Gary Gilles is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor in private practice for over 20 years. He is also an adjunct faculty member at the University ...Read More
Most people are familiar with the term emotional intelligence but not many are able to explain what it actually means. Because I think emotional intelligence is extremely important, I frequently ask students in my classes and workshops to define it. I usually get very vague and uncertain responses.
Perhaps you might also struggle to give an accurate but succinct explanation of emotional intelligence. So, let’s start there.
What is emotional intelligence?
To be an emotionally intelligent person you need to exhibit two qualities on a consistent basis.
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- First, you need to be able to make sense of your own feelings and be able to express those feelings to another person in a clear and understandable way.
- Second, you need to be able to accurately read the emotional cues that others covey (both verbal and non-verbal) and then be able to respond appropriately to those feelings.
Sounds easy, but it’s not.
Emotional intelligence in action
So, let’s put emotional intelligence into motion with an example. Let’s suppose that you and your partner are having a discussion but you don’t feel like talking much. Your responses are brief and you show little interest in ongoing dialogue. Your partner frowns at you then says, “What’s going on with you? You seem very quiet.”
Here’s where an emotionally intelligent person rises to the task. You sense the confusion in your partner by both their words (verbal) and the frown (non-verbal). You can see that they are trying to connect with you but are feeling frustrated by your lack of response.
The easy way out, which doesn’t convey much emotional intelligence, would be to say, “I’m just tired and don’t feel like talking.” And there are times when that response is accurate and appropriate. But a person who understands the importance of an emotional connection in relationships will go further and try to put their feelings into words. This helps both you and your partner.
So, you respond with an awareness of those verbal and non-verbal cues from your partner and say, “I’m sorry for being distant. I’m preoccupied with a situation that happened earlier today. I was given some negative feedback on a project I’m heading up at work and don’t know what to do about it. I feel discouraged right now.”
Though in one sense you haven’t said much, in another you’ve opened the way for an emotional connection to occur between the two of you.
This emotional disclosure does two very important and healthy things for the relationship:
1. First, it helps your partner better understand what you are feeling and what it might be about. This eliminates guessing that could lead to wrong assumptions and inevitable conflict.
2. It also invites your partner into the conversation instead of shutting them out. In order to feel close to another person you must have the exchange of emotion to some degree. By sharing your feelings you increase the possibility for support, empathy and care; all of which would help soothe the discouragement you feel in this situation.
Other applications of emotional intelligence
Virtually any relationship can benefit from practicing the skills that describe what we call emotional intelligence. It is an especially powerful skill to practice with children because they instinctively start doing what you model for them. This teaches them at an early age to become more aware of their own feelings, to be tuned in to the feelings of others and begin to practice putting their feelings into words.