What is emotional intelligence and why does it matter?

Back in 2018 LinkedIn published an article that referred to the following statistic from talentsmarteq.com;

People with high emotional intelligence earn, on average, $29,000 more annually than those who score low on EQ — People who perform well get paid more, and there is a direct correlation between salary and emotional intelligence. For each percentage-point increase in EQ, a person can add $1300 to their annual salary.”

That is a staggering statistic and as it was from 2018 who knows what those figures would show now. We know it makes a difference but what is it and how do you increase it?

Emotional intelligence (EI or EQ) has been 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 behaviour”.

In very simple terms a high level of EQ gives you the following abilities; 

  • Recognise your emotions
  • Recognise and relate to the emotions of others
  • Actively listen to others
  • Understand the nonverbals cues of behaviour in active communication
  • Control your own thoughts and feelings
  • Manage your emotions and express them in a socially acceptable way
  • Receive criticisms positively and benefit from them
  • Forgive, forget and move on rationally

Now as you read through the list you may have spotted some areas where you could improve. I, for example, am not great at receiving criticism positively and this is something I have to work on. You may struggle to manage your emotions or find it difficult to read the emotions of others, whatever it is we can all work to improve our skills. Well, the good news is that unlike IQ which remains static or declines EQ can be developed and increased at any age as long as you are prepared to learn and change.

To help us to break it down further, Daniel Goleman, a psychologist, science journalist and author of the best-selling 1995 book: Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ – defined the 5 key components of emotional intelligence as listed below:

  • Self-awareness – the knowledge of what we feel and why we feel so. Understanding yourself – how and when you react to certain triggers and how others see you are all invaluable abilities and essential for great leadership.
  • Self-regulation – the ability to express our feelings in the right way. When you understand yourself and your emotions you can begin to adapt and adjust your behaviours to make sure you get the best responses.
  • Motivation – the internal drive to change the way we feel and express. When you are self-aware and self-regulated you should feel the motivation to improve and to continue to get more from your communications.
  • Empathy – the ability to relate to others’ emotions and see the world from their perspective. Being able to put aside your own perspective and to be able to feel what someone else is going through is a very powerful ability.
  • Social skills – the power to communicate effectively and build strong connections at home or in the workplace. To be effective you must be able to take your skills out into the world socially and connect with people to help yourself and others to communicate better.

Building your EQ will be a continual process, and you will have times when you revert to a less EQ type, but every step you take to improving it will help you to be a more effective communicator and a happier person. 

An ABC to getting started with EQ

So we know what EQ is and the benefits it can bring so how do I improve my skills?

A – Know where you are weak!

Sounds simple but in fact, many people are not aware of their own areas of strength or weakness when it comes to EQ. Understanding yourself is one of the greatest skills you can master. Do you know why you take an instant dislike to some people, or why you cry at weddings or why you get so angry when someone cuts you up on the road?

And although we may be strong in some areas we may have weaknesses in others. As an example very sociable people who find it easy to interact with others may actually lack any degree of empathy, preferring to forge down their own path rather than consider what others may think. Or someone may be very self-aware but lack the motivation to change how they feel and express themself.

Assess yourself – there are many free online tests out there so give one of them a go and be honest when completing it. Then share the results with people you trust and who know you well – see if they think the result is a true reflection of you? The more feedback you have the clearer you will be in which areas you need to work on. Some good questions to ask yourself are:

  • Am I thinking the right way?
  • Should I have used those words today?
  • How would I have reacted if I were in his/her place?
  • Is there another way of looking into the matter?
  • Am I on the right track?
  • Is my family happy with me?

B – Make changes and learn how to improve.

This is probably the hardest part, it is an area where people struggle the most often simply lacking the motivation to improve. May sound simple but if you don’t want to change then you won’t! Part of a high level of EQ is knowing that you can and should change and wanting to improve your communication with others.

Learning how to improve is a question of continual improvement and always looking to find ways to do things better. Working with colleagues or a coach can help you gain feedback regularly on how you are improving.

Also, another good tip is to reflect on how you have reacted or behaved during the day. Could you have handled a situation differently, could you have remained calmer or been more direct? Try and imagine you are looking at yourself through the eyes of your colleagues or family.

C– Practice.

Practice, practice and practice some more until it becomes second nature to you and you really start to value the skills and see the results they bring.

For example, perhaps you give yourself to the count of 3 before responding to a question or a situation. Just take an extra second to more fully evaluate what is being asked of you and by whom, and how they are going to feel about your response. If you feel your mind being clouded by negative thoughts, try and think of something more positive and distract your mind.

When you do respond try to put yourself in the shoes of the person you are responding to, try to be considerate. Practice communicating more clearly, ask people to clarify what they have heard from you to make sure you are being understood. Be patient and understanding, remember that people communicate in different ways and you may need to adapt your style to be better understood.

Mhairi Richardson
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Mhairi Richardson

Mhairi specialises in coaching teams to help them achieve more and improve their wellbeing. Her focus is on building trust within the team and a combination of coaching, mentoring and facilitation and she can tailor the program to the needs of your business. She enjoys working with newly formed teams, established team or teams who just feel they should be achieving more. Mhairi is also a coach with a strong SME background, a focus on the detail, a high level of emotional intelligence and a strong desire to develop talent and grow high performing teams.