll be good to go.

Tips for Increasing Emotional Intelligence

Now that you know a little more about what exactly emotional intelligence is and how you can see your progress as you attempt to increase it, you need to know how to actually bring about said change. Spoilers: there are several ways you can go about this, and everyone’s going to be a little different in what they prefer and which they’re fully comfortable disregarding. But here are a few of our favorite ways to increase EI to get you started.

Acknowledge your feelings and name them. 

As we all know, our society doesn’t exactly encourage us to get in touch with our feelings. On the contrary, we’re largely compelled to shut them out completely, believing they’ll make us less productive, efficient, objective, etc., and that ignoring them for long enough will eventually shut them up for good. Yeah, that’s not how it works. 

When we do that, all our feelings do is continue to build to a fever pitch, ultimately coming out at some point in a rather explosive, damaging way. That never lends itself to good things, and it certainly only hurts our level of emotional intelligence. Thus, be sure to keep tabs on your thoughts and emotions and name anything you can clearly pinpoint. Doing this long enough will increase your self-awareness and allow for more self-regulation –two abilities critical for increasing EI.

Tame your stressors. 

When you’re as high on the food chain as us, there are few things you truly need to be wary of. Although, nowadays, stress deserves far more than just a passing glance. Our modern life supplies it in massive doses, and that destroys both our physical and mental health, completely clouding our judgment. And when our judgment is clouded? Well, that’s when our emotional control and empathy goes entirely out the window. 

Stop this before it ever starts by taming your stressors. Know that procrastination will short out your nerves? Know that accepting yet another project or working with a certain person will drive you up the wall? Find solutions that provide a solid workaround, and don’t let go of them. Your stress levels and emotional intelligence will thank you.

Practice empathy. 

In some circles, the word ‘empathy’ is regarded with a thinly-veiled sense of derision, regarded as distracting, weak, undesirable, or some combination of the three. But these circles are thoroughly, unequivocally wrong. Empathy is what makes our world go ‘round. It ties us with others, helping secure peace and mutual assistance on personal and large governmental scales. 

It allows us to use our experiences and emotions to understand situations that we might be wholly separated from, and we can turn it on ourselves, regulating our self-attitudes and increasing our EI. Practice it regularly, paying attention to other people’s emotions and reactions, and you’ll not only build this vital marker of emotional maturity but welcome greater overall success with connections and careers. Not a bad payoff at all, if you ask us. 

Ask for feedback from others. 

Emotional intelligence is naturally wrapped up with self-perception as the former cannot exist if you can’t reflect on or examine your thoughts, actions, and feelings. That means to cultivate your EQ; you have to cultivate your ability for self-perception. Some people will find this a relatively easy time. People who are highly creative or who are highly intuitive, for example, are naturally better at this than people who aren’t. After all, they’re already always mulling over events in their heads or looking for the deeper meaning beneath the surface. The skill just translates. 

However, not everyone falls into these categories, and those who don’t will probably have a harder go at fostering self-perception. This is where colleagues, friends, and family come into play. Ask them for feedback. Have them give you constructive criticism and share that they think about your emotional control, empathy, adaptability, etc. Through this, they’ll essentially introduce you to the “you” that they know, deepening your sense of self and making you aware of the things you should be working on internally.

Respond rather than react. 

Have you ever gotten into a particularly heated discussion or fight with someone around you and found you suddenly had no filter? That’s an incredibly common experience, especially for those of us known for having a bit of a temper. Our fight-or-flight response gets activated in these situations, forcing our focus to narrow, adrenaline to start rushing, and our brains to shut down anything deemed unnecessary. We’re officially pushed to react rather than respond, acting off instinct instead of reason –and we all know that can drive us to think and say some pretty nasty things. 

If you want to truly build your emotional intelligence, one of your immediate priorities should be to shut this down as quickly as possible. But responding rather than reacting is one of the hardest things you can do in the heat of the moment. You’ll probably need to do more than merely remind yourself to hold your tongue. Find this to be true for you? Give progressive muscle relaxation a try, take a few deep breaths, or give yourself the permission you need to take a break from the situation altogether. 

All that tension, elevated cortisol, and adrenaline that’s been coiling should slowly start to unfurl, and you’ll be in a more appropriate headspace where you can actively listen to the other party. With repetition, your reactiveness will decrease, and emotional intelligence will increase, bringing some massive benefits that’ll echo throughout all aspects of your daily life.   

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