So, what does it mean to have emotional intelligence? Much has been written about this idea. However, no one ever asked what it means to have emotional intelligence until 1995, when psychologist, Daniel Goleman, wrote his landmark book, Emotional Intelligence.
In this article, I won’t try to summarize or overly simplify ideas. Instead, I will share five things that you can do today to become more emotionally intelligent and be happier and more successful in your interactions with others.
5 Components of Emotional Intelligence
When you Google the phrase or pick up the book, you can learn far more about these components. I include them here only as the reference point for the practical suggestions that follow. The five components of emotional intelligence as outlined by Goleman are:
- Social Skills
While each of these are important to the overall concept of emotional intelligence, if you ask most people to talk about what this idea means, they will most frequently talk about the last two components – the outward focusing components. While empathy and social skills are the outward manifestation of emotional intelligence, trying to focus solely on those two is like putting a Band-Aid on a broken arm – you haven’t treated the root cause of any problems that might exist.
Increasing Your Emotional Intelligence
Given that observation, perhaps not surprisingly, my five suggestions focus on the first three components.
- Slow down. When interacting with others, slow down so that you can respond rather react. If you want to get better at anything, you must recognize where you are and then consciously work on changing your approach. This certainly applies to emotional intelligence. Recognizing the power of this approach then choosing to do it can immediately improve results. If you have ever instantly reacted to someone’s comment or action, you know that doesn’t always go so well.
- If you want to get better at anything, being willing to learn from your past actions. This requires that we reflect. When we look back at what we did and how it went, we will learn something. When we recognize our role in those results, we may become more self-aware and better able to adjust our behavior in a similar situation the next time.
- Question yourself. Effective reflection includes asking yourself (and then answering) questions like:
- What worked?
- What didn’t work?
- What did I do to create the results?
- What could I have done differently to create a better result?
- What could I have done to be more interpersonally effective?
Notice that these reflective questions focus on us and our role in a situation. Until we are ready to take responsibility and understand our accountability for our results, we can’t become as emotionally intelligent as we might wish to be.
- Manage your stress level. Few would argue that there is a level of stress above which their ability to effectively interact with others is diminished. That should be reason enough to monitor our stress level. Once we are aware enough to monitor it, we can then take steps to reduce it if necessary. At the very least, we can reduce our personal interaction until our stress level is reduced. What you say or do in a moment of high stress will be later regretted. At least recognize you could have done better. When you adjust your behavior because you are aware of your stress level, you will become more emotionally intelligent.
- Change your focus. The most emotionally intelligent people are other focused. They have better social skills because they want others to be successful. For example, it is hard enough to be a good listener, but to do it when your focus is completely on yourself is nearly impossible. Interpersonal skills are nurtured by a focus on helping, understanding, and valuing others, and wanting the best for them. As you switch your focus to the needs of others, you begin your path towards greater emotional intelligence.
Although these five actions are simple to state and easy to understand, getting good at them is a lifelong task. That journey will help you become a more emotionally intelligent person.