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Is being intelligent and emotionally intelligent the same thing?

Emotional intelligence gives us the ability to read our instinctive feelings and those of others. Furthermore, it allows us to understand and label emotions as well as express and regulate them. You probably think that you can already do that. We spot and understand emotions in ourselves and others and label them accurately in order to guide our patterns of thoughts and actions.

However, studies show that most of us tend to overrate our own emotional intelligence. That's important because our ability to read, understand and respond to emotions in ourselves and others is a crucial aspect in predicting our health, happiness and personal and professional wellbeing.

So let’s see what it takes to improve our emotional intelligence.​


Understanding emotional intelligence

The theory of emotional intelligence -- and the term itself – originates from Yale university in the USA. Their research results demonstrated how emotions had an obvious impact on people’s thinking and behaviour.

Following from that, they continued building on that framework to refine definitions of what exactly is at the core of emotional intelligence. In a nutshell, emotional intelligence is being smart about your feelings. It's how to use your emotions to inform your thinking and use your thinking to inform your emotions. It's having an awareness of how your emotions drive your decisions and behaviours so you can effectively engage with and influence others. People who are emotionally intelligent tend to be empathetic, can observe situations from an alternative point of view, are considered open-minded, rebound quickly from challenges and pursue their goals despite any obstacles they might face.

Some people think of emotional intelligence as a soft skill or the ability or the tendency to be nice. But what it's really about is understanding what is going on for you in the moment so that you can make conscious choices about how you want to use your emotions and how you want to manage yourself and how you want to be seen in the world. People with more emotional intelligence are healthier, happier and more effective.


Why should you care about it?

Emotional intelligence is a better predictor of career success than an impressive CV or a high IQ score. Well ... be honest…. Isn’t that your own experience? Has anyone you worked with ever been fired or asked to leave, even when they had the competency or technical skills for the job?

I hope that you will agree that we might be hired for technical talents, but we are often fired because we lack emotional intelligence.

People with a low level of emotional intelligence can be successful, but they could be even more successful if they had a higher level of emotional intelligence.

It is how well you can collaborate, how well you engage with others and influence. It's the stories you can tell, the way you can bring data to life in a way that connects with others. Those are the things that are going to set you apart from those who only have the technical skills and technical experience.


Testing emotional intelligence

There are a number of emotional intelligence self-assessments, usually broken down into "your ability to manage yourself, your ability to manage relationships, your self-awareness and your social awareness.

Your results will be measured along with others who have taken the assessment to give some indication of where you fall on the statistical spectrum from low to high emotional intelligence.

However, measurement is a tricky subject because it has been found that people tend to overestimate their emotional intelligence, which is why it’s better to measure it through performance assessments. In a performance assessment, people are required to problem-solve; they must decode facial expressions or strategize in an emotionally tense situation. That way, their knowledge and skills can be tested as opposed to their own beliefs about them.

Another form of an emotional intelligence test is a "360 assessment."

In a workplace setting, a 360 assessment is a process involving feedback from colleagues and supervisors evaluating a person emotional intelligence. In my experience, we see ourselves differently than others do.

When a co-worker takes the 360 assessment of you it provides an opportunity to compare it to your self-assessment. An alternative way to take a 360 assessment without undergoing a formal test is to ask a trusted adviser, perhaps a current or former boss, to evaluate your emotional intelligence.

However, be warned, when you ask for someone's feedback, be prepared to accept what they share. This stuff can feel very personal. On the one hand we say we want to learn and grow, but on the other hand, we want to be accepted just the way we are, and those two human traits can create a tricky situation.


Can emotional intelligence be improved?

From the earliest ages, children need to be taught how to recognise their emotions, understand what those emotions mean and label them accurately in order to be able to express and manage themselves.

For adults who did not receive a solid education on emotional intelligence, improving will require some hard work, but it certainly doable. This is another area where coaching can prove quite successful. I suggest to my clients to create an action plan including specific goals. Pick one or two areas where you want to grow and get some advice (I help with that) on how to best start to embody whatever factor of emotional intelligence you are trying to modify and promote.

If you are trying to gain better control of your anger, for example, you might find a healthy outlet for it -- whether it be yoga, Heartmath or boxing.

It’s also a good idea to seek out perspectives from those who may not agree with you. Be intentional about that. Take active steps to do that. If you constantly surround yourself with people who believe just like you do, then you are hearing the same conversations, and you are not developing, and you are not learning to be open to perspectives.

Seek out strategies that are effective for managing emotions. Practice them and then re-evaluate how those strategies are working for you. It's important to spend time reflecting on and contemplating about your influence and how people respond to your emotions, be more self- and socially aware about your presence.

You should also try prolonging the time between when you are triggered by something and when you react. Pause, slow down and take a deep breath. Imagine what your best self looks like. Taking the time to pause and think about what your best self would do in each situation may help you avoid letting your emotions control you. You are allowing yourself time to manage your emotions, get in the zone, build resilience.

How we talk to ourselves can also have a huge impact on our emotions and our health if that self-talk is negative. We should never talk to someone else the way we often talk to ourselves.

There is no question in my mind that if people were to really appreciate how important emotions are, allowed themselves to have emotions, were in touch with their emotions, made space for other people to have their emotions and handled those emotions skilfully in the service of making a better world, we would in fact make it happen.


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