Often cited in lists of key traits of leaders, emotional intelligence is a soft skill, commonly understood as the ability to recognize and manage one’s emotions and those of others. It may sound overly simple, but emotional intelligence is complex and subtle, with three important competencies inherent in the definition. First, is emotional awareness which is defined as knowledge and understanding of our feelings and the feelings of others. In other words, the ability to recognize and identify one’s feelings and similarly discern what another person is feeling. The next component is the ability to effectively govern one’s emotions and manage those of others. This means the ability to recognize feeling overwhelmed or blue and knowing how to manage those feelings. It also means seeing the same in others and helping them to take the care they need to get on track. Finally, perhaps the most important aspect of emotional intelligence is the ability to take the information one has gained and use it to direct emotions toward specific tasks such as creative brainstorming, problem-solving, or generating motivation. There is this common belief in our culture that the best art, music, and poetry come from the deepest sorrow and loss. This phenomenon is an example of focusing emotional energy toward a productive task. High and joyous emotional energy can also be used in this manner. Any passion can be harnessed to achieve goals and folks with emotional intelligence know this.
Do you have it?
Some of the key indicators of emotional intelligence might surprise you; others may not. Those with high emotional intelligence understand and practice gratitude. They make choices that enable their well-being, such as disconnecting from stress, choosing not to ruminate, and getting plenty of rest. By managing their health and wellness, they can show up completely for whatever tasks are put before them. They perform to the best of their ability but don’t let past mistakes or perfectionism keep them from putting in the work. Specificity when it comes to pinpointing emotions (and a vocabulary that reflects this) is another indicator. Emotionally intelligent people have the ability to quickly and easily discern the character of others because they are curious about other people, asking many questions and demonstrating genuine interest. They also know themselves, with a clear awareness of their strengths and their weaknesses. Perhaps most importantly, people with high emotional intelligence give people the benefit of the doubt which makes it hard to offend them, eliminating the tension and stress that can accompany grudges. Emotionally intelligent people take responsibility for themselves and their lives and in doing so, make the lives of others a little simpler.
Can you get it?
Since its identification by Jack Mayer and Peter Salovey in the early 1990s, emotional intelligence has been a hot topic, helping us define one mechanism by which leaders and professionals achieve and demonstrate success. Studies have shown that emotional intelligence is one factor that seems to set most successful people apart from counterparts who are otherwise equally intelligent. Indeed recognizing and harnessing the power of emotions can make or break projects, initiatives, and teams. This skill gives people the uncanny ability to navigate social interactions and achieve results from a number of situations where the ability to manage behavior and make confident decisions is key. They can seem like mind readers helping others through challenging situations and improving the overall cohesiveness of any team. So, the question is, can this valuable yet intangible personality trait be learned, or is it something either have or don’t have? Experts can’t seem to find consensus. Even the two psychologists who introduced the term, disagree on whether this skill can be gained or is innate. Mayer believes that it is primarily genetic while Salovey believes that as with artistic or musical talent, emotional intelligence can be improved with practice. For now, research is still being conducted to try to prove definitively whether it is a gift or an ability that can be learned. If you’d like to take a stab at bolstering your skills, there are plenty of quizzes to determine your emotional intelligence, as well as books and tools to guide you on your journey.
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