Emotional intelligence is a term thrown around a lot today. But what does it mean in theory? What does it look like in practice?

Many leaders in organizations or partners in personal relationships claim to have emotional intelligence, and that may be true, however, putting it into consistent practice is often another story.

We can all recall a situation either at work or in a personal relationship where either ourselves or another individual refused to listen and/or communicate effectively or take ownership or accountability of a conflict or issue, resulting in dismissed feelings. These situations are examples of what emotionally intelligent people don’t do.

So what does this mean for you exactly, and why is it important? In this article, we will dive into some common signs of emotional intelligence and some habits you can develop today to improve all your relationships.

What is Emotional Intelligence (EQ)?

Emotional intelligence is the ability to effectively manage and control your emotions while also empathizing with others and making decisions.

The key word here is effective.

As mentioned briefly above, emotional intelligence applies to both personal and professional situations and relationships. In the workplace, it is a core element of servant leadership and project success.

The Emotional Brain versus the Thinking Brain

We have two brains: rational and emotional. We often want to avoid making decisions based solely on emotions. Intelligent individuals consider the advantages, disadvantages, and facts of a particular decision. This is also where the rational and emotional brains clash.

However, as author and psychologist Daniel Goleman explains in his book Emotional Intelligence, emotion is actually crucial to effective thought, both in making wise decisions and allowing us to simply think clearly. (Emotional Intelligence: Why it Can Matter More than IQ, by Daniel Goleman, page 27) In fact, some medical professionals believe the “emotional brain” is as involved in the process of reasoning as much as the “thinking brain”.

Goleman further suggests that the “emotional intelligence quotient”, commonly referred to as “EQ”, might be more important than IQ. Psychologists have also studied the overall effectiveness of the standard IQ measurement. Research has shown that IQ scores don’t account for an individual’s level of emotional intelligence, which makes up the full spectrum of human intelligence.

All in all, intellect cannot work at its best without the emotional brain, and one isn’t more important than the other. However, individuals with high levels of emotional intelligence need to find the right balance between the two.

14 Signs of Emotional Intelligence

Now that you have a better understanding of emotional intelligence, what does it look like in practice? Here are 14 signs of emotional intelligence:

  1. Understanding one’s emotions
  2. Controlling and managing one’s emotions
  3. Being able to share your feelings with others
  4. Being self-aware
  5. Actively listening to others
  6. Evaluating others’ feelings and respecting them
  7. Empathizing with others
  8. Being emotionally resilient
  9. Accepting criticism, responsibility, and accountability
  10. Understanding one’s boundaries (and having the ability to say “no” when necessary)
  11. Recognizing and accepting mistakes (yours and/or others), letting go, and moving on
  12. Solving conflicts and challenges
  13. Focusing on progress, not perfection
  14. Embracing change

How to Apply Emotional Intelligence

Here are some things you can do to further develop and improve your emotional intelligence:

1. Practice active listening

Many of us cannot listen — and I mean really listen. Sorry, but it’s true. The ability to display communication skills and make decisions comes from listening. And this means listening to what is spoken and also what is unspoken. This involves not only paying attention to what a person is saying verbally but also their nonverbal communication, such as body language.

2. Be open-minded

Emotionally intelligent individuals never see their way as the only “right” way. When listening to others, widen your perspective. You might be surprised at what you learn and discover.

3. Be empathetic

Empathizing with others, meaning understanding others’ emotions, viewpoints, and opinions is one of the most crucial elements of emotional intelligence. This doesn’t mean you have to agree with the other person, but seeing another person’s perspective without letting your emotions get in the way is key.

4. Be emotionally resilient

One of the greatest strengths of an emotionally intelligent individual is his or her ability to heal themselves, as well as help others heal in healthy ways, focus on solving challenges and conflicts, and figure out the best path forward. Emotionally-intelligent individuals never hold grudges or expect others to never mistakes. Remember, we are all human.

5. Be self-aware

An emotionally-intelligent individual is very self-aware. He or she can successfully view and perceive situations holistically, focusing on the big picture and keeping principles, goals, and ethics in mind.

6. Focus on the big picture

An emotionally-intelligent individual thinks beyond the day-to-day and focuses on long-term goals.

7. Commit to growth

All in all, an emotionally-intelligent individual is committed to personal growth. This could be the individual’s own personal growth as well as the personal growth of others. Accept the opportunity to nurture others and encourage unique thoughts, opinions, and ideas.

8. Recognize the action

Emotionally-intelligent individuals accept ownership and accountability, including the actions that go along with it. They don’t expect things just magically to happen or become better.

Improve All Your Relationships

Many researchers and experts argue that emotional intelligence is an inborn trait and cannot be learned, whereas others believe that it can be learned. Of course, this could be an article all on its own.

However, regardless of which viewpoint you resonate with most, with a little practice, you can further develop emotional intelligence, become a better leader, and improve all your relationships.

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