What is Emotional Intelligence? +18 Ways To Improve It

Developing Empathy and Self-Awareness for Success
Self-Aware Humans May Find More Success. Image by Malik McCotter-Jordan on Pixaby.

What’s more important: IQ or emotional intelligence?

If you think IQ is more important, you might be surprised at what you’ll learn in this piece. Some argue that it’s more important to our success than cognitive intelligence.

If you’re not sure what emotional intelligence is, then you’ve come to the right place. Read on to learn about what it is and why you should know about it.

Before you read on, we thought you might like to download our 3 Emotional Intelligence Exercises for free. These science-based exercises will not only enhance your ability to understand and work with your emotions but will also give you the tools to foster the emotional intelligence of your clients, students or employees.

You can download the free PDF here.

What is Emotional Intelligence?

Drawing from several different sources, a simple definition of emotional intelligence (also called the Emotional Quotient, or EQ) describes an ability to monitor your own emotions as well as the emotions of others, to distinguish between and label different emotions correctly, and to use emotional information to guide your thinking and behavior and influence that of others (Goleman, 1995; Mayer & Salovey, 1990).

Emotional intelligence is what we use when we empathize with our coworkers, have deep conversations about our relationships with significant others, and attempt to manage an unruly or distraught child. It allows us to connect with others, understand ourselves better, and live a more authentic, healthy, and happy life.

Although there are many kinds of intelligence, and they are often connected to one another, there are some very significant differences between them.


EQ vs. IQ

EQ is emotional intelligence, which, as stated above, is all about identifying emotions in ourselves and others, relating to others, and communicating about our feelings (Cherry, 2018a).

IQ, on the other hand, is cognitive intelligence. This is the intelligence that people are generally most familiar with, as it is the type that is most often referred to when the word “intelligence” is used. It is also the type that is most often measured through testing and estimated through things like grade-point average.


Social Intelligence vs. Emotional Intelligence

Social intelligence is more closely related to emotional intelligence than IQ is, as they both have to do with navigating social or emotional situations. However, these are two distinct types of intelligence even if they somewhat overlap.

Emotional intelligence is more related to the present, in that it is used to identify and manage emotions in the moment.

Social intelligence uses some of the same skills and abilities but is often focused toward the future. It allows you to understand the feelings, personalities, and behaviors of yourself and others in order to seek positive outcomes (Chou, 2016).


Emotional Intelligence in Psychology

Emotional intelligence filled a gap in the mainstream understanding of intelligence, especially for psychologists. The field always seemed to have a general understanding that IQ wasn’t everything, but the theories on what, exactly, the other important components were varied greatly, and psychologists couldn’t agree on a single concept or idea.

When the idea of emotional intelligence was first introduced, psychologists realized it was the aspect of intelligence they’d been missing.


Three Key Researchers of Emotional Intelligence

Daniel Goleman and Research. To get an idea of the timeline for the introduction and embrace of emotional intelligence within psychology, we can start with Peter Salovey’s work.

1. The Work of Peter Salovey

Peter Salovey, along with his colleague John Mayer, put forth one of the first formal theories of emotional intelligence in 1990. They coined the term and described it as “the ability to recognize, understand, utilize, and regulate emotions effectively in everyday life” (Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, 2013).

It is their work that provoked an explosion of interest in emotional intelligence, both within academic fields and in the general public. Judging by the proliferation of books, studies, and research questions centered on the topic, Salovey and Mayer truly struck a chord with their theory.

2. A Look at Daniel Goleman and His Renowned Book

Daniel Goleman. Image Property of Wikimedia Commons.

Not long after Salovey and Mayer introduced emotional intelligence to the world, other researchers and psychologists began to run with it. Daniel Goleman was one such psychologist; he published the bestselling book Emotional Intelligence in 1995, which helped introduce it into the mainstream.

Goleman saw emotional intelligence as a vital factor in success, especially for children. He proposed that promoting social and emotional learning in children to boost their EI would not only improve their learning abilities, it would also help them succeed in school by reducing or eliminating some of the most distracting and harmful behavioral problems (Goleman, n.d.).

His proposal has been welcomed by both the research community and the general public, and it is now almost taken for granted that emotional intelligence might be just as important—if not more important—to individual success as IQ.

Schools, educators, and education researchers have also heartily welcomed the idea that emotional intelligence is not simply a genetic, “you have it or you don’t” sort of trait, but a set of skills that can be learned and improved upon.

3. Travis Bradberry and Emotional Intelligence 2.0

Following the groundbreaking book by Goleman, author Travis Bradberry and his colleague Jean Greaves capitalized on the growing interest and published their own book, Emotional Intelligence 2.0, which outlines a step-by-step program for enhancing it.

Bradberry and Greaves propose 66 evidence-backed strategies to build emotional intelligence by teaching self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management.

The authors claim that the book, praised by the Dalai Lama himself, can help you better understand the emotions of yourself and others, and offers a pre- and post-test to prove it.


Research and Studies into the Theory of EQ

There is a lot of research on emotional intelligence and its causes, associations, and consequences, but there are three relatively recent studies that have received a lot of attention (Sarkis, 2011):

  1. Researcher Lynda Jiwen Song and colleagues (2010) explored how emotional intelligence and cognitive intelligence positively affect college students’ academic performance and social interactions. They found that, while IQ is a strong predictor of academic success, EQ is also a contributor. Further, EQ is a significant factor in the quality of social interactions with peers, while IQ does not seem to have much of a role in a college student’s social life.

  2. Kimmy S. Kee, Peter Salovey, and colleagues (2009) asked a fascinating question about EQ and mental illness: Do people with schizophrenia have significantly lower EQs than those without mental illness? They found that those with schizophrenia indeed had significantly lower EQ and performed significantly worse on three out of four EQ tests involving identifying, understanding, and managing emotions. Further, poor performance on the EQ tests was associated with more pronounced schizophrenia symptoms and lower overall functioning.

  3. Finally, researcher Delphine Nelis and colleagues (2009) posed one of the most important questions of all related to emotional intelligence in their paper titled: “Increasing emotional intelligence: (How) is it possible?” They designed an experiment in which two groups were tested on EQ, once at the beginning of the study and once at the end. The treatment group received a “brief empirically-derived EI training (four group training sessions of two hours and a half)” while the control group received no such training. At the end of the experiment, the treatment group showed significant gains in EQ, while the control group showed no change.

These three studies answered some important questions and opened the door for much of the innovative and important work done since. The results showed us that emotional intelligence is, indeed, a vital factor in our success, our relationships, the quality of our mental health, and—best of all—we can actually improve our emotional intelligence.

It’s not necessarily a fixed trait handed down through one’s genes (although that could be the source of a baseline level of EQ), but something that we can build and boost with practice.


The Framework

There are two numbers to remember to help you understand what emotional intelligence is all about: five and four. There are five components of the emotional intelligence model and four dimensions to EQ.


The 5 Components/Elements/Domains of the EQ Model

According to Daniel Goleman, there are five components or elements of emotional intelligence:

  1. Self-Awareness;
  2. Self-Regulation;
  3. Motivation;
  4. Empathy;
  5. Social Skills.

Self-awareness can be defined as “the ability to recognize and understand your own emotions” (Cherry, 2018b). It is the foundational building block of emotional intelligence, since regulating ourselves, having empathy for others, and so on all rely on identifying and understanding emotion in ourselves.

Self-regulation is one step further—to have high EQ, we must not only be able to recognize our own emotions, but we must also be able to appropriately express, regulate, and manage them.

People who have high EQs also generally possess more intrinsic motivation. In other words, people high in EQ are motivated for internal reasons rather than external rewards like gaining wealth, respect, or fame. Those with high EQs are motivated for their own personal reasons and work toward their own goals.

Empathy can be defined as the ability to understand how other people are feeling and recognize, on an intimate level, how you would feel if you were in their position. It does not mean you sympathize with, validate, or accept their behavior, just that you can see things from their perspective and feel what they feel.

If you need a break before learning about the last part of the EQ measurement, watch this animation on empathy.It is—arguably—the most important skill to practice. Do you agree that empathy is a kind of sacred space?

Finally, social skills are the last piece of the EQ puzzle; these skills are what allow people to interact socially with one another and to successfully navigate social situations. Those with high EQs generally have higher-than-average social skills and are able to effectively pursue their goals and get the outcomes they want when interacting with others (Cherry, 2018b).


5 Key Skills in the Emotional Intelligence Framework

This emotional intelligence framework has been adapted to fit business and organizational contexts. In this organizational context, there are a few sub-skills and abilities under each component that contribute to higher emotional intelligence and greater success as an employee, group member, and organization member:

  • Self-Awareness:
    • Emotional awareness: recognizing one’s emotions and their effects;
    • Accurate self-assessment: knowing one’s strengths and limits;
    • Self-confidence: sureness about one’s self-worth and capabilities.
  • Self-Regulation:
    • Self-control: managing disruptive emotions and impulses;
    • Trustworthiness: maintaining standards of honesty and integrity;
    • Conscientiousness: taking responsibility for personal performance;
    • Adaptability: flexibility in handling change;
    • Innovativeness: being comfortable with and open to novel ideas and new information.
  • Self-Motivation:
    • Achievement drive: striving to improve or meet a standard of excellence;
    • Commitment: aligning with the goals of the group or organization;
    • Initiative: readiness to act on opportunities;
    • Optimism: persistence in pursuing goals despite obstacles and setbacks.
  • Empathy/Social Awareness:
    • Empathy: sensing others’ feelings and perspective, and taking an active interest in their concerns;
    • Service orientation: anticipating, recognizing, and meeting customers’ needs;
    • Developing others: sensing what others need in order to develop, and bolstering their abilities;
    • Leveraging diversity: cultivating opportunities through diverse people;
    • Political awareness: reading a group’s emotional currents and power relationships.
  • Social Skills:
    • Influence: wielding effective tactics for persuasion.
    • Communication: sending clear and convincing messages.
    • Leadership: inspiring and guiding groups and people.
    • Change catalyst: initiating or managing change.
    • Conflict management: negotiating and resolving disagreements.
    • Building bonds: nurturing instrumental relationships.
    • Collaboration and cooperation: working with others toward shared goals (see emotional intelligence in the workplace).
    • Team capabilities: creating group synergy in pursuing collective goals (Goleman, 1998).


The 4 Dimensions of Emotional Intelligence (and a Chart)

According to EQ “founding fathers” Salovey and Mayer, there are four distinct dimensions or branches of emotional intelligence that form a hierarchy of emotional skills and abilities:

  1. Perceiving emotion;
  2. Using emotions to facilitate thought;
  3. Understanding emotions;
  4. Managing emotions.

The first dimension, perceiving emotion, relates to being aware of and recognizing other people’s states (both physical and psychological states, like being in physical pain or feeling frazzled), identifying emotions in other people, expressing one’s own emotions and needs accurately and appropriately, and distinguishing between accurate, honest feelings and inaccurate, dishonest feelings.

Using emotions to facilitate thought involves redirecting and prioritizing your thinking based on the feelings associated with those thoughts, generating emotions that will facilitate better judgment and memory, capitalizing on mood changes so you can appreciate multiple points of view, and using emotional states to improve your problem-solving skills and creativity.

The dimension of understanding emotions includes understanding the relationships between various emotions, perceiving the causes and consequences of emotions, understanding complex feelings and contradictory states, and understanding the transitions among emotions.

The final dimension, managing emotions, refers to being open to both pleasant and unpleasant feelings; monitoring and reflecting on your emotions; engaging, prolonging, or detaching from an emotional state; and managing the emotions both within yourself and in others (Emmerling, Shanwal, & Mandal, 2008; Mayer & Salovey, 1997).

See the chart below to get a better idea of this hierarchy.


Emotional Intelligence Chart


Trait Emotional Intelligence Explained

For a quick refresher on traits vs. states, see the descriptions below.

A state is a temporary thought pattern/feeling/behavior that is circumstantial and highly dependent on the environment as well as the individual’s personality.

A trait is a permanent or semi-permanent thought pattern/feeling/behavior that is consistent, long-lasting, and relatively stable with characteristics that are much more dependent on personality than environment.

Based on these descriptions, we can see that emotional intelligence generally falls on the trait side of the state-trait continuum, although our emotional intelligence and our EQ-related skills and abilities can certainly vary based on our circumstances. For example, one could be more emotionally intelligent in personal relationships than in work situations, or vice versa.

However, emotional intelligence is most commonly considered a trait. Sticking with the trait conceptualization, let’s dive a little deeper into what makes someone high in EQ.


Characteristics of Emotional Intelligence: 29 Examples and of High and Low Emotional Intelligence

There are many characteristics that can be used to describe people high and low in emotional intelligence.

According to Success.com’s Rhett Power (2017), these are the seven qualities that best describe employees and leaders with a high EQ:

  1. They aren’t afraid of change. They understand it’s a fact of life, and they’re quick to adapt;
  2. They’re self-aware. They know what they’re good at, what they can work on, and what kinds of environments suit them best;
  3. They’re empathetic. They can easily relate to others and understand what they are going through;
  4. They’re committed to quality but understand that perfection is an impossible standard;
  5. They’re balanced and able to have a healthy professional and personal life;
  6. They’re curious and open-minded, and they love to explore the possibilities;
  7. They’re gracious, grateful, and happy.

Further examples from the website Zenful Spirit include:

  • They have a healthy work/life balance because they know when to work and when to play;
  • They have laserlike focus and don’t get distracted easily;
  • They’re easygoing and “go with the flow”;
  • They’re open-minded and amenable to new ideas;
  • They’re a bit guarded because they know when to open up and when to stick to their boundaries;
  • They embrace their strengths and understand their weaknesses, and leverage the former to compensate for the latter;
  • They have a true sense of empathy that allows them to relate to others and show compassion;
  • They’re inquisitive, curious, and interested in people;
  • They’re always looking ahead and focusing on how to move forward;
  • They forgive others easily and don’t dwell or hold onto grudges (Health Personal Growth, 2017).

On the other hand, there are some good signs of low emotional intelligence as well. Qualities that describe people with low emotional intelligence include:

  • They are unable to control their emotions;
  • They are clueless about the feelings of others, even those close to them;
  • They can’t maintain good relationships, whether work or personal;
  • They always have a “poker face,” meaning others have a hard time reading them;
  • They are often emotionally inappropriate for the situation;
  • They have trouble coping with sadness;
  • They are emotionally tone deaf, and have trouble reading emotions from tone of voice;
  • They have trouble being sympathetic with others;
  • They have no “volume control” over their emotions; they especially have trouble with emotional reactions that are too “loud”;
  • They are completely unmoved by emotional scenes in movies, TV, or books—no matter the genre;
  • They trivialize the importance of emotions in general and elevate the importance of “cool, calm logic”;
  • They are not aware of dogs’ emotion states—including their own dogs’ emotional states—even when the signs are clear (Riggio, 2015).


Why is it Important to Develop Emotional Intelligence Skills?

Why should we care about developing our emotional intelligence skills?

Being able to understand your emotions is fundamental to understanding what will lead you to flourish and become more high-functioning. That’s because as humans, we tend to be highly emotional and social creatures.

Being emotionally intelligent will help you connect with others, boost your performance at work, improve your communication skills, become more resilient, and more. It turns out that having a high level of EI can make you successful in just about every aspect of your life.


Emotional Intelligence for the Positive Psychology Practitioner

If you are a practitioner of positive psychology in any way—perhaps as a coach, a therapist or counselor, or an educator—then you probably already know the benefits of high emotional intelligence.

Being able to understand, recognize, and effectively manage both positive and negative emotions will help positive psychology practitioners in their interactions with clients, boosting their own performance and their clients’ success rate.

Professionals who do not use emotional intelligence with their clients may find their interventions ineffective. If your clients have trouble “reading” you and aren’t able to use you as an example of emotional intelligence, they will have a tough time enhancing their own EQ.


Self-Management and Relationship Management

Self-management and relationship management are two vital skills to have in life. Not only do they help us lead happier, healthier lives, but they also help us get through the day—especially a challenging day.

Self-management is the first step, as we must learn to manage ourselves before we can manage healthy, appropriate relationships with others. Learning self-management allows you to control your own emotions (to a certain extent) and motivate yourself in all situations.

Improving your relationship management skills allows you to build healthy relationships and communicate effectively in all situations, including being open with others, getting your point across, persuading others, and being honest without alienating or offending others.

Building your emotional intelligence can help you with both of these important skills, in addition to other skills. For example, emotional intelligence can help you in the workplace—whether you are an employee, a manager, or a business owner.


Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace

Empathy and Productive Workplaces.
Empathy in the Workplace. Image by Malachi Witt on Pixaby.

Only an organization whose members possess emotional intelligence can work to maximum effectiveness.

Emotional intelligence only increases the organization’s success, no matter how that success is measured. The bottom line is that it is essential for excellence in business.

Emotional intelligence can do wonders for your business because using it at work will make you understand how people and relationships function.

Emotionally intelligent colleagues will consistently excel in leadership, teamwork, partnership, and vision because they will have insight on their relationships with the staff, organizations, directors, customers, competitors, networking contacts, and so on.

An organization of emotionally intelligent people employs staff members that are motivated, productive, efficient, effective, rewarded, and likable, and their goals will be more aligned with the organization’s agenda. This is because emotional intelligence is applicable to every human interaction in business; having a staff with a high average EQ will help with customer service, brainstorming ideas, company presentations, and myriad other activities.

Emotional intelligence in the workplace will help you assess people better, understand how relationships develop, understand how our beliefs generate our experiences and learn to prevent power struggles, negative judgment, resistance, and so on in order to increase vision and success.


How Emotional Intelligence Affects Decision-Making

Related to the previous point, high emotional intelligence will also improve decision-making abilities. Those who have a good understanding of themselves and those around them are more likely to weigh all the options, keep an open mind, and remove all irrelevant emotions from the decision-making process (Huffington Post, 2013).

It’s worth noting that people with high EQs don’t remove all emotions from their decision-making, just the ones that can interfere (like anxiety). This helps them stay more objective while also allowing them to rely on their feelings to a healthy extent.


Emotional Intelligence and Communication

To expand a bit on the previous section, emotional intelligence is closely related to communication skills; people with high EQs tend to be proficient in their communication abilities.

Those who are high in emotional intelligence:

  1. Consider other people’s feelings;
  2. Consider their own feelings;
  3. Practice empathy for others and relate to them in conversation;
  4. Operate on trust, meaning they build trust through verbal and nonverbal cues and communicate honestly;
  5. Recognize, identify, and clear up any misunderstandings (Schmitz, 2016).

From this list, it’s clear how EI affects communication: A high EQ leads to competence in conversations, and competence in conversation is a requirement for both a healthy personal life and a healthy professional life.


The Importance of Emotional Intelligence in Relationships

EI and EQ in relationships(For an in-depth exploration of this topic, see: Emotional Intelligence in Relationships.)

Communication leads directly to the next reason why it’s important to develop emotional intelligence: building and maintaining healthy relationships.

It’s easy to see how having a high EQ can lead to better relationships.

People high in EQ can:

  • Read other people’s emotions and appropriately and effectively react to them;
  • Understand and regulate their own emotions so they don’t bottle things up or let negative emotions burst out of them;
  • Understand that their thoughts create their emotions and that regulating our thoughts allows us to indirectly regulate our emotions;
  • Connect their own actions to other peoples’ emotional reactions; they know what kinds of consequences their actions will have on others and how others might feel and behave in response (Hall, 2018).

It’s no wonder highly emotionally intelligent people have more stable, satisfying, and high-quality relationships than those low in emotional intelligence.

Emotionally intelligent people notice how others are feeling, react appropriately to others, regulate their own emotions, and watch their own behavior to ensure they don’t unnecessarily offend or upset others.

These are the ingredients to a healthy, respectful relationship, whether that relationship is between lovers, friends, family members, or coworkers.


Emotional Intelligence in Nursing and Health Care

Emotional intelligence has become a huge topic in the field of nursing, and for good reason. Nurses high in emotional intelligence not only outperform their colleagues, but they are also more likely to stay in their current positions, less likely to experience burnout, and more likely to maintain good physical and mental health.

Nurses and other professional health care workers thrive in their careers when they are able to correctly identify the emotions in themselves, their patients, their patients’ family members, and their coworkers and colleagues.

Emotional intelligence enables health care professionals to reason effectively; those high in EQ are comfortable “trusting their gut” but are also able to effectively marry objective reasoning with their subjective emotions (Codier, 2012).


Building Resilience with Emotional Intelligence

Finally, another important reason to pay attention to emotional intelligence is how it affects one’s resilience. People who are high in EI are also generally able to pick themselves up when they fall.

In fact, emotional intelligence is considered by some to be a direct source of resilience. Researchers Magnano, Craparo, and Paolillo (2016) found that emotional intelligence is directly related to resilience and, through that connection, it’s related to achievement and achievement motivation.

In other words, those with high levels of emotional intelligence are more likely to strive for success and pursue their goals, meet those goals, and get back on track after failure or disappointment.

Read more about the importance of EQ here.


Can We Test and Measure Emotional Intelligence?

Emotional intelligence has been a popular trait to measure since its inception, and many scales exist to measure or chart it. The Emotion Wheel is an especially popular tool.


Scales and Other Tests, Quizzes, and Assessments for Measuring Levels of EQ

According to the Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations, there are nine measures of emotional intelligence with evidence to support them.

These measures are:

  1. BarOn Emotional Quotient Inventory (EQ-i 2.0):
    a. Author(s): Reuven Bar-On;
    b. Intended Population: ages 18 and older;
    c. Subscale(s), if any: Self-Perception, Interpersonal, Decision Making, Self-Expression, and Stress Management;
    d. Link.
  2. Emotional and Social Competence Inventory (ESCI):
    a. Author(s): Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and Hay Group;
    b. Intended Population: Adults, but particularly college and graduate school students;
    c. Subscale(s), if any: Emotional Self-Awareness, Emotional Self-Control, Adaptability, Achievement Orientation, Positive Outlook, Empathy, Organizational Awareness, Coach and Mentor, Inspirational Leadership, Influence, Conflict Management, and Teamwork;
    d. Link.
  3. Genos Emotional Intelligence Inventory (Genos EI):
    a. Author(s): Genos International;
    b. Intended Population: Adolescents and adults ages 17-75;
    c. Subscale(s), if any: Self-Awareness, Awareness of Others, Authenticity, Emotional Reasoning, Self-Management, and Positive Influence;
    d. Link.
  4.  Group Emotional Competence Inventory (GEC):
    a. Author(s): Vanessa Druskat and Steven Wolff;
    b. Intended Population: Adults;
    c. Subscale(s), if any: Interpersonal Understanding, Confronting Members Who Break Norms, Caring Behavior, Team Self-Evaluation, Creating Resources for Working with Emotion, Creating an Affirmative Environment, Proactive Problem Solving, Organizational Understanding, and Building External Relationships;
    d. Link.
  5. Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT):
    a. Author(s): John D. Mayer, Peter Salovey, and David Caruso;
    b. Intended Population: Adults 17 and older;
    c. Subscale(s), if any: Four Branches: Perceiving Emotions, Facilitating Thought, Understanding Emotions, and Managing Emotions;
    d. Link.
  6. Schutte Self Report Emotional Intelligence Test (SSEIT):
    a. Author(s): Nicola Schutte and colleagues;
    b. Intended Population: Adults;
    c. Subscale(s), if any: Appraisal and Expression of Emotion, Regulation of Emotion, and Utilization of Emotion;
    d. Link.
  7. Trait Emotional Intelligence Questionnaire (TEIQue):
    a. Author(s): V. K. Petrides;
    b. Intended Population: Adults (child version available);
    c. Subscale(s), if any: Well-Being Factor, Self-Control Factor, Emotionality Factor, Sociability Factor, Independent Facets (Adaptability and Self-Motivation);
    d. Link.
  8. Work Group Emotional Intelligence Profile (WEIP):
    a. Author(s): Peter Jordan, Neal Ashkanasy, Charmine Härtel, and Gregory Hooper;
    b. Intended Population: Adults;
    c. Subscale(s), if any: Ability to Deal with Own Emotions (including Ability to Recognize Own Emotions, Ability to Discuss Own Emotions, and Ability to Manage Own Emotions) and Ability to Deal with Others’ Emotions (Ability to Recognize Others’ Emotions and Ability to Manage Others’ Emotions);
    d. Link.
  9. Wong’s Emotional Intelligence Scale (WEIS):
    a. Author(s): Chi-Sum Wong, Kenneth S. Law, and Ping-Man Wong;
    b. Intended Population: Chinese adults;
    c. Subscale(s), if any: Appraisal and Expression of Emotion in the Self, Appraisal and Recognition of Emotion in Others, Regulation of Emotion in the Self, and Use of Emotion to Facilitate Performance;
    d. Link.

Look through each link carefully and read up on the scales before choosing. You’ll be sure to find one that suits your needs.


Can EQ Be Taught and Learned?

As mentioned earlier, emotional intelligence is not all the way to the “trait” side of the state-trait continuum. Although it is relatively stable and does not change much on its own, it absolutely can be improved with practice.

With concerted effort, it can be taught by parents, teachers, coaches, and other educators or practitioners, and it can be learned by just about anyone.


How Can We Improve Emotional Intelligence?

How to improve EI and EQ

So, the real question is, How do we teach or learn emotional intelligence? Luckily, research has given us some answers.


Emotional Intelligence and Mindfulness

Mindfulness is one solution. We can use mindfulness to build and maintain our emotional intelligence through enhanced self-awareness and self-regulation (read more about this here). Mindfulness meditation has been shown to work wonders on reducing or eliminating your distress when faced with tense situations.


Four Self-Assessment Tools

If you’re interested in improving your emotional intelligence, it’s a good idea to start with an assessment. In addition to the EQ scales listed above, here are four helpful tools for measuring EQ suggested by the Harvard Extension School blog:

  1. Psychology Today 146-question assessment;
  2. Mind Tools 15-question assessment;
  3. Institute for Health and Human Potential 17-question assessment;
  4. Talent Smart 28-question assessment.

To learn more about these tools and see which is best for your purposes, read all about EQ tests in this article. Once you’ve assessed your current level of emotional intelligence, it’s time to get started on boosting your EQ.


18 EQ Tools and Strategies to Improve EQ Competency

You can find a list of 13 practical EI exercises and activities by clicking this link.

The Mind Tools website also offers six tools and strategies to boost your own EI levels. If you’re ready to get started, try:

  1. Observing how you react to others, making a concerted effort to put yourself in their place, and committing to being more open and accepting of the perspectives and needs of others;
  2. Taking a look at your work environment and work behavior. If you’re seeking attention for your accomplishments, try practicing humility;
  3. Engage in self-evaluation to identify your weaknesses and get an honest picture of yourself;
  4. Examine how you react to stressful situations and work on staying calm, collected, and under control;
  5. Taking responsibility for your actions—this includes facing your mistakes head-on, apologizing, and trying to make things right;
  6. Examining how your actions will affect others before taking those actions, and putting yourself in others’ shoes to fully understand the consequences of those actions.

Here are 10 further tips from the folks at Six Seconds: The Emotional Intelligence Network. These strategies include:

  1.  Getting fluent in the “language of emotions,” or learning how to identify, differentiate between, and discuss different-but related-emotions;
  2.  Naming your emotions (this means not just identifying or recognizing them, but literally naming or labeling them);
  3. Using the third person to distance ourselves from our emotions—but without trying to deny or push them away;
  4. Observing our own emotions without trying to fix them. No emotions are bad, and it’s important to recognize that and embrace our emotions;
  5. Feel your emotions in your physical body, whether that’s sweaty palms, tense muscles, heart pounding, etc. It’s vital to feel our emotions in order to better understand and regulate them;
  6. Bust the myth of “bad” emotions. There are no bad emotions and we should not be suppressing or fighting any of them;
  7. Noticing the build-up of emotions before we’re “triggered.” This means we should pay attention to the incremental contributors to our big emotions before they become really big emotions;
  8. Recognizing recurring patterns. This can take place in this form: “When [stimulus happens], I [typical reaction].” For example, you might say “When I get angry, I bottle it up”;
  9. Write down your feelings throughout the day. Keeping a journal is a great idea for a lot of reasons, and this is one of them;
  10. Remind yourself that emotions are data. This means that emotions are actually valuable information that can help you see from a new perspective, find the truth, and make better decisions (Freedman, 2018).

As you can see, many of these tips and strategies boil down to a couple of simple (but not always easy) ideas: Pay attention to your own feelings, try to remain objective and accepting of them, and think about how your actions affect others.


EQ Training Courses, Workshops, and Certification

Should you want to learn how to professionally teach, coach, and increase emotional intelligence, be sure to check out PositivePsychology.com Emotional Intelligence Masterclass©.

Did you know that you can also become accredited in emotional intelligence? The Langley Group offers professional accreditation to help consultants, coaches, psychologists, and human resources professionals embed emotional intelligence, positive psychology, and neuroscience into their companies and businesses. Check it out here.

In terms of training courses for emotional intelligence, Six Seconds offers a good one. Six Seconds is “the first and by far the largest global nonprofit community 100% focused on EI” and offers a quick one-day introduction to the topic called Unlocking EQ here.

On that same webpage, you can learn about the other EQ-related trainings, including the EQ Educator program, the Youth Version Assessor Certification program, the Insights for People Management program, “Core” and “Integration” programs for practitioners, and advanced certifications.

The University of California, Berkeley also offers a recurring online course called Empathy and Emotional Intelligence at Work. You can take it for free or get a verified certificate for a one-time fee of $149. Click here to learn more.

Learning Tree International also offers emotional intelligence training. It can be taken as a blended learning opportunity (in-class and online sessions) or as a completely live, instructor-led course. It can also be customized for the “team experience” if you want your whole unit to participate. Click here to learn more about this option.

Finally, the EQ Workshop team offers a condensed, two-day workshop that will help participants enhance their self-awareness, their understanding of others, and their conflict-resolution skills. The aim of the workshop is to “create growth experiences which challenge participants to journey through areas like communication and listening and stress management.”

Click here to learn more about these workshops and see when and where the next one will be held.

If you want to explore all further opportunities for EI training, check out this related article: How To Improve Emotional Intelligence Through Training.


Criticisms of EI

Although the concept of emotional intelligence has been embraced by both the field of psychology and mainstream culture, not everyone agrees that it’s a groundbreaking and important concept.

Jordan Peterson, a psychologist at the University of Toronto, had this to say:

“There is no such thing as an Emotional Intelligence Quotient . . . EQ is not a psychometrically valid concept. Insofar as it is anything (which it isn’t), it’s the Big Five trait agreeableness, although this depends, as it shouldn’t, on which EQ measure is being used (they should all measure the same thing)”

(Peterson, 2016).

What Peterson is saying is that emotional intelligence is simply old theory wrapped up to look new and that the tests and scales intended to measure it do not do a very good job. Of course, this is just one psychologist’s opinion, but it’s worth noting that EQ is sometimes positively correlated with agreeableness. Is this because it is a related factor, or because it’s the same factor? Only time and further research will tell.

Another criticism is concerned about ethics. Renowned management researcher and professor Adam Grant has expressed worry about how high EQ can be used for less-than-benevolent reasons. Grant said:

“New evidence shows that when people hone their emotional skills, they become better at manipulating others. When you’re good at controlling your own emotions, you can disguise your true feelings. When you know what others are feeling, you can tug at their heartstrings and motivate them to act against their own best interests”


This criticism is not of the theory of emotional intelligence or the rigor of research on this topic but of the harm someone with high emotional intelligence is capable of.

Should we be teaching people how to improve their emotional intelligence if they’ll use it to manipulate others? It’s an interesting question without an easy answer, but if you’re interested in learning more, see Grant’s piece here.


Recommended TED Talks and YouTube Videos

To learn more about this fascinating topic and make up your own mind about some of the criticism laid out above, check out these TED Talks and YouTube videos on the topic:


“What is Emotional Intelligence?” by the School of Life

This animated video provides an easy-to-understand explanation of emotional intelligence.


“Why Aren’t We More Compassionate?” by Daniel Goleman

In his TED Talk, Daniel Goleman, author of the 1995 book Emotional Intelligence mentioned earlier in this article, explains a simple way to be more compassionate: Take in your surroundings and the emotions of people around you.


The Power of Emotional Intelligence” by Travis Bradberry

In this talk, Travis Bradberry, author of the book Emotional Intelligence 2.0, explains that possessing emotional intelligence improves one’s likelihood of success. He also argues that unlike cognitive intelligence, emotional intelligence can be taught.


“The People Currency: Practicing EI” by Jason Bridges

Jason Bridges has a unique perspective on emotional intelligence. After suffering a brain injury as a teenager, Bridges’ IQ dropped significantly. He’s since discovered the value of emotional intelligence and has utilized it to succeed despite his cognitive difficulties.


The Gift and Power of Emotional Courage TED Talk from Susan David

In this talk, psychologist Susan David argues that instead of valuing relentless positivity, our culture should prize emotional truth.


6 Steps to Improve Your Emotional Intelligence TED Talk from Ramona Hacker

Ramona Hacker knows firsthand that emotional intelligence can be learned. When she was young, Hacker prized rationality rather than emotions. As she got older, she realized her lack of emotional intelligence was making life difficult and that she needed to make a change. In this talk, she gives six steps to increasing your emotional intelligence.

See also: 15 Most Valuable Emotional Intelligence TED Talks on Youtube.


6 Popular Books

If you want to get more in-depth information on emotional intelligence, you might want to check out our post on the best books on emotional intelligence.

Alternatively, you can check out the following top picks on Amazon:

  • Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves (Amazon)
  • Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ by Daniel Goleman (Amazon)
  • HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Emotional Intelligence by Harvard Business Review, Daniel Goleman, Richard E. Boyatzis, Annie McKee, and Sydney Finkelstein (Amazon)
  • EQ Applied: The Real-World Guide to Emotional Intelligence by Justin Bariso (Amazon)
  • Emotional Intelligence: A 21-Day Step by Step Guide to Mastering Social Skills, Improve Your Relationships, and Boost Your EQ by David Clark (Amazon)
  • Primal Leadership: Unleashing the Power of Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman, Richard E. Boyatzis, and Annie McKee (Amazon)



Check out these 11 quotes on emotional intelligence from some very influential and intelligent people.


“The greatest ability in business is to get along with others and influence their actions.”

John Hancock


“Our feelings are not there to be cast out or conquered. They’re there to be engaged and expressed with imagination and intelligence.”

T.K. Coleman


“It is very important to understand that emotional intelligence is not the opposite of intelligence, it is not the triumph of heart over head–it is the unique intersection of both.”

David Caruso


“If your emotional abilities aren’t in hand, if you don’t have self-awareness, if you are not able to manage your distressing emotions, if you can’t have empathy and have effective relationships, then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far.”

Daniel Goleman


“The essential difference between emotion and reason is that emotion leads to action while reason leads to conclusions.”

Donald Calne


“When awareness is brought to an emotion, power is brought to your life.”

Tara Meyer Robson


“Emotions can get in the way or get you on the way.”

Mavis Mazhura


“Your intellect may be confused, but your emotions will never lie to you.”

Roger Ebert


“Highly sensitive people are too often perceived as weaklings or damaged goods. To feel intensely is not a symptom of weakness, it is the trademark of the truly alive and compassionate. It is not the empath who is broken, it is society that has become dysfunctional and emotionally disabled. There is no shame in expressing your authentic feelings.”

Anthon St. Maarten


“Emotional healing requires more than simply changing how you feel. Your emotions are merely symptoms of the problem—not the problem itself. Even when they hurt.”

Jessica Moore


A Take-Home Message

In this piece, we’ve covered how to define emotional intelligence, a brief history of the concept, the framework that emotional intelligence theory is built on, and how to enhance it. We hope you’ve learned something and that you’ll consider working to increase your emotional intelligence.

What are your thoughts on emotional intelligence? Do you think it’s a standalone construct, or simply another perspective on the Big Five’s agreeableness? Please let us know your ideas in the comments section below.

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our 3 Emotional Intelligence Exercises for free.

If you wish to learn more, our Emotional Intelligence Masterclass© is a 6-module emotional intelligence training package for practitioners which contains all the materials you’ll need to become an emotional intelligence expert, helping your clients harness their emotions and cultivate emotional connection in their lives.


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  • Chou, W. (2016). Social intelligence vs. emotional intelligence: What’s the difference? Medium. Retrieved from https://medium.com/personal-development-success/social-intelligence-vs-emotional-intelligence-whats-the-difference-7c759365127b
  • Codier, E. (2012). Emotional intelligence: Why walking the talk transforms nursing care. Career Sphere. Retrieved from https://www.americannursetoday.com/emotional-intelligence-why-walking-the-talk-transforms-nursing-care/
  • Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations. (n.d.). The emotional competence framework. Retrieved from http://www.eiconsortium.org/pdf/emotional_competence_framework.pdf
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  • Hall, E. D. (2018). Building emotional intelligence for better relationships. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/conscious-communication/201806/building-emotional-intelligence-better-relationships
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About the Author

Courtney Ackerman, MA, is a graduate of the positive organizational psychology and evaluation program at Claremont Graduate University. She is currently working as a researcher for the State of California and her professional interests include survey research, wellbeing in the workplace, and compassion.


  1. Pagadala Srinivasa Rao

    Very Good Article…with Good Concepts

  2. Gatot Widayanto

    It’s a very comprehensive article on EQ. An excellent reference for those who want to improve their interaction with other people. Thank you very much.

  3. dorothy

    An excellent example for children to understand how to do activities, stimulate creativity, and more importantly to connect exercises to daily life.

  4. sidra

    this article was very helpful on my presentation on EQ…Tysm

  5. sidra

    this data was very helpful on my presentation on EQ…Tysm

  6. nigerian

    Thank you ever so for you blog post. Really thank you. Much obliged!.

  7. lagos state government

    Very good blog article. Really looking forward to read more. Really Great!.

  8. Nilesh Gaikwad

    Hi Courtney,
    I would be glad if you could write about managing emotions intelligently when someone is emotionally broken.

  9. Larry C. Santos

    Emotional Intelligence training can teach you how to use emotional intelligence for everything from organizational climate to increased profitability. It helps with understanding that it’s not necessarily about keeping emotions out of the workplace.

  10. reema noor

    brilliant article.

  11. Aida

    Thank you so much Courtney! A very helpful article and links.

  12. Gaminithilaka Pandikorala

    I rushed through this article. It’s wonderful. I thank people who took so much trouble to prepare this. This is not the first article I read abut E I gives a new meaning new result to ‘ tit for tat’ actions people love to do . This is only a begining. E I will no doubt revolutionize the world. It has solutions to all the problems we experience today.No two are alike. This true of understanding E I as well. If my comment attracts one mind he or she can begin to construct a network covering millions of minds. all credits to this web page.

  13. Fua

    Very good article

  14. Sandhya

    What an informative article. Loved it .

  15. Andre Tremblay

    very good

  16. Islamiart

    Thank you so much…
    Very nice article

  17. Saleem

    Thanks for your sharing…
    It help me a lot to understand what is a intelligence

  18. Islamiart

    Thank you very much…you have provided good content…I suggest to everyone

  19. Marwa Sharaf

    Great effort ! Thanks for this wonderful information. It helps me a lot to understand what emotional intelligence is.

  20. Ben

    Echoing the other comments of gratitude and appreciation for this article: what a fantastic resource! Thank you so much Courtney.

  21. Jason

    Excellent article, very helpful. I have shared with several colleagues thank you, Jason

  22. Pauline R:

    This is the most important skill i ever learnt in my life.I am a completely changed woman.Regards.

  23. Rahul

    What a perfect article! Hats off.

  24. Rajesh CR

    This article is a masterpiece on emotional intelligence! Thank You

  25. Van The Kick

    wow … the complete information.
    Thank you for sharing..
    Feels like a school of psychology reading this paper.
    the need to learn to increase emotional intelligence in order to have a personality that makes everyone happy.

  26. Ruta Mikulenaite

    Excellent Article! thank you

  27. Dickson Ntagondwa Christopher

    A very straightforward article on EQ. By, the way EQ has been a topic of discussion worldwide.
    Thank you for sharing.Kindly, send it to my email

  28. Monique Hall

    Great article.

  29. Prakhar Verma

    Wow, what a wonderful article with all the resources we need for developing EQ. Thanks for putting this together, Courtney.

  30. Ed Camagos

    Great help. Thanks

  31. Edward

    Thanks for the article.

  32. Eva Atiemo

    Very good article, please send it to my mail, thank you.

  33. Teresa Strach

    Yes! I do believe that it is about sensing the feelings of one’s self and in doing so can identify the same in others. Striving to get the best of me will also bring out the best in others.

  34. P. Sweeney

    Thank you for this comprehensive overview on emotional intelligence. It was informative and helpful.

  35. Bernardo Robledo

    Excelent material to understand EQ.
    Thank you

  36. Ojulu william

    This airticles are valuable for self motivation and understanding of ones behaviour,thanks for the informstion.

  37. Vijay

    Excellent piece of article for students like me…thank you.

  38. Jayaraman

    Thanks for an amazing article on EQ. A very detailed analysis on different facets of EQ, it’s history, importance etc. Nothing more to say than wishing everyone to practice EQ as today’s competitive world , peer pressure, trying to achieving things in a short time etc., has impacted the so called relationship. Knowingly or unknowingly some or others are victims of the bubbling uncontrollable emotions.

    • Craig Smith

      You’re welcome, Jayaraman, glad to hear it was of value!

  39. Feza

    Indeed there is no much left to say about the article I agree with all comments above.
    I truly appreciate the team hard work that provides countless productive tools.

  40. Julia & Gabriel

    You guys are amazing. You transform us, not just inspire us, help us with all the knowledge you provide!
    Have an amazing New Year <3 blessings from us

  41. Maria

    Absolutely wonderful. Thank you so much

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    The greatest ability in business is to get along with others and influence their actions

  43. Pippa

    Loved this article! So many moments where I thought “Oh, now I get it!” – thank you for such a concise and clear explanation

  44. Marc-Antoine Tschopp

    Yes, thank you very much for this great summary and for the clarity of your structure. WELL DONE !

  45. Juliah Thibelang

    I need to more about Emotional Intelligence (Student)

  46. Nancy Testerman

    Fantastic! Many thanks for this clearly written article. I teach psychiatric nursing and also include information on resilience. The tie between these two was an ahh moment. I would like to have the students evaluate their EQ. You have given me many exciting ideas!

  47. George Spencer .

    Enjoyed the article.Useful and need further reading to truly assimilate the concepts expressed.

  48. Liz Corcoran

    Courtney, You did a great job of assembling all of this critical information on emotional intelligence. I find it to be very useful. Thank you for your work.

  49. Patrick Edwards

    Most excellent and current summary of what EQ is and isn’t. Helps to create awareness, understanding and usefulness of the principles and practices.

  50. Vinay Srivastava

    Great article and deep insight for any person to understand EQ in such a nice manner. I enjoyed and keep the same for future reading.


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