As with any popular topic, there are roughly one million quotes about or alluding to emotional intelligence.
Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but the general idea is accurate: there are tons of quotes about emotional intelligence! And, as it turns out, many of them just might be right.
In this piece, we will cover some of the most insightful and commonly used quotes about emotional intelligence, weighing the evidence, and determining how much truth they actually contain.
If that sounds like a good time, then pause that TED Talk and read on!
This article contains:
Travis Bradberry – What is Emotional Intelligence?
We’ll start with an easy one. Just what exactly is emotional intelligence anyway?
Emotional intelligence is your ability to recognize and understand emotions in yourself and others, and your ability to use this awareness to manage your behavior and relationships.
Travis Bradberry (from the book Emotional Intelligence 2.0)
Let’s go to the experts to see how accurate this statement from Travis Bradberry is. Arguably the authority on emotional intelligence, researchers Mayer, Caruso, and Salovey have this to say about emotional intelligence:
“Emotional intelligence refers to an ability to recognize the meanings of emotion and their relationships, and to reason and problem-solve on the basis of them. Emotional intelligence is involved in the capacity to perceive emotions, assimilate emotion-related feelings, understand the information of those emotions, and manage them” (1999, p. 267).
This seems like a pretty direct match to Mr. Bradberry’s definition. It defines emotional intelligence as an ability, much like cognitive ability (IQ), and includes the core components of the construct:
- Recognizing and identifying emotions in yourself.
- Recognizing and identifying emotions in others.
- Managing your own emotions.
- Managing the emotions of others.
Depending on the model of emotional intelligence you subscribe to, there are different ways to conceptualize it further, but the components above can be considered the building blocks.
Perhaps the most well-known and widely accepted model is Mayer and colleagues’ Four Branch Model of Emotional Intelligence (Mayer, 2004).
In this model, the four branches are:
- Perceiving emotion (capacity to accurately perceive emotions in facial expressions and voices)
- Facilitation (ability to use emotions to guide our cognition)
- Understanding emotion (comprehension of the meaning of emotions and the information associated with them)
- Managing emotion (ability to regulate and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others)
People who are highly capable in each of these areas are people high in emotional intelligence; conversely, people who struggle to perceive and identify emotions or fail to connect them to relevant information are considered low in emotional intelligence.
Daniel Goleman – Emotional Brain
Now that we know what emotional intelligence is, let’s move on to some of the more intriguing quotes.
The emotional brain responds to an event more quickly than the thinking brain.
According to Mischel and Shoda’s Cognitive-Affective Processing System (CAPS), a person’s emotional reaction (or affect) is separate from—but influenced by—a person’s cognitive processing (Mischel & Shoda, 1995).
Our emotional reactions are rooted in our experiences, so exposure to a familiar stimulus will set our brains to quickly run through our memories and pull up the most common or salient affective response we have had to that stimulus in the past.
The way that we feel in response to an event will vary from person to person because we all have different experiences to pull from; in addition, our response will depend on our mood, our goals and values, the way we encode and process information, our beliefs and expectations, and our general competencies and ability to self-regulate.
However, the result of this process varies; it is well known that our emotional response is generally unconscious or subconscious and not under our control.
It might seem unfortunate or downright silly that our emotional reaction is quicker than our cognitive response, but there’s a good reason for it. The emotional brain is responsible for our “fight-or-flight” responses, those in-the-moment, involuntary reactions to what is happening around us that helps us decide the best course of action. Without an immediate emotional response, we may not be prompted to the right action.
Although this is a useful survival mechanism, it is not always helpful for our functioning in the modern world. It is a rare day, indeed when we need to worry about being attacked by a predator and deciding whether to fight or flee!
It’s important to be cognizant of the emotional brain’s priority track to our consciousness—not because we can do anything to change it, but because we need to keep that in mind when our thinking brain kicks in.
Emotional intelligence is all about being aware of the affective system’s precedence in our brain and taking our emotional reaction with a grain of salt. Someone who is emotionally intelligent can quickly recognize the automatic emotional response for what it is and decide how best to incorporate it into their decision-making (or preclude it from decision-making).
Daniel Goleman – Meditation
Mindful meditation has been discovered to foster the ability to inhibit those very quick emotional impulses.
One of the most impactful and sought-after benefits of mindfulness meditation is the enhancement of the meditator’s ability to control his or her emotions. Of course, we can’t completely control how we feel, but we do have control over how we react based on our emotions.
A study by Lin and colleagues (2016) found evidence that mindfulness meditation, when practiced regularly, reduces the meditator’s responsiveness to negative stimuli. In other words, those who practice mindful meditation are better able to regulate their emotional response to the negative or unpleasant things they see around them.
The researchers also controlled for “trait” mindfulness, or the more fixed tendency to be mindful; it turns out that whether you are naturally inclined towards mindfulness or not, practicing mindfulness meditation enhances your brain’s ability to quickly recover from negative stimuli and regulate its response to it.
Mindfulness achieves this ability enhancement through teaching practitioners how to observe, identify, and accept their emotions instead of trying to change them. When we are mindful, we are not devoid of emotion or floating through our day with a mind empty of emotion; instead, we are experiencing our emotions but ensuring that we don’t let them run rampant or spiral out of control (Teper, Segal, & Inzlicht, 2013).
Those who practice mindfulness regularly are essentially building up their skill in responding thoughtfully to highly emotional stimuli, giving them a quicker reaction to the emotional impulses that are prompted by such stimuli.
It’s not that mindfulness helps you avoid feeling those negative emotions—it helps you recognize what is happening to you when you have an emotional response and makes it easier to curb your impulsive reactions to those emotions.
Daniel Goleman – Maturity
People tend to become more emotionally intelligent as they age and mature.
This quote is intuitive; it’s easy to see how emotional intelligence could increase as we grow older, but is it really true?
Absolutely! A person’s emotional intelligence score (or EQ, for emotional quotient) is generally pretty stable, meaning that it doesn’t vary significantly from moment to moment or fluctuate much depending on our mood, but it certainly seems to gradually increase over time.
Studies on the subject have found that age has a significant impact on overall emotional intelligence, with EQ increasing over the years (Extremera, Fernández-Berrocal & Salovey, 2006; Sharma, 2017). But wait, it’s not quite that simple!
Although EQ increases with age, it’s not a smooth trajectory; emotional competence was found to decrease from young adulthood to middle age, but then renewed its upward trend (Sharma, 2017). This finding indicates that emotional intelligence is not a guarantee. It generally increases as we get older, but it’s not a given!
Improving our EQ in a meaningful way requires dedicated effort on our part, and neglecting it will not do us any favors.
So why does EQ generally tend to increase as we age? Is it a simple process of aging, like trees forming more and more rings within their trunks as they grow older? Unsurprisingly, this is not the case.
Emotional intelligence tends to increase with experience; the older you are, the more likely you are to have had extensive experience with understanding and managing emotions (Fernández-Berrocal, Cabello, Castillo, & Extremera, 2012).
With this experience comes practice, and with practice comes skill enhancement. However, this also means that if a person is effectively a hermit as they age rather than interacting with others, they may not have a chance to develop those emotional intelligence skills past the bare minimum.
Daniel Goleman – Success
I would say that IQ is the strongest predictor of which field you can get into and hold a job in, whether you can be an accountant, lawyer or nurse, for example. IQ can show whether you have the cognitive capacity to handle the information and complexities you face in a particular field. But once you are in that field, emotional intelligence emerges as a much stronger predictor of who will be most successful, because it is how we handle ourselves in our relationships that determines how well we do once we are in a given job.
This (quite long) quote is a more comprehensive way of saying a simple idea: that IQ is often what opens the door for opportunities, but EQ is what sustains you once you take advantage of those opportunities.
Everybody knows that intelligence is important; it is easy to see why IQ correlates with academic performance, job performance, career outcomes, and overall success (Sternberg, Grigorenko, & Bundy, 2001).
IQ can be thought of as a general measure of cognitive ability, and greater cognitive ability is generally a precursor to success. Your cognitive ability is what facilitates your studying in school, allows you to enter college, and smooths your path to your desired career.
However, IQ is not the only predictor of success; this is where EQ comes in. In a meta-analysis that compiled the results of studies conducted with tens of thousands of participants, emotional intelligence was found to have a significant impact on job performance (O’Boyle Jr., Humphrey, Pollack, Hawver, & Story, 2011).
Even more telling, emotional intelligence had a significant impact on job performance when controlling for cognitive intelligence and the “Five Factor” Model of personality (aka the OCEAN model, with openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism as the five basic components of personality).
In other words, your emotional intelligence is a better predictor of your job performance when already employed in that job; IQ may have helped get you there, but EQ is what helps you sustain it.
This is likely in part due to EQ’s association with organizational citizenship behavior, or behavior not formally considered part of the job description that still contributes to organizational (and personal) success (Côté & Miners, 2006). The study that produced these findings also found that EQ can actually make up for a lower IQ—and perhaps even vice versa!
Although IQ has traditionally received much more attention, emotional intelligence is a good predictor of success.
Aristotle – Anger
Anybody can become angry – that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way – that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.
Aristotle predates the study of emotional intelligence as a construct by a couple of thousand years, but he certainly seemed to understand the general idea behind it. This quote from the renowned ancient philosopher outlines an interesting idea: that not only is anger an acceptable emotion to feel, it is good in some circumstances, but that few know how to channel it properly.
Think about how you feel when you get angry. Do you make your wisest and most prudent decisions? Or do you struggle to think logically and even say things you might regret later on, once the intense emotional experience has passed?
I’m willing to bet you don’t make your best decisions when angry, and that you may have done or said some things in anger that you aren’t proud of. If so, you are in the majority!
Anger is known to encourage people to blame others (or themselves) when things go wrong, a potentially false sense of certainty about the situation, and can even lead people to dole out harsher judgments and punishments (Han, Lerner, & Keltner, 2006).
In fact, anger is often what people turn to when they feel a need for self-comfort or perceived control over their circumstances; anger can engender what some researchers call “defensive optimism,” or the systematic de-emphasizing of the adverse events that provoked the anger (Hemenover & Zhang, 2004, as cited in Han et al., 2006).
It is easy to see how people can turn to anger for the “wrong” reasons and communicate it in the “wrong” way.
But Aristotle was right, there are certainly right ways to feel, express, and manage anger, and the right way is strongly associated with emotional intelligence (Ford & Tamir, 2012).
In this study, researchers Ford and Tamir found that those who prefer to express their anger in contextually appropriate situations (i.e., in circumstances where anger is justified) are higher in emotional intelligence than those who stuck with happiness in the same rage-inducing scenarios.
It is a small group of people that can appropriately handle their anger, and emotional intelligence is how they do it. High EQ is what guides people to notice their emotions, correctly identify them, express them in effective ways, and manage the consequences.
John Gottman – Relationships
Researchers have found that even more than IQ, your emotional awareness and abilities to handle feelings will determine our success and happiness in all walks of life, including family relationships.
This quote from the well-known and widely respected author and marriage expert Dr. John Gottman is a truly valuable insight, as it happens to be right!
Emotional intelligence is indeed significantly associated with satisfaction with one’s relationships and the tendency toward positive interactions with others (Lopes, Salovey, & Straus, 2003). It is also negatively related to neuroticism, which makes sense; after all, emotional intelligence and neuroticism are just about polar opposites.
This boost in relationship quality is seen especially frequently in romantic relationships. A recent meta-analysis on the effects of EQ on romantic relationships found that, for over 600 participants across six studies, there was a statistically and practically significant association between the emotional intelligence and relationship satisfaction (Malouff, Schutte, & Thorsteinsson, 2014).
This is an easy finding to accept, as the relationship between the two is clear: those who are better at identifying, accepting, and managing their emotions (not to mention the emotions of others) are likely to use those skills in their closest and most intimate relationships.
Not only are adult relationships improved by emotional intelligence, it benefits kids as well. When the parents are open, honest, and able to be vulnerable in conversation, children do the same; enjoying a more positive environment that promotes learning, greater emotional understanding, and better management and application of emotions (Keaton & Kelly, 2008).
Further, young people who are high in emotional intelligence are less likely to be antisocial, less likely to abuse drugs or alcohol, and less likely to become violent with others, all of which are quite good predictors of success and positive relationships (Salovey, Mayer, & Caruso, 2002).
The research is pretty clear on this quote—even more so than some of the other rather obvious one’s—emotional intelligence is a significant contributor to success in life in general and relationships in particular.
A Take-Home Message
I hope this piece gave you a better idea of what emotional intelligence is and why it matters. Hopefully, you also learned some new quotes and gained an enhanced understanding of the importance of emotional intelligence in our everyday lives.
Thanks for reading!
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