The other intelligence

Emotional intelligence, not just your IQ, is the key to success in life

As our world becomes more fast-paced, our technology expands and triggers instant gratification-like impulses, and our jobs increasingly become bottom-line oriented, we may find ourselves moving further and further away from who we really are. Such a notion brings up a disturbing thought—who are we operating as on a daily basis while interacting with our colleagues or neighbours? Who are we when we are interacting with our close loved ones, family members, and ourselves?

Ask yourself—have you checked in on your emotional self today? Have you taken a breath and paused to ask yourself how you are feeling, how others around you are feeling, and why you and others are acting the way they are? If any of these thoughts have passed through your head today, they represent snippets of an aptitude that one is never too old to develop and cultivate. This master aptitude is known as emotional intelligence. As our world becomes more complex and demanding, this skill is overlooked or marginalised. The irony is that it is emotional intelligence that we most need to survive our ever-changing world.

Emotional intelligence has to do with how in tune we are to feelings—ours and those of others. Someone high on emotional intelligence will show great strengths in the following five areas: empathy, self-motivation, mood management, interpersonal relationships, and self-awareness. Unlike basic intelligence, or IQ, which many claim we are born with; emotional intelligence is heavily cultivated by culture and can be nurtured through our environment. While emotional learning or training may be a core feature of early childhood education and development, generally these skills fail to be adequately nurtured in adulthood. For instance, when a student acts out during class, a teacher may ask the student what he/she is feeling at that moment, which starts the student’s path towards greater self-awareness. Unfortunately, though, individuals who didn’t have the training earlier in their lives to develop emotional intelligence may feel as if it is “too late” as adults to develop it, or may not understand its necessity.

In fact, emotional intelligence significantly predicts success and overall wellbeing for individuals. Some studies have found emotional intelligence to be more predictive of future success than IQ, the traditional metric for intelligence. Moreover, higher motivation, creativity, and achievement are only possible when individuals have better developed emotional intelligence systems. Think about an artist expressing his or her emotional life through the canvas, and all the creativity that can come from exploring the depth of one’s emotional life. In contrast, neglecting one’s emotional life can lead to a host of problems, namely, turning to escape mechanisms like alcohol or substance use in the face of daily stressors. The individual feels ill-equipped to directly manage or confront their feelings or the feelings of others. A person lacking in empathy, for instance, will be far less likely to help others in times of need and far more likely to be aggressive or act out to get what they want, because they lack the capacity to understand others’ perspectives and cannot properly manage their own emotions.

Thankfully, if we are mindful, our daily life offers many great ways to help develop this skill. For instance, listening to others is a great way to develop empathy. Approaching a given interaction from the perspective of someone else in the room rather than our own perspective is another great empathy-building exercise. In fact, research suggests that avid readers—particularly of fiction—tend to score higher on empathy scales than those who do not read as frequently. Given the immersion into a world of someone else’s perspective that comes with reading, it is no wonder that this simple activity can go a long way in further building empathy. Empathy is a powerful antidote to aggression—how can I harm you if I am able to feel and understand where you are coming from? Empathy negates the compulsion to harm because in harming others, the empathic person ultimately harms themselves.

One way to become more emotionally intelligent is to take pauses throughout our day, to slow down, and to check in with ourselves and others over the course of a day. Mindfulness-based practices such as yoga and meditation are also great ways to help cultivate this aptitude. Creating deliberate space and time to check in our own feelings and those of others helps foster healthy and happy individuals.

So feed your soul at every opportunity—learn to really listen to others, learn to listen to yourself, savour the moment, and before long, your master aptitude will grow in ways that you couldn’t imagine. Above all, don’t run away from experiences that evoke powerful emotions—it is through trial and error that we learn to manage the very depths of our emotional universe, and in doing so, become more fully realised and authentic human beings.

5 ways to boost your Emotional Intelligence

  1. Keep a tab on your reactions to other people’s views and behaviours. Do you jump to conclusions without verifying all the facts? Do you tend to typecast strangers? Try to look at the situation from the other person’s perspective. Be flexible and open to contrasting views.
  2. Notice your interactions at your workplace. Are you an approval seeker? Do you crave attention for your successes? Do you fight for credit? Next time you succeed, try being inconspicuous about it. And shower your colleagues with praise at every opportunity. Appreciate others even when you don’t agree with their style of working.
  3. Reflect on your weaknesses. Can you easily identify and list them? Can you own up to them or do you tend to find an excuse to explain away your limitations? Accepting your weaknesses is the first step to eliminating them.
  4. Do stressful situations immobilise you? Do you demand that things be done your way and get angry when they don’t? Begin to view stress as an opportunity to build your EI muscles. The next time you encounter a difficult situation, take a few deep breaths and resist any spontaneous reactions. Practise this as much as possible.
  5. When things go wrong, do you find fault with others? Catch yourself when you start playing the blame game and stop yourself in the tracks. Instead of finding a scapegoat, focus on finding a way out of the present crisis.

By Manoj Khatri

This was first published in the November 2013 issue of Complete Wellbeing

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Azadeh Aalai
Azadeh Aalai, PhD, is an Associate Professor of psychology at Montgomery College in Maryland. She is also adjunct faculty in the psychology department at The George Washington University. She is the author of Understanding Aggression: Psychological Origins & Approaches to Aggressive Behavior.