Defining Emotional Intelligence (EQ)

What is emotional intelligence?

Posted by Darius Bucinskas on March 15th, 2021

Emotional intelligence, also known as emotional quotient (EQ) is a person’s ability to recognise and process their emotions, and manage those emotions in a positive way. Emotional intelligence extends outwardly, including the ability to recognise others emotions and empathize with them. A person with high EQ uses emotional information about themselves and others to guide their thoughts and behaviour.

Why is EQ so Important?

Howard Gardner, the renowned Harvard psychologist, defines EQ as a person’s ability to “understand other people, what motivates them and how to work cooperatively with them”. These abilities allow us to develop productive relationships with others and form a better understanding of ourselves in the process. When we begin to work with, rather than against emotions, we open the door to long term success.

It is often assumed that the smartest individuals are the most successful. The reality is intellectual ability is not the only factor connected to success at work or in personal relationships. While intellectual prowess is certainly useful, one cannot truly thrive without the ability to manage stress and emotions. Emotional intelligence and intellect are most effective when combined. They build on one another, enabling an individual to function effectively in society and unlock their full potential.

Another assumption is that human beings are fundamentally rational agents who are always in control of their thoughts and behavior. This fails to recognise the central roles that emotion and belief play in determining our behaviour. We feel first, create a system of beliefs to justify that feeling, then react as though this mental construct is reality. By developing an awareness of this process and opening ourselves up to a more complete perspective, we can use our enhanced EQ to witness how we are reacting to emotions in the moment. By paying attention to our direct experience we can find balance in the emotional current and choose an appropriate response.

Emotional Regulation

A key aspect of emotional intelligence is emotional regulation, which could be thought of as finding a sort of emotional balance or equilibrium. This is the ability to sustain a clear baseline and regain your clarity after being swept away by an emotional current.

There are two key elements to this. Internal awareness: our awareness of our own thoughts, feelings, goals, values, strengths and weaknesses, and External awareness: our awareness of how other people perceive and respond to us.

An important part of emotional regulation is embracing the virtues of patience, long-term thinking, and being open to the full depth of our experience. By adopting a long-term mindset and compounding the development of emotional intelligence over time a person can reach new heights socially, ethically and professionally.

How is EQ Measured?

Contemporary analysis primarily recognises emotions and the attribution of emotional states using auditory and visual cues (identifying emotional inflections in people’s expression and tone of voice).

An effective mainstream measure of emotional intelligence is the one developed by science journalist Daniel Goleman, known as the mixed model. This combines the measuring of “Trait EQ”: which assesses emotional intelligence through the self-reporting of perceived abilities and behavioral patterns, and “Ability EQ”: which examines an individual’s ability to process emotional information and use it to navigate social environments.

These measures are supplemented by neurological research which seeks to assess the neural mechanisms related to emotional intelligence.

Is it Possible to Increase Your EQ?

Fortunately, the skills that make up emotional intelligence can be learned and developed at any point. Development of these skills rests on the ability of an individual to understand emotional intelligence and apply it to everyday life. The reality is that, without conscious effort, the stresses and pressures of a person’s life can override their intended behaviour.

The key to consistently behaving in an emotionally intelligent way is to learn to engage your EQ during the moments where you are most stressed and prone to losing control, enabling yourself to return to your baseline. This is easier said than done, as to do this a person must be able to use their emotions to guide constructive decisions about their own behaviour at times when these emotions are at their most overwhelming.

Building a Relationship with Yourself

A key aspect of building emotional intelligence is improving our relationship with ourselves. Celebrating our strengths as well as recognizing and forgiving our mistakes are crucial steps in developing empathy towards ourselves. Through seeking emotional balance using a long-term mindset and deepening our understanding of ourselves and others we can continue to strengthen our personal EQ.

In the next article, Developing EQ, we look in more detail at how an individual can develop emotional intelligence.

For further information on emotional intelligence see the excellent books Emotional Intelligence and Working with Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman.