Know someone who just can’t seem to understand anyone else’s point of view? Maybe they struggle to realize why people feel a certain way, or just can never read a room — well, they might have low emotional intelligence.
Attempting to understand why you feel a certain way can be challenging when the answer isn’t immediately apparent. While the skill comes more naturally to some than others, the ability to know and understand yourself on a deeper level is referred to as emotional intelligence (EI).
Emotional intelligence goes beyond just knowing your own emotions, but also involves having a higher awareness of the emotions of those around you and your ability to empathize with someone else’s situation.
What is Emotional Intelligence?
Emotional intelligence, also known as emotional quotient, is the ability to recognize, understand, and manage your own emotions. Emotional intelligence also includes the ability to be empathetic and properly communicate with those around you.
There are four recognized elements of emotional intelligence, including:
- Self-management – taking of responsibility for one’s own behavior and well-being
- Self-awareness – conscious knowledge of one’s own character, feelings, motives, and desires
- Social awareness – the ability to take the perspective of and empathize with others from diverse backgrounds and cultures, to understand the social and ethical norms for behavior, and to recognize family, school, and community resources and supports
- Relationship management – supervision and maintenance of relationships
These elements often overlap and emotional intelligence can be a determinant to all types of relationships, whether they be friendships, romantic partners, or co-workers. Not everyone has the same capacity to handle and manage emotions, but becoming more aware of your own emotional intelligence and how to increase it is important.
Emotional Intelligence and Your Relationships
Emotional intelligence can play a role in any relationship, whether it be friends, partners, or co-workers. How you navigate these relationships in your personal or professional life can impact the ways in which emotional intelligence affects your relationships.
Have you ever had someone in your life who just knows when something is wrong? Someone who can tell right away what might be bothering you? Sometimes you need that friend who can help you unpack your emotions and knows you better than you know yourself.
Rachel O’Neill, Ph.D., a Talkspace therapist based out of Ohio, explains that, “Those who are highly emotionally intelligent are likely to have more of an ability to pick up on emotions, they can be more empathetic, and better able to discuss feelings. Conversely, if someone has a friend who doesn’t have the same level of emotional intelligence,” she said, “it can certainly contribute to feelings of the relationship being superficial or one-sided.” , It can be harmful and draining to have one-sided friendships when you’re constantly giving to another person — emotionally, financially, or maybe with your time — and getting little to none of those same benefits of friendship in return.
So, do these friendships actually work? Can they be successful?
According to O’Neill, “They can, and I think it depends on negotiating that give and take. I think all good friendships seem to involve meeting in the middle and emotional IQ is no different.” It can be hard for selfless people to make sure they’re getting their needs met, it’s important to keep in mind that friendships worth keeping are positively influencing the lives of both parties.
“Finding a way to get both friends’ emotional needs met can be the key to navigating a relationship with different levels of emotional IQ,” O’Neill said.
Although emotional intelligence functions foundationally the same as friendships, romantic relationships are slightly different because you likely have one partner (though not always), whereas you probably have multiple friends.
And, for the most part, there’s probably a lot more riding on your relationship with your partner (though not always). A Yale Report reveals that “Couples with two high-EI partners reported higher satisfaction than couples with one high-EI partner, who in turn reported higher satisfaction than couples with two low-EI partners.” Thus, emotional intelligence seems to become more valued and more related to satisfaction in longer-term relationships.”
This doesn’t mean your relationship is doomed. Scientific studies can’t always predict humans, their emotions, or their love. Talkspace therapist, Cynthia Catchings, LCSW-S, explains that, “The relationship can be successful with drastically different levels of emotional intelligence, if one of the individuals involved is mature and resilient enough to understand the needs of the person who might not be as vested as him/her/them.”
Emotional intelligence can definitely play into a relationship and its success, but it doesn’t mean everything. It can be beneficial for you and your partner to understand emotional intelligence, and that you might have differing levels. This deeper understanding can also help you strengthen your relationship and grow together.
From the Yale study discussed above, it’s important to note that: “More research is needed to examine the link between EI and relationship quality using additional performance measures of EI and couples from more than diverse populations. The EI of older couples, non-Caucasian couples, and homosexual couples, for examples, has been examined less than that of young, white, heterosexual couples.”
In the workplace
O’Neill provides context for ways emotional intelligence can be helpful in the workplace.
“There are many ways that emotional intelligence can be helpful at work,” she elaborates. As with friendships and romantic relationships, emotional intelligence isn’t essential in the workplace, but can be extremely beneficial.
“First, having high emotional intelligence can help you connect with your co-workers. Those with high emotional intelligence tend to be able to read the room, so to speak — in other words, they are able to pick up on what others are feeling and adjust to sort of meet the team where they are,” O’Neill said.
If you’re often working on team projects or working with clients, improving your emotional intelligence might greatly impact your ability to thrive in your career too!
Ways to Increase Emotional Intelligence
Increasing your emotional intelligence could look different for everyone. Through research and the help of Talkspace therapists, there are a few different tactics you might want to try.
One of the best definitions of empathy comes from researcher, author, and professor Brené Brown. Empathy is about feeling WITH people. Before becoming frustrated, upset, or angry with someone, take a step back to acknowledge that that person is going through something different than you — and make a mental note to place yourself in their shoes.
Brown explains four qualities of empathy:
- Perspective taking, recognizing that someone’s perspective is their truth
- Staying out of judgement, steering clear of judging a situation you might not fully understand
- Recognizing emotions in other people
- Communicating that emotion
This short video by Brown explains the huge difference between sympathy and empathy.
A deep understanding of yourself and who you are as a person, can help you better understand others. Understanding others and being able to place yourself in their shoes is a huge part of emotional intelligence.
If you’re wondering what you should know about yourself first, Catchings explains that you should, “Know yourself, know your triggers, learn to establish boundaries, understand where others might come from, emotionally; treat others like you would like to be treated.” It’s also important to know what helps you manage stress and how to best handle it. You can try healthy stress relieving practices and determine what works for you!
Make an effort to begin to notice what upsets you, what stresses you out, and explore why. What is the root of your stress or anxiety and what can you do to manage or alleviate it? On the flip side, ask yourself what makes you happy, what helps you thrive, and how can you communicate that to your friends or partner?
Practice effective communication
Communication is an essential component to any type of relationship. Learning how to communicate effectively is a great way to work on your emotional intelligence. It’s important to know how to effectively communicate by being both a speaker and a listener — the conversation needs to be a two-way street. It’s important for both people to have time to share their opinions, uninterrupted, and feel safe to do so.
Ask yourself: What do you hope to get out of the conversation and what might the other person? How do you get there?
Lastly, O’Neill recommends a number of books on the topic of emotional intelligence.
“The most logical starting point would be to complete an assessment to determine where you are in terms of your current Emotional Intelligence. Once you have your baseline in emotional intelligence, you can determine what types of situations or activities may help to increase it,” she said.
Activities may vary between person, based on what you’re hoping to work on, specifically. Activities that can help improve emotional intelligence may include talking to a therapist, or maybe reading a self-help book. If you’re looking to maintain your emotional intelligence, self-care activities might be best.
Like most self-improvement journeys, there is not a cookiecutter answer or step-by-step guide to guarantee results. Try some of these approaches and see what works best for you, you might be surprised at the impact it can have on you!