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We could all use more emotional intelligence.

 

According to psychologist Tara Eurich, 95% of people believe they’re self-aware. She estimates that only 10-15% actually are.

After learning this statistic a few years ago, I made a serious effort to become more self-aware and I have watched myself become significantly more emotionally intelligent in the process. Striving for emotional intelligence has made me a better friend, student, employee, leader, and overall person.

We could all use more emotional intelligence – but what does it truly mean, how does it help us, and how do we achieve it?


What is Emotional Intelligence?


Emotional intelligence (sometimes referred to as EI) is more than just self-awareness: it’s also empathy, social skills, and self-regulation. It’s defined by Peter Salovey and John Mayer as "the ability to monitor one's own and other people's emotions, to discriminate between different emotions and label them appropriately, and to use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior". 

Imagine that your order at Starbucks is messed up. You demonstrate emotional intelligence when you take a moment to recognize and reflect on your frustration at the Starbucks employee who just messed up the order (self-awareness) and choose to respond with kindness and composure instead of vitriol (self-regulation). You demonstrate emotional intelligence when you recognize that this Starbucks is understaffed and she’s in the middle of a rush – perhaps she didn’t sleep well or had a rough morning – and you place yourself in her shoes (empathy). You politely and concisely explain the issue to her, responding thoughtfully and maintaining eye contact (social skills), and walk out feeling peaceful instead of angry. 

Without emotional intelligence, this interaction could have turned a minor inconvenience into a morning-ruining experience for everyone involved. (As a barista myself, I’m always grateful to my customers who demonstrate such EI when I mess up an order.) Being emotionally intelligent will keep you an overall more pleasant and happy human being.


Emotional Intelligence in Relationships


Emotional intelligence is especially beneficial in creating and maintaining relationships. We all feel a variety of emotions, but how we navigate them has the potential to strengthen or weaken our relationships with those we love most. It’s inevitable that you will sometimes feel frustrated, angry, or upset with your partner, sibling, or parent – but if you allow the emotions to control you, as opposed to remaining in control of your emotions, you may walk out of the conflict feeling even worse. 

If you find that you struggle in your relationships – perhaps you’re prone to outbursts, have difficulty expressing your emotions, or feel misunderstood – you may need to work on improving your emotional intelligence. 

When you improve your emotional intelligence, you have more productive conversations. You prevent temporary feelings from diluting your message, have empathy and understanding for the other party, and grow closer to your loved ones. High levels of emotional intelligence are correlated with longer-lasting friendships and romantic relationships and happier marriages.


Emotional Intelligence in Leadership and Work


Emotional intelligence is especially salient in workplaces and leadership roles. Top performers in the workplace are shown to have higher levels of emotional intelligence than the average person, and 71 percent of employers value emotional intelligence over technical skills when hiring.

Eurich found that working with colleagues who aren’t self-aware can cut a team’s success in half, and other research finds that unaddressed conflict in workplaces can lead to a loss of eight hours of company time. Low levels of EI can erode trust, effective communication, and morale in the workplace. When employees demonstrate emotional intelligence, conflict, tension, and stress are reduced, leading to increased productivity. 

High levels of emotional intelligence make more effective leaders. Empathy is one of the most important leadership skills, and leaders who are highly emotionally intelligent are better able to gain the trust of those they are leading as they truly listen to their ideas and concerns. Leaders with high EI are more likely to confront their mistakes and strive to learn from them, leading to more ultimate success.


Ways to improve your emotional intelligence 


I firmly believe that no matter who you are, emotional intelligence is something you should strive for. There are many ways to improve your EI, some of which are:


Meditating

Meditation helps improve awareness and empathy, key components of emotional intelligence. Whether you meditate for 30 minutes or deep breathe for 30 seconds, meditation can help you regulate negative emotions and improve self-control.


Journaling

Taking the time to write and reflect on your emotions, recognizing why you felt the way you did and how you chose to respond, can help you improve your mood, understand yourself, and decrease stress, improving your overall emotional intelligence. 


Reading literature

Reading literature with “complex characters” is seen to improve empathy, as readers gain insights into the thoughts, feelings, and motivation of others, improving emotional intelligence skills.


However, your emotional intelligence can also improve by simply choosing to be aware of your emotions and interactions in your daily life. Recognize your feelings and the way that you respond to them – awareness alone can go a long way.

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