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What is emotional intelligence? Why is it important?

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It seems we’re hearing a lot more these days about Emotional Intelligence and that it can be as important as IQ. But what is it and what does it mean?

The term came to popularity in 1995 when New York Times columnist Daniel Goleman published his book titled Emotional Intelligence. It became a best seller and now, 25 years later it’s become part of management theory and you can take online quizzes and courses. Some companies even incorporate it into their training and management programs.

So what is Emotional Intelligence (EI) anyway? According to the Institute for Human Health and Potential;

  • Recognize, understand and manage our own emotions and;
  • Recognize, understand and influence the emotions of others.

In practical terms, this means being aware that emotions can drive our behavior and impact people (positively and negatively), and learning how to manage those emotions – both our own and others.

Managing emotions is especially important in situations when we are under pressure. For example, when we are…

  • Giving and receiving feedback
  • Meeting tight deadlines
  • Dealing with challenging relationships
  • Not having enough resources
  • Navigating change
  • Working through setbacks and failure

Emotional intelligence is commonly defined by four attributes:

  1. Self-management – You’re able to control impulsive feelings and behaviors, manage your emotions in healthy ways, take initiative, follow through on commitments, and adapt to changing circumstances.
  2. Self-awareness – You recognize your own emotions and how they affect your thoughts and behavior. You know your strengths and weaknesses, and have self-confidence.
  3. Social awareness – You have empathy. You can understand the emotions, needs, and concerns of other people, pick up on emotional cues, feel comfortable socially, and recognize the power dynamics in a group or organization.
  4. Relationship management – You know how to develop and maintain good relationships, communicate clearly, inspire and influence others, work well in a team, and manage conflict.

Emotional Intelligence is important because it helps with your work life, friendships and family relationships. Having good EI skills and understanding can have an impact on one’s mental and physical health as well.

Five Things to do to Build your Emotional Intelligence

  1. Stop the Negative Self-Talk: It can happen to all of us. That voice in our head going down a negative spiral. It’s not good. Stop it. When you get those negative thoughts, try writing them down and then writing the positive alternatives. It can help reset your brain.
  2. Be a little less judgemental: It’s not fair to you or others. Remember, we don’t always know what people think or are going through in their lives. Being judgemental can lead to negative thoughts as well. You can alienate work colleagues and friends as well. No one wins.
  3. Stand by your values: Have you written down your values lately? It’s a good exercise. Know where you stand and what you won’t compromise on. This can help set boundaries with work and personal relationships.
  4. Grow from your failures: We don’t always win, sometimes things just don’t work out and that’s okay. If you have a failure, bit or small, write it down. Think about what you could have done differently and that can help in your future decision making. It can also help avoid constant negative discussions with coworkers, friends and family.
  5. Drop the baggage of the past: Carrying around big bags of regret, failures and embarrassing moments can weigh you down. Drop them, let them go. Maybe write them down on little cards, then burn them. They are gone. Move on.

Building good EI skills can also help with resilience in tough times and build our personal sense of wellbeing. It takes time, so be patient, but be consistent. Spend time working on your EI and you’ll eventually see results. Remember though, there’s no quick fix solutions.

You might also enjoy this article on why women need to learn to say “no” more often.

Author: Alexa Hurst is a staff writer for HUM@Nmedia, the parent brand for Optimyz and Silver Magazines based in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.


  • Alex Hurst is a writer for HUM@Nmedia covering Optimyz and Silver magazines in print and digital editions and is based in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

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