Since it was first introduced decades ago, the concept of emotional intelligence has been heralded by many as the secret, intangible key to success. But as this concept has increased in popularity, it's also become widely misunderstood.
So, what is emotional intelligence exactly?
Emotional intelligence (EI) is a person's ability to identify emotions (in both themselves and others), to recognize the powerful effects of those emotions, and to use that information to inform and guide behavior. Practicing EI can help you reach your goals and make you more persuasive.
So, here are 11 tips brutal truths about emotions that will instantly increase your EQ:
1. Emotional intelligence begins when you ask the right questions.
Asking the right questions gives you valuable insight into the role emotions play in everyday life.
For example, if you're frustrated at work, you might ask:
- Where is the underlying problem? Is it an assignment, a colleague, a situation?
- Do I have any control over this? What can I change, and what can't I?
You can find a list of more thoughtful questions here. Get familiar with them, and you'll start to be more proactive, and less reactive.
2. You can't control your feelings. But you can control the reactions to your feelings.
Since emotions involve your natural, instinctive feelings and are influenced by brain chemistry, you can't always control how you feel.
But you can control how you act upon those feelings.
For example, let's say you have an anger management problem. The first step is to increase awareness of how anger affects you. Then, you need to develop an appropriate method for responding to that feeling--by focusing on your thoughts and actions.
All of this won't take your anger away. But it can keep you from actions that will hurt yourself and others.
3. Others see you much differently than you see yourself.
This isn't about right or wrong; it's simply understanding how perceptions differ, and the consequences those differences create. But for many, all of this goes unnoticed.
By asking those close to us--like a significant other or close friend or workmate--about our interactions with them and others, we can learn from their perspective.
4. Empathy can greatly increase the value of your work.
The ability to relate to another person's feelings goes a long way in building and fostering great relationships.
But learning to see things from another person's perspective yields immediate, everyday benefits as well--like making you a better writer, presenter, trainer and manager. (More here on the practical benefits of empathy.)
5. It's all about the long game.
Science has shown that changing deeply-ingrained behaviors and habits requires repeated effort and substantial commitment.
How can you do so? Here are seven methods that you can begin practicing today.
These methods aren't easy to apply. But with dedication and hard work, they'll help shape the way you experience even the most powerful emotions.
6. Criticism is a gift.
Nobody's right all the time; that's why criticism can help us to grow. Unfortunately, emotions often prevent us from taking advantage of negative feedback.
Instead of wasting time and energy rating how ideally criticism was delivered, ask yourself:
- How can I use this feedback to help me or my team improve?
- Putting my personal feelings aside, what can I learn from this alternate perspective?
Even if negative feedback is unfounded, it can still give you a valuable window into other perspectives.
Of course, not everyone has this ability. That's why...
7. It's vital to gain trust before delivering negative feedback.
Humans all share certain emotional needs, like a general craving for sincere acknowledgement and praise. Recognizing that, good leaders first focus on the positive (and potential) in his or her team. Additionally, by getting to know your team, their challenges, and their way of working, not only will you begin to see things from their perspective, you'll begin to earn their trust.
Negative feedback can be difficult to swallow. But if your team is confident that you've got their backs, they'll appreciate your efforts to make them better.
8. Remember that "negative" emotions can be just as beneficial as "positive" ones.
When we're happy, the coffee tastes better, the birds sound sweeter...and there's no challenge too great to handle.
But "negative" emotions (like anger, sadness, or fear) can give you the impetus to dig deep, learn more about yourself, and develop a strategy to make things better. (More on that here.)
9. Raising your EQ isn't all fun and games. But it can be.
Researchers have found that some of our favorite recreational activities can produce an increase in emotional intelligence. For example, watching films, listening to music and reading in the right way can actually help you understand and practice empathy for others.
10. EQ and EI aren't the same thing.
Nowadays, many use EQ (Emotional Quotient) and EI (Emotional Intelligence) interchangeably. But that's a mistake.
EQ is useful as shorthand to refer to a person's knowledge of emotions and how they work. It can be adopted liberally: Just as we speak of athletes having a high basketball or football IQ, an allusion to one's EQ is easily understood.
But by definition, emotional intelligence is a practical ability. And while a person may comprehend the principles of how emotions work in real life, application of that knowledge is another story. (This is the foundation of my forthcoming book, EQ Applied, which explains how emotional intelligence works in the real world.)
11. Emotional Intelligence can be used for evil.
It's important to know that, like any ability, emotional intelligence can be used both ethically and unethically. Every day, certain politicians, colleagues, and even supposed friends use emotions to manipulate others.
Of course, this is just one more reason why you should work at raising your own EI, to protect yourself.
Because in the end, that's what emotional intelligence is all about: making emotions work for you, instead of against you.
Enjoy this post? Check out my book, EQ Applied, which uses fascinating research and compelling stories to illustrate what emotional intelligence looks like in real life.
A version of this post originally appeared on Inc.com.