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What is Emotional intelligence and How Can It Work for You?

Updated: Jan 13, 2023

Emotional intelligence — or EI — is the ability to tune in to and manage our own emotions and the emotions of others. Journalist and author Daniel Goleman made a case for the uses of EI in his bestseller Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ identifies five key characteristics of emotional intelligence—self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills—and four skill sets that govern ourselves and our relationships:

1. Self Awareness: is our ability to identify whatever we're feeling at any given moment and have a good understanding of how we behave in a range of situations.

2. Self Management: is our ability to use the awareness of our emotions to manage them. Can we stay flexible? Can we modify our behavior in positive ways?

3. Social Awareness: is our ability to accurately identify the emotions of others and have a good understanding of what's going on with them.

4. Relationship Management: refers to how we can use our awareness of our own and others' emotions to successfully manage our interactions, whether at home, with friends or in the workplace.

How Can EI Work for You?

People who are aware of their feelings, and the feelings of others, have a better time regulating and managing their own emotional stability, mental health and general well-being. They're more realistic about others' responses to them and they don't take things too personally or get as anxious or stressed over the small stuff. People with high EI's tend to have stronger relationships and manage them better. What's more, good leaders often have high EI — and many employers say they value EI over IQ in potential employees.

The bottom line is we like to be with people who have a high EI. They're more at ease with themselves and others and tend to be more empathetic and better listeners.

Can Emotional Intelligence be Learned?

Absolutely. A great way to start is to begin to observe your emotions and name them as they come up. The time between the emotion and thinking about the emotion will help you see that we are not the same as our emotions — they are fleeting and change all the time. The good news: the more we understand that we are not our feelings, the less control they have over us and the more choice we have in difficult or challenging situations. We can gain control over our feelings rather than them hijacking us!

Another way is through mindfulness, which is EI put into practice. Mindfulness can take many forms, but a common definition is being present in the moment and aware of whatever is happening within and around us rather than being in a constant state of distraction.

Practicing IE with others means listening with patience, tolerance and a sense of compassion. Put yourself in others shoes before making snap judgments and take the time to listen. These are key elements to emotional intelligence.

How Can I Test My EI?

There are lots of EI tests on the internet for discovering where you stand on the emotional intelligence spectrum. For a snapshot of your IE, here's a short quiz from This fun one, from Greater Good Magazine online, uses face recognition to test your skills at reading others' emotions. And for those who have the time, this quiz from Psychology Today's website takes about 45 minutes and gives you a more in-depth assessment at the end.

And if you want to learn a lot more about EI, dig into Daniel Goleman's book, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ.

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