You may have heard people mention "IQ" when talking about intellect and how smart someone is. (For example, "My brother doesn't need to study as much as I do because he has a really high IQ.") IQ stands for "intellectual quotient." It can help predict how well someone may do academically.
IQ is just one measure of our abilities, though. There are many other kinds of intelligence in addition to intellect. For example, spatial intelligence is the ability to think in 3D. Musical intelligence is the ability to recognize rhythm, cadence, and tone. Athletic, artistic, and mechanical abilities are other types of intelligence.
One important type of intelligence is emotional intelligence.
Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand, use, and manage our emotions. Emotional intelligence is sometimes called EQ (or EI) for short. Just as a high IQ can predict top test scores, a high EQ can predict success in social and emotional situations. EQ helps us build strong relationships, make good decisions, and deal with difficult situations.
One way to think about EQ is that it's part of being people-smart. Understanding and getting along with people helps us be successful in almost any area of life. In fact, some studies show that EQ is more important than IQ when it comes to doing well in school or being successful at work.
Some people have naturally good EQ skills. Others need to work on them. The good news is that everyone can get better. Unlike IQ, people can actually improve their emotional intelligence — if they know what to do.
Emotional intelligence is a combination of several different skills:
Most people feel many different emotions throughout the day. Some feelings (like surprise) last just a few seconds. Others may stay longer, creating a mood like happiness or sadness. Being able to notice and accurately label these everyday feelings is the most basic of all the EQ skills.
Being aware of emotions — simply noticing them as we feel them — helps us manage our own emotions. It also helps us understand how other people feel. But some people might go through the entire day without really noticing their emotions. Practice recognizing emotions as you feel them. Label them in your mind (for example, by saying to yourself "I feel grateful," "I feel frustrated," etc.). Make it a daily habit to be aware of your emotions.
People are naturally designed to try to understand others. Part of EQ is being able to imagine how other people might feel in certain situations. It is also about understanding why they feel the way they do.
Being able to imagine what emotions a person is likely to be feeling (even when you don't actually know) is called empathy. Empathy helps us care about others and build good friendships and relationships. It guides us on what to say and how to behave around someone who is feeling strong emotions.
We all get angry. We all have disappointments. Often it's important to express how you feel. But managing your reaction means knowing when, where, and how to express yourself.
When you understand your emotions and know how to manage them, you can use self-control to hold a reaction if now is not the right time or place to express it. Someone who has good EQ knows it can damage relationships to react to emotions in a way that's disrespectful, too intense, too impulsive, or harmful.
Part of managing emotions is choosing our moods. Moods are emotional states that last a bit. We have the power to decide what mood is right for a situation, and then to get into that mood. Choosing the right mood can help someone get motivated, concentrate on a task, or try again instead of giving up.
People with good EQ know that moods aren't just things that happen to us. We can control them by knowing which mood is best for a particular situation and how to get into that mood.
Emotional intelligence is something that develops as we get older. If it didn't, all adults would act like little kids, expressing their emotions physically through stomping, crying, hitting, yelling, and losing control!
Some of the skills that make up emotional intelligence develop earlier. They may seem easier: For example, recognizing emotions seems easy once we know what to pay attention to. But the EQ skill of managing emotional reactions and choosing a mood might seem harder to master. That's because the part of the brain that's responsible for self-management continues to mature beyond our teen years. But practice helps those brain pathways develop.
We can all work to build even stronger emotional intelligence skills just by recognizing what we feel, understanding how we got there, understanding how others feel and why, and putting our emotions into heartfelt words when we need to.
Reviewed by: D'Arcy Lyness, PhD
Date reviewed: September 2012
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