Emotional Intelligence is Such an Underrated Skill

Emotional intelligence (also commonly known as EQ or emotional quotient) is the ability to identify and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others. It includes three skills:

1. Emotional awareness, including the ability to identify your own emotions and those of others;

2. The ability to harness emotions and apply them to tasks like thinking and problem solving;

3. The ability to manage emotions, including the ability to regulate your own emotions, and the ability to cheer up or calm down another person.

The good news is that most researchers believe it is not a fixed skill, but one that can be developed throughout a lifetime. Dr. Travis Bradberry argues that, “Emotional intelligence...is a flexible set of skills that can be acquired and improved with practice. Although some people are naturally more emotionally intelligent than others, you can develop high emotional intelligence even if you aren’t born with it.”

Why should you care? Maybe you’re highly driven, ambitious, and competent. Isn’t that enough? No, unfortunately. Not only do all people benefit from being able to intuitively understand the experience of someone else, but women in particular have the added burden of just being expected to have this skill automatically. Emotional intelligence is not the same as being nice, accommodating, or a doormat. It does not mean you have to start every sentence with “Sorry,...” or finish every thought with “But that’s just my opinion.” Rather, it means that you can read the verbal and nonverbal clues someone is giving you to their state of mind.

TalentSmart found that “emotional intelligence is the strongest predictor of performance, explaining a full 58% of success in all types of jobs.” Across everyone and every industry they studied, 90% of top performers were also high in emotional intelligence, while only 20% of bottom performers were. Further, people with high EQ make almost $30,000 more annually than those with low EQ.

Psychology Today finds that “with high EI, you can succeed in many areas of your life. Your close relationships can benefit from knowing how to read people’s feelings, regulate your own emotions (especially anger), and understand what you're feeling, and why.” “leaders must have the ability to understand social interactions and solve the complex social problems that arise in the course of office life.  From resolving disputes to negotiating high-powered deals, business leaders need to be able to read each other’s signals, as well as understand their own strengths and weaknesses.” Studies on this topic have become so common that Harvard Business Review even has an option for you to follow all Emotional Intelligence tagged publications, and repeated publications show high correlations between EQ and success.

Author Ashley Zahabian writes that “the best way to be more emotionally intelligent is to stop and question your feelings before you act. Think about why you really want something you’re craving. Is it actually something that’s good for you, or are you just giving into your immediate gratification addiction?” She goes on to argue that “every business is in the business of building people. If you cannot build people, you can’t do anything. Building people requires delayed gratification...It requires regulating emotion and controlling behavior, because it is not easy to build somebody who is a little bit under you, because it takes patience, it takes self-management, it takes leadership.”

So how do you build these muscles?

  1. Stop and notice. Don’t do anything with your observations yet. Simply become aware of your behaviors and thoughts, and identify if anything starts to resemble a pattern.

  2. Observe your health habits. Are you getting enough sleep? Are you eating well or are there staples of your diet that send you into sugar highs and then crashes? Are you exercising in whatever way feels good to you? Are you regularly reading/watching/listening to news or tv shows that stress you out or calm you? Do you meditate or otherwise take time for yourself during the day? Do you have strong friendships and relationships? All of these factors impact your ability to notice your own emotions and control them.

  3. Take inventory of your work environment. Is your office a place you feel productive? frenzied? calm? Do you have colleagues that support you or compete with you?   

  4. Start to flesh out those patterns you were noticing earlier. Are there consistent behaviors in others that set you off, either in anger, sadness, worry, or some other negative emotion? These are your triggers. Spend time thinking about where these might come from. Perhaps you had a parent, sibling, friend, significant other, coworker, or boss in the past who treated you a certain way and you felt powerless to respond, so you’re reliving those patterns now.

  5. Let go of your ego. Life is not a zero-sum game; you don’t fail if someone else succeeds. In fact, women achieving success are much more likely to reach back and bring more women with them. What’s good for one is good for all. Be able to ask yourself if you responded to a situation as the best version of yourself and if you could do better next time. Be able to hear feedback and criticism without feeling that your entire self-worth is being attacked.