what is emotional intelligence

What is emotional intelligence? Let’s explore this concept and learn about the ways you can become more emotionally intelligent.

A number of years ago, school districts began to give applicants a recorded oral test – it came to be known as the “empathy test.” It presented situations, and teacher candidates described how they would respond to them. They were scored on their ability to control their own emotional responses and to understand the thinking and emotions of other people. This test was an attempt to determine the emotional intelligence (EI) of the applicants because schools believed high EI would make for better classroom environments.

Today, the concept of emotional intelligence is pretty pervasive. Businesses attempt to evaluate their current and potential employees’ EI, in order to improve the whole workplace environment.

Where the Concept Began

In 1995, Harvard professor Daniel Goleman published a book, titled Emotional Intelligence (EI). In it, he defined this term and proposed that those with high EI have mental health, leadership skills, and other personality traits that contribute to their success in life and career. These traits of emotional intelligence, according to Goleman, are not related to traditional IQ, as measured by those tests we were given as kids.

Here is how Goleman defined emotional intelligence: “the ability to understand, manage, and effectively express one’s own feelings, as well as engage and navigate successfully with those of others.” In essence, he said that those with high EI can:

  1. Manage their own emotions and turn them into positive behavior and
  2. Understand the emotions of others and help them manage those too.

Characteristics of People With Emotional Intelligence

That person at work who always seems to remain calm, even in crisis situations; that friend who will listen while you are “losing your mind” and provide support and care; that mom who remains calm during the temper tantrums or the misbehavior of a child; that leader who is able to listen to emotional outbursts of others, validate those emotions, let them vent, and then begin to massage those emotions successfully. These are all examples of emotional intelligence.

If you are thinking that you do not respond to these types of situations like an emotionally intelligent person, if you are the one sometimes doing the yelling and having the meltdown, then take heart. Unlike the traditional IQ, emotional intelligence can be learned and developed. It takes practice, but you can become that calm leader when everyone is falling apart. Here are 7 tips to get you started.

TIP 1: Reduce the Power of Negative Emotions

No one lives in paradise. We get angry, we get sad, and we have fear and guilt. When these emotions well up and take control, we are no longer rational, and our good judgment is gone. Road rage is a prime example; so is being frustrated or upset and yelling at a loved one for no real reason.

You cannot control your emotions unless you think through the situation. If someone has made you really angry, before you call them up and start yelling, just stop. You do not know all of the circumstances; you don’t know what their emotions have been. Their bad behavior that so offended you may have been for reasons far different than just making you mad. It is not always about you, so stop personalizing it so much. Do you really think that the person who cut you off in traffic really has a personal vendetta against you?

So before you make that phone call, try one of these:

  1. Take 12 breaths – deep ones
  2. Get online and watch a funny video that makes you laugh
  3. If you get angry a lot, get a punching bag – really
  4. Do 20 push-ups – it’s hard to be angry when you’re out of breath and pretty exhausted

TIP 2: Don’t Blame Others for Your Stress

This is the first step in getting control of the emotional responses to stress – they are many of the same emotions as previously stated – fear and anger but also anxiety. Everyone has stress in their lives – some more than others. But reacting negatively to that stress is a choice you make. Those who manage it well have developed positive ways to deal with it. Here are a couple of things you can do when stress is in control.

  1. Get a piece of jewelry or other item with a peace sign on it. Look at it, rub your fingers over it. It will remind you to calm down before you act or react.
  2. Find the closest drinking fountain or restroom and splash cold water on your face.
  3. Keep a hilarious picture in your wallet or desk drawer – pull it out and look at it.

The idea here is to do something that dissipates the emotion. Once that happens, you can begin to develop a rational plan to deal with the things that are causing the stress.

TIP 3: Don’t Engage with “Difficult” People

People who make us angry, upset, sad, are not doing so because they hate us. This behavior is learned on their part, and it is not about us. If we let them control our emotions, we have simply become their slave. The antidote is not hard:

  1. Stay away from them as much as possible. Be busy; have another appointment; do not take their calls; ask them to email you.
  2. When they come at you with their emotions, do not engage them by getting defensive. Simply say, “I am sorry you feel that way.” And mean it when you say it. Move on.

TIP 4: Face Adversity with a Laugh and a Bit of ADHD

Fear and panic tend to take over when we face a terrible situation. Norman Cousins, a journalist, contracted a rare disease and was given just a few months to live in 1964. His first response was panic and fear, of course. Gradually, though, he decided he would not die in a hospital bed. He checked into a hotel, got a movie projector and began to watch re-runs of the Marx Brothers and Candid Camera, movies that brought laughter. He did this every day. Ultimately, he died in 1990, of old age.

Getting rid of the emotional flooding of fear and panic can be as simple as your favorite music, your favorite song – sing along; dance. Once you are in a less panicky emotional state, you can begin to develop a rational plan.

TIP 5: Practice Self-Regulation

Babies have no self-regulation of emotions. They show every emotion loudly and physically. As we age, we begin to learn to self-regulate these emotions, so that we do not experience them to extremes and let them “roar” out. When kids go to school, they have a better opportunity to enrich and refine their EI through social interactions with a wider variety of personalities in a wider variety of circumstances. Here is a way to improve your self-regulation, especially for students in high school and college.

Deliberately place yourself in situations with others who are very different from you. You will experience more emotions than you would just hanging out with your close friends, and you can practice keeping them in check.

This is great practice for an intelligence that you will need in your career.

TIP 6: Write it All Down

Whenever you find yourself emotionally flooded, get out pen and paper and write it down. Write down what has made you angry, sad, disappointed, fearful, etc. and spill all of your emotions out onto that paper. Once you do, you will find that you are back to control, and it’s a great feeling.

TIP 7: List Your Blessings

In the midst of inner emotional tirades, before they become external tirades, have a reminder – a physical thing – something you carry on your person. It can be a ring, an icon on your phone, or something on your key ring. This item reminds you to think of all the things that you are grateful for. Start listing them in your mind. If you are alone, say them out loud. You will soon see how they outweigh those situations or events that have you in knots right now. In that act of being grateful, you will return to calm and reason.


Dante Munnis is a blogger and idea maker from Stockholm who is interested in self-development, web related topics and success issues. He shares ideas for students living a better life and building habits that stick. To get strategies for boosting your mental and physical performance. You can find more of Dan’s articles on his expanding educational blog and get in touch via Twitter.

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