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.

Success Leaves Clues, but We Shouldn’t Disregard Luck

A quote popularized by Tony Robbins – “Success leaves clues” – can get us very excited about lofty goals. If we were only to follow the playbook of mega-successful entrepreneurs, sportspeople, politicians and artists, we could (and should) achieve the same results. But what most people are poor at understanding is the role of luck in success.

Daniel Kahneman, the Nobel Prize winner and author of Thinking, Fast and Slow, highlights books like Built to Last by Jim Collins and Jerry I. Porras that describe common characteristics of successful companies that are built for growth and long-lasting success. Kahneman argues that the companies that are chosen for their success are statistical anomalies, rather than the consequence of skill. Many companies run exactly the same way would fail due to the role of luck and chance. Therefore, the conclusions made in these types of books could well be useless.

Although it is difficult to get your head around, Kahneman’s point makes sense. A year after their inception, Google were willing to sell their company for $1m, but the deal didn’t go through because the buyer said the price was too high. There are likely a multitude of other ‘lucky’ events in the company’s history that will have helped Google to get where they are today.

But just because a lot of success is down to luck, doesn’t mean that we should no longer try. The real question is: How can we put ourselves in more positions to get lucky? We are much more likely to get signed by a professional football club if we play in front of scouts and spectators than if we played in our back-garden where nobody saw us.

Relentless: The Mindset You Need to Consistently Win

I recently read Tim Grover’s Relentless: From Good to Great to Unstoppable. Grover was the physical coach of the biggest basketball stars in the world such as Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. The book explains the mentality these unstoppable athletes had, and what separated them from all the other competitors. It’s a fascinating read, and is much more hard-hitting than a typical self-improvement book, similar to David Goggin’s no-bullshit style in Can’t Hurt Me.

Grover outlines three character archetypes – coolers, closers and cleaners. He describes in detail the different responses of these archetypes in different situations throughout the book, allowing the reader to identify with at least one of the archetypes, and maybe to strive towards the rare, ultimate title of ‘Cleaner’.

Coolers let others decide whether they’re successful; they do the job and wait to see if you approve. Closers feel successful when they get the job done. Cleaners never feel as if they’ve achieved success because there is always more to do.

Here’s the 13 characteristics of a cleaner:

You keep pushing yourself harder when everyone else has had enough.

You get into the Zone, shut out everything else, and control the uncontrollable.

You know exactly who you are.

You have a dark side that refuses to be taught to be good.

You’re not intimidated by pressure, you thrive on it.

When everyone is hitting the “In Case of Emergency” button, they’re all looking for you.

You don’t compete with anyone, you find your opponent’s weakness and you attack.

You make decisions, not suggestions; you know the answer while everyone else is still asking questions.

You don’t have to love the work, but you’re addicted to the results.

You’d rather be feared than liked.

You trust very few people, and those you trust better not let you down.

You don’t recognize failure; you know there’s more than one way to get what you want.

You don’t celebrate your achievements because you always want more.

As I read the book, names of cleaners would pop into my head, mainly from the world of professional football – Roy Keane, Sir Alex Ferguson, Jose Mourinho, Bruno Fernandes, Steven Gerrard. The media typically describes these types of people as ‘natural-born leaders’ or ‘serial winners’. Roy Keane literally got fired from Manchester United because he was so ruthless when analyzing his teammates after a drop in standards; Sir Alex Ferguson would play mind games with his rival managers and referees to get the edge needed to win; Mourinho infamously poked a rival manager in the eye during a big game; Bruno Fernandes can be seen instructing his teammates what to do all game; Steven Gerrard dragged his less-than-fantastic Liverpool side to win multiple trophies in his career.

While reading Relentless, I realized that cleaners are few and far between – it’s tough to have a mindset like that. In the end it could be summarized by saying a cleaner is someone that is 100% secure in themselves, is never satisfied, and isn’t afraid to upset their teammates or anyone else in order to get what they want.

Do you think you can be a cleaner? If so, would you? If you could, would you hire a cleaner in your team?

Let me know in the comments below!

The Four Agreements: Always Do Your Best

I remember in 2014, when I first became successful.

I was reading The Chimp Paradox by Professor Steve Peters, the same book Ronnie O’Sullivan studied before he won back-to-back World Snooker Championships in 2012 and 2013. Steve Peters defined success as “doing the best you can do at that specific time”. My paradigm of success was decimated, and a new empowering worldview replaced it.

If success is doing the best we can do given the circumstances, success is controllable and achievable. Instead of success being something in the far future, success can be achieved from moment to moment in the small decisions and actions we take. Success isn’t reserved for the elite, it can be practiced by the masses.

Doing the best we can do in each moment leads to progress. It forces us to leave our comfort zone, and over time our best increases in capacity. We begin to snooze your alarm a little less often, until eventually we wake up on cue every day a minute before our alarm is due to sound. We gradually lift more and more weight in the gym until one day we look in the mirror and notice we are a Herculean specimen. We stop lying so much. Our short fuses get longer. We become nicer to be around.

Don Miguel Ruiz, the author of The Four Agreements, explains that doing our best makes us action-takers, and it makes us happy. Most importantly, if we can do our best to keep the other three agreements (be impeccable with our word, not to take things personally, not to make assumptions), we will live a beautiful life.