Emotional intelligence (also known as “EQ”) is the King of all intelligence, reflecting the strength of our connection to other people, in public or in private, at work or in love. This kind of intelligence helps us to deal with “difficult people” successfully, to use humor appropriately (even to laugh at ourselves), and to respond in a compassionate and skilled way to people when they’re upset.
The root of emotional intelligence is self-awareness, sometimes called mindfulness, which takes us deep beneath the surface of our identities as “doers” and the roles we play. When Socrates advised “know thyself,” he didn’t mean it in terms of what we do for a living, either, or how we want others to see us. To know thyself includes being aware of your core longings and values, as well as your wounds and the ways you protect yourself.
To know yourself also means to acknowledge that in some ways you don’t know yourself — there is always more to discover. True self-knowledge involves embracing everything about ourselves, even those parts we avoid or don’t understand.
Wonder how your EQ rates? Well, you can start by checking out the following five signs of great emotional intelligence skills, and do your own self-assessment as to how well you score. Keep in mind, of course, that you can build on your skills. As human beings, each of us has the innate ability to become savvy in our EQ.
1. You have the ability to self-regulate.
“I just had to say it. I sent that e-mail before I thought about it.”
Each of these statements reveals someone whose emotions rule their behavior and actions, often with disastrous outcomes. By contrast, people with a high EQ register their feelings as information and make an informed decision about how to act in a way that’s productive.
Ultimately, all of our emotions are useful. Each feeling is like one of the strings of a musical instrument: each gives us a unique vibration and provides us valuable information about ourselves. It’s how we interpret the emotion, and then how we choose to act, that determines whether we’re going to create havoc or enhance our lives.
2. You respond rather than react.
Sometimes, we blame our rash reactions to people or situations by saying we just “needed” to express ourselves. But the truth is that we don’t need to react out of raw feeling. When we give ourselves time to explore the feeling, we realize that the feeling has a job to inform us about what’s up.
The skill that grows through the practice of any form of mindfulness is the ability to witness our internal process before we do anything about it. Then we can respond with a mixture of feeling and logic. To take the time simply to observe the emotion as it arises decreases the sense of urgency to act.
Strong positive and negative emotions may cause us to express ourselves inappropriately if we’re overwhelmed by them. When emotions run strong, it’s hard to know what’s really going on until the body has settled. That’s why meditation and deep breathing are helpful. They give us space and time to settle, and then to decide how to express what it is we feel.
3. You know your triggers.
Each of us has particular triggers that set off certain emotions. Some of these triggers ricochet back to an earlier stress or trauma. To know your triggers is a critically useful piece of awareness to have, just as it’s essential to know how you typically react once one of your triggers is pulled.
None of us likes to be told what to do, but my inner teenager really can’t stand it when I’m in the kitchen. Give me a suggestion when I’m cooking (which for most people usually is a 1 or 2 on the irritation scale of 10), and it can feel off the charts to me. My first instinct is to retort with an ungracious remark like “Why don’t you take over and make it yourself?” But this kind of defensive, temperamental reaction is never helpful.
But because I’ve come to see that I tend to behave like a diva in the kitchen, I’m usually prepared to make a counter-instinctive move: I take a deep breath and observe myself with compassion and amusement. Nowadays, I may even be able to give a suggestion serious consideration. After all, it’s my trigger that’s the problem here, not the tip to add more mustard to the salad dressing.
4. You really listen.
To hear the spoken word with our auditory system is a passive, mechanical process. To listen, however, is an active process, one in which we engage with another person, which requires us to interpret and read the nonverbal cues that accompany what they say and what we hear.
There’s no room in this encounter for you, the listener, to dismiss, to argue, or to assume that you already know where things are headed as a person tells you their story.
5. You are a good communicator.
Although many books on communication skills emphasize the importance of directly expressing our emotions, there’s a lot more to being a smart communicator than simply saying what we feel as we are feeling it.
The ability to give and receive tenderness and to express and respond to upset feelings are skills that require time, patience, and the discernment to know what is and isn’t appropriate in terms of how much to share.Good communicators know that to talk about what’s going on inside us is a prerequisite, but this inner examination needs to be done with patience and practice.
The commitment is well worth the effort, though. The improvement in our relations with other people everywhere in our lives can be tremendous. An advance in your EQ can indeed change your life.
Previous version published on Mind Body Green