What Does It Mean to Be Emotionally Intelligent?

Emotional intelligence is a phrase we see loosely throw about in conversations, but what does it actually mean to be emotionally intelligent?

Yale psychologist, Peter Salovey, split emotional intelligence into five domains:

Knowing One’s Emotions

The more we understand our own emotions as they arise, the more self-aware we become and better able we are to describe how we are feeling. We are also better equipped to deal with whatever emotions crop up from moment to moment. An inability to recognize emotions in ourselves leaves us at their mercy. Being in tune with our emotion leads to more certainty in decision-making and we trust ourselves more.

Managing emotions

This builds on the self-awareness of emotion. When we recognize that we are irritable, sad, angry, or anxious, can we soothe ourselves or find a way to act towards a goal despite of these negative emotions? An inability to do this can lead to impulsive decisions or a constant battling of distress.

Motivating oneself

Success towards a goal is largely attributed to delayed gratification and impulsive control. The more we can manage our emotions and still do what we set out to do, the more chance we have of succeeding. Emotions can hijack the brain and without the willpower we can go astray. Being able to enter a ‘flow’ state is another skill emotionally intelligent people are adept at, so that time passes by without distraction.

Recognizing emotions in others

This is probably what most people think of when they hear the term ’emotional intelligence’. How empathic are we? Can we recognize when someone is starting to get irritated, or feeling sad or happy? The more that we understand how someone is feeling, the more we will understand what they need and want. This is crucial for career paths in sales, management, teaching, and caring professions.

Handling relationships

This all culminates in how we are able to handle our relationships effectively. Our quality of life is often attributed to the quality of our relationships, so the better that we can manage the emotions of ourselves and others in our important relationships, the more fulfilled we will be. Having a high emotional intelligence will enable us to become better intimate partners, better to work with, and better to spend time with.

Each individual varies in how well they rank in the five domains of emotional intelligence. Some people may be better at soothing someone else when they are upset, but when they are upset themselves they may find it difficult. Others may be self-aware but oblivious to the subtle cues that others give to them in a social setting.

Even so, what we should all recognize is that our emotional intelligence can be learned, even if some people seem more naturally adept than others. Our brains are remarkably plastic – they can be shaped and biologically influenced based on our input.

Personally, I found that I became much more attuned to other people’s emotions after working in sales because I was engaging in much more face-to-face communication, and it was important for me to get better at it.

Daniel Goleman puts forth in his book Emotional Intelligence that EQ is much more predictive in success than IQ. As a social species, it’s hard to disagree.

Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules For Life Rule 7: Pursue What is Meaningful (Not What is Expedient)

Expedient: (of an action) convenient and practical although possibly improper or immoral.

Now that we know what expedience is, how do we stay away from it? Expedience is our default. Expedience is usually what is instantly gratifying. Think chocolate, comfort, and drugs. What’s instantly gratifying takes away from our future selves. Take too much instant gratification over an extended period of time, and you will be in big trouble.

Delayed gratification is the same as bargaining with the future. If we put in some work now, or seek some form of discomfort whether it be exercise, cold showers, fasting, or apologizing to someone we have wronged, we will be better off in the future. It’s the equivalent of investing or saving money for a later date.

The secret to success is the successful sacrifice. A Queen’s Gambit of sorts.

Success is letting go of who you are in the search for who you might become.

So how do we figure out what is meaningful? Viktor Frankl, the author of Man’s Search For Meaning – a book accounting life in the Nazi concentration camps in World War II – says that meaning can come in various shapes and forms. It could come in the shape of life’s work that is yet to be completed, a mission of sorts. Or it could come in the form of the love for another like a spouse or child.

Peterson states that meaning is something that comes upon you, of its own accord. It cannot be produced as an act of will. To have meaning in your life is better than to have what you want, because you may not know what you want, or truly need it either.

Pursue what is meaningful, not what is expedient.