Just about everyone knows someone who is skilled at picking up on the emotions others are feeling, interpreting them in context and responding to them in a way that promotes positive outcomes. Emotional intelligence, or EI, is the term researchers use to describe the ability some people have to recognize and use others’ or their own emotions to improve their lives. More than simply an intuitive ability to recognize and interpret feelings, EI refers to the process of evaluation that people use to react quickly and advantageously to their own or another’s emotions.
For example, rather than wishing away a blue mood, a person with high emotional intelligence may take advantage of the enhanced ability to think analytically during periods of sadness in order to improve another aspect of his or her life. Another example would be the quick-thinking cashier who recognizes when a customer is becoming frustrated and immediately takes steps to diffuse the situation and enable a solution.
Researchers have identified four key factors of EI:
Perceiving Emotions: This is ability to evaluate and accurately interpret facial expressions, body language, vocal tone and other clues that indicate what a person might be feeling.
Reasoning with Emotions: This factor refers to the ability to harness the power of emotions, whether they belong to the person or someone else, in order to make better decisions.
Understanding Emotions: An outgrowth of the factors mentioned above, this refers to being able to interpret emotions, understand where they are coming from and what bearing they may have on the current situation.
Managing Emotions: Not to be confused with self-control, the most advanced application of EI is the ability to use it to take advantage of the power of emotions. Choosing a career in which you can channel your passion for an activity and achieve your highest performance is one way. Another way to manage emotions is approaching your boss about a raise just when they are pumped up after an excellent evaluation from their own supervisor, for example.
The four factors are arranged in order of increasing sophistication. Wherever you may fall on the emotional intelligence scale, you can use your skills to improve your life and your relationships with others. Additionally, many researchers theorize that you can take steps to increase your own emotional intelligence.
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Mayer, John D. “What Emotional Intelligence Is and Is Not.” Psychology Today; Accessed Sept. 16, 2014.