Communication: Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence (EI) is the ability to understand, manage, and express your emotions in healthy and constructive ways. With emotions there’s usually a cause and an effect. Something another person has said or an event has evoked a certain emotion out of you. Or maybe you’re witnessing an emotional response someone else is going through. In that case, EI also entails being able to identify and respond appropriately to the emotions of others. Since emotions guide how we interact with each other, EI has many implications in our daily lives whether we’re interacting with co-workers or with clients. You can even take EI home with you and use it wherever you go.

Every day we experience different emotions and the range can vary greatly from one extreme to the other. We can be happy one moment and sad the next. Emotions, in and of themselves, shouldn’t necessarily be thought of as good or bad. They just “are.” It’s our responses to those emotions that can be good or bad. Unfortunately, those responses often come to us in a split second. Signals first enter the emotional part of our brain and then travel to the rational thinking part of the brain last. This is why we sometimes react strongly to something without really knowing why. We say things like, “I flew off the handle,” or, “I did it without even thinking about it.” But what really happens is the emotional brain overrides the rational brain if the emotion is strong enough. Among many other things, EI permits effective communication between these 2 parts of your brain.

Some authors may label these 4 main elements of EI differently, but the meaning is the same.

  1. Self-Awareness is the ability to recognize and understand your moods, emotions, and drives, as well as their effect on others.
    Here are some ways to be more self-aware.

    • Know thyself – Part of communicating effectively is being aware of things that are going on around you, with others, and very importantly, what’s going on with yourself. When a person is self-aware, they have a clear perception of their own strengths, weaknesses, thoughts, motivations, and emotions.  All of these pieces drive us to act in one way or another.  What makes you thrive and what makes you self-destruct?
    • Recognize your emotions – In order to recognize the emotion, you must think about the emotion. If you’re not aware of the emotion, you may not be able to control the resulting behavior.  We tend to lump emotions into one common word but there’s different levels within that one word.  When we say we’re sad, are we just upset or are we depressed?  When we use the word angry, are we annoyed or are we outraged?  If we determine and recognize the real emotion by increasing our emotional vocabulary, we can think about it before we act on it.
    • Rate your emotions – Strong emotions will produce a physical response, such as a headache, faster heart rate, or muscle twitches. Think of someone you may strongly disagree with from time to time.  They probably know the things to say to make you fly off the handle.  If you are aware of this going into the conversation, you can prepare yourself for that particular emotion as it starts to build. Pay close attention to the intensity of your emotions and rate them from 1 to 10.  When you measure your emotions, the easier it will be to monitor and keep them in check.
  2. Self-Management is the ability to control or redirect disruptive impulses and moods, the tendency to suspend judgment, and to think before acting.Here are some ways to self-manage.
    • Understand your triggers – Some emotions are so strong they can make a person want to eat, smoke, yell, or have some other detrimental response. As an emotion falls into the high, medium or low category, identify the event that produced it.  Pay particular attention to what triggers the high ones as those are naturally the hardest to control.  Examine your behavioral response to those situations to help you know why they occur.  Sometimes just being around certain people may produce an unhealthy emotion.
    • Distract yourself – This allows time for the rational brain to catch up with your feelings. Counting to 10 or taking a deep breath can prevent you from escalating your bad feelings and saying something you might regret later.  Another method is to simply remove yourself from the situation.  Getting away from a bad situation can help you refocus, especially in stressful situations.
    • Focus on solutions – Evaluate your response vs. the event. Does the event merit the amount of emotional energy you’re putting forth?  If traffic delays you by 5 minutes, is it worth it to rant about it for 20 minutes?  If it is going to take your time and energy, at least make it productive and think of ways you can actually improve the situation.
    • Be flexible – Change is inevitable yet we’re creatures of habit. This constant clash corners us into anxiety or whatever other emotion arises when change occurs.  If we’re flexible, those bad emotions won’t come up at all.  Instead, think of change as an opportunity to try new things or to give you a better way to do something.
  3. Social Awareness is the ability to recognize and understand the moods, emotions, and drives of others so you may respond appropriately.Here are some characteristics of social awareness.
    • Reading body language – When you’re interacting with someone, pay attention to non-verbal cues to recognize any underlying emotions. Studies have shown up to 50% of communication is done through body language.  What can you tell from a person’s posture if he leans towards you, shifts away from you, or maintains a stiff and awkward position?  People often cross their arms or legs if they’re feeling defensive.  Facial cues in the eyes, mouth, forehead, and eyebrows frequently reveal someone’s true emotions.  Reading another person’s body language correctly leads you to the appropriate way to interact with him or her.  It isn’t an exact science, but it can provide you with clues.
    • Empathy – This is the basis of social awareness and often gets confused with sympathy. Sympathy refers to how you feel about someone else.  It usually involves an “I” sentence, such as, “I feel sad about your child’s illness.”  Empathy tends to involve a “you” sentence, as in, “you must be feeling angry about what that man said.”  Empathy not only shows you care about someone’s troubles, but that you really know, or want to know, what they’re going through.    Empathy also allows you to figure out other people’s feelings so that you can understand the other person.  Once you understand another person, you gain the ability to influence the way he or she feels by guiding them where you want to lead them.  Is your goal to calm them down or cheer them up?
    • Be non-judgmental – Actions speak louder than words so even if your words are non-judgmental, your behavior can indicate what you’re really thinking. It’s important to realize your co-workers and clients experience their own range of emotions, just as you do.  If you can keep that in mind, you’ll be less likely to display a judgmental behavior.  When someone’s being judged, there’s often shame or blame involved and it can cause them to become angry and defensive.
  4. Social Skill demonstrates proficiency in managing relationships.Here are some features of social skill.
    • Conflict Management – In our relationships with co-workers and clients, there’s conflict all around us. Many times conflict can be reduced simply by finding some common ground.  Find the points on which you can both agree.  Being open to other points of view and building rapport will help make the differing opinions easier to discuss.
    • Take the high road – When in a heated discussion, we all try to come up with that one remark that will shut the other person down. Refrain from saying things you’ll regret later just to get your point across.  Instead find a way to disagree with someone in a polite and friendly way.  And it’s okay if your pride gets a little injured.  Winning isn’t everything so allow yourself to lose on minor details that have no bearing on the main issue.
    • Be a good team player – Practice active listening when others are speaking.  It’s all right to be assertive, but the key is to appropriately share your thoughts, feelings, and beliefs in a constructive way.  You can still get your point across without being confrontational.  Once you intentionally aggravate someone, they’ll be less likely to listen to you.  Demonstrate yourself as a cooperative and contributing member of the group.

In general, people who exhibit traits of Emotional Intelligence:

  • Think before acting
  • Give people their full attention
  • Use empathy in a way that de-escalates the situation
  • Make you feel at ease during a crisis or in times of difficulty
  • Are focused on solutions
  • Have a “what’s in it for you” perspective instead of “what’s in it for me”

In general, people who struggle with Emotional Intelligence:

  • Have poor impulse control
  • Find that people avoid them
  • Have low empathy
  • Lose control of their emotions, especially when under stress
  • Don’t know how they impact others
  • Behave in a self-centered manner
  • Don’t adapt well to change

Would you want to work with a person that’s moody, angry, or always complaining?  So if you conduct yourself this way, why would anyone want to work with you?  If you feel you’re lacking in EI, the good news is it can be vastly improved.  And EI isn’t about doing away with emotions.  Our emotional brain travels with us wherever we go.  But how you handle the emotions doesn’t have to be a spur of the moment decision.  You can decide beforehand how you will react.  Once you do that, you can continue to develop EI in the real world.  It will feel strange at first but practicing empathic statements and handling people according to their emotions will pay dividends in the long run.

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