What is Emotional Intelligence?
Many professional fields such as psychology, business, management, leadership, and coaching are familiar with concepts of emotional intelligence. Emotionally intelligence includes several components such as self-awareness, self-management, and social and relational awareness. Specifically, individuals who have high levels of emotional intelligence are thought to be able to understand theirs and others’ emotions, regulate their emotional reactions, connect to others emotionally, and use non-verbal communication effectively.
Why is Emotional Intelligence Critical?
Emotional awareness is critical for understanding the impact of our decisions. Our brains are physically set up to integrate emotions into how we process information and make decisions. The brain’s limbic system is involved in processing, integrating, and regulating emotions. Being emotionally intelligent allows us to avoid making decisions impulsively and weigh the short- and long-term consequences of our decisions on ourselves and others.
Appropriately emotionally expressive individuals allow others to feel comfortable around them as we tend to feel connected to others we can “read.” Additionally, individuals who are emotional predictable and stable often inspire trust as do traits of genuineness, because we assume that they are honest in their emotional expression. Emotionally intelligent leaders and supervisors make us feel good about ourselves and help us feel cared for. Teachers who have good relationships with their students are able to motivate, challenge, and have high expectations for them, all while students feel cared about and respected. We are more likely to work harder for supervisors who possess these traits than those who do not.
Why Don’t We Teach it in Schools?
Some K-12 cirricula does teach emotional regulation skills, however these skills are certainly not taught to the same level as are math, science, and reading, though perhaps they should be. Culturally, we often expect appropriate emotional expressiveness and regulation skills in children to “just happen” which is an unfair expectation, especially for children who struggle socially. Children and adults who struggle with these skills are often socially ostracized from their peers which is damaging and has long term psychological consequences including low self-esteem, confidence issues, anxiety, depression, and problematic interpersonal relationships. We often view children who have emotional and behavioral issues as being “the problem” as opposed to recognizing that social and emotional development (similar to academic development) can be viewed as possessing certain social and emotional skills. Utilizing this lens can help parents and teachers assist struggling children in helping them building socio-emotional skills that help them work with potential social deficits. Children can also feel good in knowing that some socio-emotional skills can be learned. Parents can help children learn how to recognize their own feelings and the feelings of others by validating kids when they discuss their emotions and creating space to have discussions about feelings. Finally, parents can also model talking about their own feelings with their children in developmentally appropriate ways.
How can you Increase your Emotional Intelligence?
Emotional intelligence experts recommend numerous ways to increase your emotional intelligence. A few ways include:
- Practice self-observation of your own feelings
- Pay attention to how you behave
- Process your own feelings for greater understanding
- Try to understand others’ feelings
- Take responsibility for your own emotions
- Put yourself in someone else’s emotional shoes (empathy)
- Balance out positive and negative points of view
- Understand what motivates you and others
- Explore and try to understand multiple viewpoints
- Try to objectively look at yourself
- Understand your own (and others) strengths and weaknesses
In short, emotional intelligence is a set of life-long skills that continue to develop over time. It is important to be mindful of your own and others’ feelings and work on the continual development of this important awareness and skills. Emotionally intelligent people convey a consistent sense of caring to others.