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What is Emotional Intelligence?

What is Emotional Intelligence?

By Kelly Walter, Fraser clinical quality and compliance senior specialist and Pam Dewey • Mental Health, emotions, emotional intelligence • February 25, 2021

While you’re likely aware of your emotions, managing those feelings, as well as those of other people, can be trickier. Emotional intelligence is the quality that allows you to interpret and understand feelings and manage your reactions to those feelings.

“We’re social beings who rely on each other for survival, and I mean physical, social and emotional survival,” says Kelly Walter, Fraser clinical quality and compliance senior specialist. “Emotional intelligence helps you seek greater levels of connection and intimacy, and we all need that interconnectedness.”

Levels of emotional intelligence

Not everyone has developed emotional intelligence, and even those who have it might not have mastered it. Experts agree there are four levels of emotional intelligence, and the difficulty of the emotional work goes up with each level.

Here are the four levels of emotional intelligence.

1. Identifying emotions

The first level of emotional intelligence is the ability to intuit what you or another person is feeling. You may observe nonverbal cues like body language or facial expressions to help you perceive another’s feelings.

2. Reacting to emotions

The second level involves our ability to use our emotions to know how to react or decide what to pay attention to. This is about using your feelings to guide your thinking and your actions.

3. Interpreting emotions

A coworker might appear angry, but the reasoning behind the anger may not be immediately apparent. Emotional intelligence helps you understand that your coworker may be upset because they got in a fight with their spouse, rather than something you did. Your ability to interrogate the emotions someone else is expressing and realize the source may be unrelated to you shows a deeper emotional intelligence. 

4. Regulating emotions

The ability to regulate your emotions is the hardest part of emotional intelligence. If someone says something that makes you angry or hurts your feelings, your first reaction might be to lash out. But someone who has learned to regulate their emotions won’t respond immediately with anger. They understand emotions can be strong, but might not be long-lasting. They can manage these feelings of hurt or anger and take a moment to respond maturely and thoughtfully. 

Helps you understand your feelings better

Most people know when they’re feeling sad, but they might not understand all the factors contributing to that sadness. A person with emotional intelligence is self-aware enough to try to understand what is contributing to this feeling. For example, you might discover you’re feeling sad because you miss your friends, or because you’re feeling exhausted and overwhelmed.

“Feelings are universal human experiences. If you can understand the nuances and complexities of your feelings, like say sadness, then you can better understand someone else’s sadness,” Walter says.

Being able to understand the complexity helps you respond appropriately.

Empathy gives you perspective

Emotional intelligence helps you empathize with other people. Being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes is an incredibly powerful, emotional tool. It helps you better understand other people’s behaviors and their motivation for acting in a certain way. It lends some perspective in difficult situations.

You’ll make better decisions

Walter says understanding other people’s feelings, like those of coworkers or clients, also helps you make better choices. If you’re facing an important decision at work, being attuned to your coworkers’ or employees’ feelings helps you better interpret what they want and need. Your decision is then much more likely to benefit the most people. If you’re disconnected from those around you, you might make a decision that is unintentionally harmful to others.

You can improve your emotional intelligence

According to Walter, you can improve your emotional intelligence in the following ways:

  • Engage in relationships in an open and vulnerable way, and ask for feedback from others.
  • Ask people to explain how they’re feeling, if you’re uncertain.
  • Engage in vulnerable, inner reflection.

Emotionally intelligent people are attuned to their feelings, can put themselves into someone else’s shoes and make better decisions because they understand how others feel.