Emotional Intelligence: Why It’s Such an Important Concept for Individuals and Teams

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In a recent blog post we discussed anger management, which is a program aimed at making individuals and teams more aware of their anger–its origins, its limitations, and the situations in which it can be useful. Continuing with this theme of recognizing and handling emotions, in this blog post we’ll be focusing on the related topic of emotional intelligence.

What is emotional intelligence?

Emotional intelligence (EI) is often called “emotional quotient” or “EQ”. In the same way that we have an intelligence quotient that supposedly measures our ability to think logically, we also have an emotional quotient that relates to our ability to understand emotions, both our own as well as others.

While there may in fact be some scientific evidence for emotional intelligence as it relates to things like personality type and success, that’s not really what we’re focused on here. Emotional intelligence, and the attention it has received in recent years, attests to the growing acknowledgement of understanding emotions as one of the keys to personal growth, teamwork, leadership, and productivity.

So the way that we’ll be looking at emotional intelligence is as a method for understanding and using emotions productively and healthily. We obviously all have emotions, but we’re not always so good at reading them correctly, or understanding the messages that they’re sending to us. This goes double for other people’s emotions, which can lead to unresolved or unmanaged conflict.

As a result, the concept of emotional intelligence and what it teaches have a lot of benefits for individuals and groups, especially teams. There’s a lot of information about emotional intelligence, as well as a lot of applications. So consider this as the introduction to the theme of emotional intelligence, which we’ll be exploring over the next few weeks. Here we’ll provide an overview of what emotional intelligence means and some of its basic principles.

Why is emotional intelligence important? 

First, let’s answer an important question, which is why any of this is important. For a long time, many people ignored emotions as they relate to success and productivity. Being successful meant, in many ways, suppressing emotions or shoving them off into the corner. This method of compartmentalization has been shown to be not completely healthy.

Sure, there are times when we need to regulate, control, or manage our emotions. But the idea that we can simply shrug off our emotional selves when we don our work clothes is a lie. Emotions are a natural part of ourselves, and we always bring our emotions with us wherever we go. 

Plus, there has been growing recognition that our emotions actually help us to succeed (when used the right way). Emotions help warn us of danger, they help point us to what is truly important, and help alert us to potential problems. And perhaps most importantly when it comes to teams, emotions help connect us to other people. 

Understanding our emotions and the impact they have, rather than hindering us, actually can help make us become better workers, team mates, leaders and people. Therefore, learning more about emotional intelligence and how to tap into our emotions effectively has huge potential gains.   

One final benefit of learning about emotional intelligence has become more clear in the past two years. With all the stress and anxiety resulting from the Coronavirus pandemic, we’ve all been made more aware of emotions and how they can affect our work and our lives. Being able to control and harness these emotions better can therefore make us all more resilient and more prepared for future challenges.

What makes a person emotionally intelligent

Emotional intelligence is generally defined as the “ability to understand, use and manage your emotions in positive ways to relieve stress, communicate effectively, empathize with others, overcome challenges, and defuse conflict.”

Behavior of emotionally intelligent individuals 

Because the way emotions affect us is different for everyone, learning to become emotionally intelligent will be slightly different for everyone as well. However, there are some general behaviors of emotionally intelligent individuals that we can use to guide is in our own lives and relationships

Emotionally intelligent people are those who:

  • Pay attention to what they’re feeling
  • Understand how other people feel
  • Regulate their emotions
  • Have good social skills
  • Are willing and able to discuss feelings with others
  • Are able to correctly identify the underlying causes of  their emotions
  • Are motivated

Most of these points may be self-explanatory, except perhaps the last one. The reason why emotionally intelligent individuals are more motivated (and we will go further into this later as well) is that they understand their desires and their limitations better. They know what their emotions are guiding them towards, but they also are self-aware enough to know when they need to take an emotional break to recoup. Both of these combined lead to higher motivation and the ability to see goals through.

Components of emotional intelligence

This brings us to the components of emotional intelligence. The behaviors above can help show you how emotionally intelligent people tend to act. But what underlies those behaviors and guides them? That is where the four components of emotional intelligence come in, and they can be useful in understanding exactly what kind of “intelligence” emotional intelligence really is and how it operates.

1. Self Management

Self management at its most fundamental level means the ability to control impulsive feelings and behaviors and emotions. But self-management also leads to being able to follow through on commitments and adapt to changing circumstances, which can only happen when you have a relatively managed and stable center.

The self management attribute is related to practices like stress or anger management. Another related concept is “emotional presence”, which is about staying in the present moment and dealing with how you are reacting to the person or situation in front of you rather than targeting your emotional energy towards the past, future, or things beyond your control. 

2. Self Awareness

Self awareness means recognizing your own emotions and how they affect your thoughts and behavior. With self awareness comes knowledge of one’s strengths, weaknesses, limitations, and potential. Which in turn creates a true sense of self-confidence, of knowledge in yourself and what you can achieve. 

To become more self-aware, you need to become more observant about your emotional states and your reactions to particular events. Self-awareness is all about learning yourself down to your core, so it’s important to learn every last detail, even the ones that might be hard to admit. 

The practice of mindfulness can help you increase self-awareness. Mindfulness simply means any sort of meditation where you are essentially “noticing how you think” or feel in a sort of neutral-observational way. This can be long or short, but as you get better at mindfulness, you can begin to notice how you are thinking, feeling, and reacting while fully engaged in other activities or spending time with other people. 

3. Social Awareness

Social awareness is self-awareness turned towards others. It means having empathy, understanding others’ emotions, needs and concerns, picking up on emotional cues, and  recognizing the power dynamics in groups or organizations. When you are socially aware, you can sense the underlying emotions going on when you are in a group setting, or at least have the capacity of figuring them out.  

Just like mindfulness about yourself and your emotions can help you become more self-aware, being mindful while in social settings can help you become socially aware. This involves focusing on the people that you are with instead of yourself (which is not always so easy). Try to listen more than you speak, and to observe how people are reacting to you or to other people. 

Also, and this is a much larger point–spend more quality time with people. Put away your phone and your outside thoughts and just share the moment with your friends, families, or loved ones. Remain focused on them and not anything else that is going on in your life or with the world. Doing this regularly will automatically make you more tuned in to others socially. 

4. Relationship management

When you are socially aware, you can learn how to actively manage your relationships and influence social settings. That sounds very cold and somewhat sinister, but it basically means that you know how to develop and maintain good relationships. It might also mean that you can communicate clearly, inspire and influence others, work well in a team, and manage conflict.

Of course, relationship management involves lots of give and take and complicated adjustments, and it is difficult to prescribe specific measures for such a broad aspect of human life. However, changing our views about conflict might be one way to improve relationship management.

Instead of viewing conflict as a zero-sum, win-or-lose proposition, try viewing conflict (with your partner, friend, co worker, boss) as an opportunity to grow and learn together. Looking at conflict as a process of coming together rather than a battle might help you to change the way you see relationship and team dynamics, and might get you to act more supportive during a conflict.     

That’s only one suggestion, but others might include working on nonverbal cues, and adding more humor to interactions. 

Leveling up your emotional intelligence

It’s interesting to observe how the components above interact with each other. You can view them as different levels, so that you start by learning to control yourself; then you become aware of yourself; then become aware of your relationships; and then finally you become able to manage those relationships. This forms a neat symmetry between yourself and your relationships, and awareness and control.

It’s also important to understand that learning about yourself is at the core of emotional intelligence and unlocking the ability to manage your relationships. Without becoming aware of yourself and your emotions, there’s no way that you can sustain productive and healthy relationships on your team or in your own life. 

Conclusion

By now it should be clear that emotional intelligence is just as important as other forms of intelligence when it comes to high-functioning individuals and teams because it can lead to stronger relationships. Without emotional intelligence, you’re left in a position where you can’t get support from others and you can’t support them as well, which hinders team activity and performance. But more importantly perhaps, social interactions make us happier and healthier, so we need to be better at maintaining and strengthening them in order to have purpose and meaning, and to gain motivation.   

Photo by Celpax on Unsplash

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