Emotional intelligence (EI) is the ability to be self-aware and to be aware of others’ thoughts, feelings and behaviours. It means to be able to check-in with yourself and be able to identify what you are thinking and what you are feeling. Checking-in with yourself during a challenging situation with others prevents you from responding on impulse and therefore acting or reacting too fast, or reacting not at all, and later realizing that this was not helpful.
Making sound interpretations of other people’s behaviours is related to good listening skills, good observational skills and the ability to interpret behaviours of others correctly. It does not mean that those with high emotional intelligence guess right or can read people’s minds. To understand other people quite well, we need to have an interest in others, and be careful not to make assumptions based on judgment and bias.
EI also refers to the ability to self-regulate our feelings and therefore our behaviour. It includes the ability to place one-self in the others’ position to understand their reactions. Our thoughts about a situation are based on our interpretation of the event. The ability to stop and think and to use this time to respond more effectively will prevent us from having to apologize later when we spoke before our time, or when we were too fast to judge, and realize that we were wrong.
The interpretation we give to others’ behaviours is related to our past experiences and intensified by “triggers”. The latter means that when we recognize a situation as having similarities to a painful experience from our past, we very likely interpret the new situation as such, and therefore have a strong internal emotional reaction. Telling ourselves that we do not know the full story of another person and therefore their motivation to behave in certain ways can help. When it is important to respond, asking for clarification would be a very good way to obtain insight and rather than reacting negatively, use a statement of empathy or at least acknowledge or validate their response.
People who score high on EI are motivated and their motivation does not stem in the first place from a drive to obtain rewards. The motivation is self-driven and leads to self-improvement. It correlates with being self-aware of talents, and specific areas in which we do reasonably well, and being able to identify areas of growth. People with a high EI set goals to improve themselves. They also seek consultation with others and are not afraid to obtain constructive criticism as they know that it will help them to do better. The latter fosters self-improvement. Asking for feedback from others requires a certain level of confidence. This is the main reason many people shy away from asking for consultation and feedback and this is also why many people who receive unasked feedback act defensively.
Empathy is the ability to understand the people around us. Here again, it is quite clear that there is a correlation between social skills and empathy, as people who understand others’ feelings also know how to respond in ways that are empathetic, and in-tune with the feeling content of the others’ statements. Not all of us have great talents in being empathic. To nurture the inbuilt ability to have empathy we need to place less importance on ourselves and avoid using our own background, thinking and feelings as a mould to judge others. Showing empathy does not always require of us to use nice statements that reflect others’ feelings, we can also look at them with curiosity, show a willingness and openness to listen and provide time to just be with someone in real life.
Having good social skills is related to adequately responding to others’ behaviours and knowing what is required of us in various social settings. Social skills include to have good and effective communication skills.
Assessments on EI available online vary in the amount of questions to fill out. Most of the tests are quite good, but as all assessments, whether the results reflect one’s true EI, depends on how well we know ourselves and of course how honest we fill out the questionnaire. In general, most of us have a good idea about what would be the “preferred” answer.
Some newer EI assessments include photos with facial expressions. Actors are expressing common emotions such as anger, sadness, happiness, disgust and shame. I personally do not care so much for this component of the tests as the only way to answer these questions correctly is to imagine how an actor who is asked to “show anger” will respond. It is not that hard for “neurotypicals” to interpret an actor’s facial expression as we are used to these in the movies. In real life however, it is much harder to interpret people’s facial expressions correctly, as many people will hide how they truly feel.
The items I really feel are most valuable are those with a short description about people who have conflict at work or at home. The test taker is asked to pick the reply they believe is the best action for the person described in the summary. Secondly, the test taker is asked what they would do if they were that person.
Other items I feel are quite revealing, are related to how we respond to criticism, to making mistakes and to being subjected to difficult behaviours of others. Rather than just scoring these items, it might be interesting and way more effective to ask a person who knows you best for their feedback on how you mostly respond in real-life. How we respond is not only related to our own EI, but also to the EI of others. It is so much easier to respond adequately and respectfully to others who treat you similarly. Dealing with passive aggressive behaviours, gossip and stonewalling is much harder. It is then, that our level of emotional intelligence is truly tested!
Questions and comments (as always) more than welcome!