What is Emotional Intelligence? A Definitive Look

what is emotional intelligence

There’s a lot of buzz these days about emotional intelligence, or EQ, and why it should be part of schools and education. It’s said that EQ has huge benefits, from better relationships to better performance at school and work. But what is emotional intelligence, anyway? For all the buzz, there isn’t enough in-depth discussion about EQ and what it does to benefit today’s children and adults. Let’s take a closer look:

What is Emotional Intelligence?

It’s hard to boil down emotional intelligence into a single definition, because there are so many ways to define it. It was first described by Michael Beldoch in 1964 as “sensitivity to emotional expression”, but didn’t start gaining ground until Daniel Goleman’s 1995 book Emotional Intelligence described the concept in more detail.

At its simplest, EQ is the ability to monitor your own emotions, and be empathetic to others’ emotions. At its most complex, it’s a measure of emotional skill, health, empathy, and awareness all at once.

In general, emotional intelligence is your ability to practice three skills:

  • Emotional awareness
  • Emotional harnessing
  • Emotional management

Perfecting these three skills gives you the ability to recognize the emotions you’re feeling, utilize them in a healthy way, and regulate your feelings normally. When EQ development starts early, kids learn how to manage their own tantrums, and they develop problem-solving skills that translate into emotional management later in life.

Emotional Awareness

EQ starts with emotional awareness: your ability to recognize feelings, tell them apart, and connect your feelings with their causes (and their consequences).

what is emotional intelligence

Let’s say that you’re having a bad day after getting restless sleep, and you aren’t quite able to pinpoint why you feel the way you do. You stop for coffee on your lunch break, and snap at the barista because she asked twice if you wanted regular or decaf. Her feelings are understandably hurt… and you get decaf.

Emotional awareness allows you to:

  • Realize when you’re feeling bad
  • Recognize why you’re feeling bad (for example, because you didn’t sleep)
  • Minimize the consequences of your bad mood (by being aware of the way you interact with other people, and being nicer to that barista)

Emotional Harnessing

what is emotional intelligence

Once you’re a pro at emotional awareness, you can work on harnessing your emotions to benefit your quality of life. It’s easy to let negative emotions such as fear, anxiety, and sadness get you off track at work or in your relationships.

When you learn to harness your emotions, you channel those negative feelings into your task of choice. Whether you stress-clean, do CrossFit when you’re angry, or get into your creative space when you’re feeling sad, you’re venting your emotions in a positive way and getting something productive out of the deal.

Emotional Management

Emotional management involves being in control of your emotions to a point, so you don’t let them rule your life. It involves creating a delicate balance between letting yourself experience emotions and ensuring that they aren’t affecting your work and relationships. Emotions are part of life, and it’s normal and healthy to experience highs and lows: but it’s not always practical to let yourself experience anger in the middle of a business meeting.

Managing your emotions involves:

  • Knowing your emotional triggers
  • Avoiding those triggers when possible
  • Changing your thoughts and responses so you can acknowledge those negative feelings without being a slave to them

Now that you have an idea of what emotional intelligence entails and how it affects your everyday life, you know why it’s so important for people of all ages to learn. Social and emotional learning programs encourage early awareness, so children can use these skills as a foundation and build upon them as they develop emotionally and socially.  It’s clear that there’s a case for EQ as a basic life skill that our children need from the start.


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