First things first: let’s talk about what emotional intelligence actually is. Because we’re all kind of wondering.
On the simplest level, “emotional intelligence” starts with the ability to read the room. It’s a person’s innate sense of what’s going on beneath surface-level dialogues, and how the people around them actually feel about the situation at hand.
You wouldn’t be wrong if you’re wondering whether emotional intelligence is just a buzzword synonym for empathy, but you wouldn’t be right either. “Empathy” puts you on the right track — people often cite it as one part of emotional intelligence — ensuring that you can read the signs of stressed coworkers in your weekly meeting or let go when your boss’s bad day comes raining down on you (because we all have them, right?).
But emotional intelligence means you have the ability to take it one step further, steering your emotions and those of others in positive, productive directions. Psychology Today breaks emotional intelligence down into three skills:
- Emotional awareness, including the ability to identify your own emotions and those of others;
- The ability to harness emotions and apply them to tasks like thinking and problem solving;
- 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 major difference between a person with high emotional intelligence and someone without it is that they can often see things coming and recognize how to make the most out of whatever’s looming.
Why it matters.
We tend to assume that success stories stem from the smartest guys (or ladies) in the room. But increasingly, studies find that a Harvard business degree matters less than your ability to adapt to your environment, including the people around you, and to the unexpected. Instead of focusing on IQ, according to various studies, “EQ” might actually provide us with more insight into who will succeed and who won’t. Why?
Because it shows how well you relate to the world around you, and ultimately, that’s the difference between success and failure. According to Forbes, “Your IQ will help you personally, but EQ… will benefit everyone around you as well. If you can master the complexities of [this] unique and often under-rated form of intelligence, research tells us you will achieve greater success and be regarded as more professionally competent and capable.”
We often think of emotions getting in our way when we’re trying to think or work through problems. People with emotional intelligence know better. They harness emotions to make them an integral part of their productivity. In a world where everyone’s worried about how to make their days more productive, that’s a major strength to have.
3 Ways to Increase Your Emotional Intelligence
According to Inc, there are 10 clear signs of emotional intelligence, but I’d recommend focusing today on improving just three:
- Let go of perfection: People with high emotional intelligence understand that there’s no right answer or precise process for getting things done. Mistakes happen. So does failure. If you err on the side of OCD when working on projects, remind yourself to take a step back as often as possible. And if you do happen to blow it, ask yourself why you made that misstep rather than obsessing over the fact that it happened. Really though, write down the reasons why if you have to, but then throw your notes out and move on. The key here is letting go.
- Keep a work journal: Understanding your own feelings is an essential part of your emotional intelligence. Take time every day to keep a work journal and make note of your experiences and how you reacted to them. Look for patterns. What are some of your sore spots and triggers? If presenting in meetings makes you antsy or defensive, consider some ways to calm your nerves beforehand or re-channel that energy into more positive directions.
- Turn off your phone: Really though. In order to focus on work and your relationships with colleagues, you need to minimize distraction. If iPhone pings and alerts cause you to disconnect emotionally from the work or conversation at hand, you’re losing valuable opportunities to connect with the people around you and accurately calculate your next steps. Dividing your attention will inevitably keep you from making observations of the emotional currents around you and make use of them to solve problems. So put your phone away until lunch and stop yourself before you drop what you’re doing to answer an email. Focus.