Why Is Emotional Intelligence Important? | Chris Kresser

Why Is Emotional Intelligence Important?

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Why Is Emotional Intelligence Important?
Emotional intelligence is important for your relationships—professional and personal. iStock/skynesher

You’ve heard about IQ, but do you know anything about EQ? Read on to learn what emotional intelligence (EQ) is, how it affects the workplace, relationships, and health, and some practices that may help increase your emotional intelligence.

What Is Emotional Intelligence?

Your diet is dialed in, you get enough sleep, and you exercise regularly, but what about your emotional health? That is, your emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence is the ability to be mindful of your own emotions as well as those of others, so use this information to guide your own thinking and behavior in beneficial ways. Unlike IQ, which is usually considered “fixed,” emotional intelligence (sometimes referred to as “EQ,” as in “emotional quotient”) can be improved with time and practice and can positively affect your professional and personal life.

According to Daniel Goleman, author of the bestselling book Emotional Intelligence, EQ has five components. (1)

1. Self-Awareness

Self-awareness is the ability to notice and name your emotions and the physical sensations associated with them—both the good and the bad.

This may sound easy to do, but for some of us, tuning in to emotion can be a challenge. We may have been raised to believe that intense emotion, in particular, is a weakness, whether it’s feeling sadness or anger or anything that makes us “emotional.” So, we keep it bottled up. On the flipside, society may also frown upon us if we feel out of control and want help from a mental health professional to understand our emotions.. Even today, going to a “shrink” still carries a stigma, though in actuality, getting help when you need it is a golden opportunity to work on your mental health and improve your EQ.

There is a difference between “feeling all the feelings” and knowing what to do with them—and that’s where self-awareness comes in. In order to become emotionally intelligent, you first have to be able to acknowledge your emotions and their source, instead of sweeping them under the rug.

2. Self-Regulation

Although we can’t necessarily control our reactive emotions, we can get better at working skillfully with these heightened feelings. This process of self-regulation is all about the choices we make in the face of difficult situations.

For example, when experiencing anger, instead of lashing out reactively, with practice you could choose to spend five minutes practicing a breathing technique before responding to the situation. Being non-reactive while in a heightened emotional state requires a great deal of practice, but it’s possible to learn to self-regulate in just about every situation. (You’ll find a discussion of some of those techniques at the end of this article.)

3. Empathy

Empathy is the ability to perceive others’ emotions and understand their perspectives. Today we live in such a distracted world. Whenever I am in a public place such as a restaurant or park, I can’t help but notice how people of all ages are glued to their smartphones rather than actually engaging with friends and family who are right there! That said, this isn’t a brand-new problem, though our daily “screen habits” have made it more challenging to look up, connect, and engage.

Developing empathy requires physically tuning into those around us to identify and interpret facial expressions, postures, gestures, tone, and more, and empathy is a prerequisite for emotional intelligence. (2)

4. Motivation

People who are self-motivated tend to be more optimistic, better leaders, and more successful. Self-motivation involves examining your reasons for wanting to achieve goals, being able to delay gratification, and striving to always improve. When things don’t go as planned, people with more motivation are more resilient.

5. Social Skills

Being able to recognize another’s emotions is one aspect of social skills, but being able to interact with them in light of this information is another ballgame. People with keen social skills develop strong relationships and excel in the workforce, especially in positions of leadership or teamwork. (3)

Emotional intelligence can improve your relationships—professional and personal—and have positive effects for your health. Find out more about EQ and learn how to improve yours. #healthylifestyle #chriskresser

Emotional Intelligence Is Good for You, Your Professional Performance, and Your Personal Relationships

The benefits of robust emotional intelligence extend beyond your own emotional well-being. Higher EQ is linked to better health, stronger relationships, and higher performance at work.

Your Health

Much of the research that links emotional intelligence to good health is based on the effects of stress and health. Lower emotional intelligence correlates with higher stress and increased loneliness.

Higher emotional intelligence leads to better relationships and lower stress, which are linked to: (4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9)

  • Better mental health, including lower anxiety and depression
  • Stronger immune system
  • Improved cardiovascular health
  • Better blood sugar control
  • Lower levels of cortisol and a healthy HPA axis
  • Better wound healing
  • Longer telomeres, the protective end caps on strands of DNA (shortened telomeres are associated with chronic disease and accelerated aging)

Your Professional Performance

Most people would consider good managers and successful CEOs to be just downright smart. While many CEOs probably do score above average on a standard IQ test, when it comes to professional success, sharp brains aren’t the only factor. In fact, EQ actually matters a great deal more than IQ. In fact, as one researcher writes, “For jobs of all kinds, emotional intelligence is twice as important as a person’s intelligence quotient and technical skills combined.” (10)

With very few exceptions, a job involves interacting with other people on some level. Therefore, it makes perfect sense that emotional intelligence influences success at work.

Most of the research demonstrating a connection between emotional intelligence and professional performance involves studies of doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals. (11, 12) This connection is obvious—good doctors need empathy, they need to have steady self-motivation to prevent burnout, and they need to self-regulate emotions in a high-stress environment that sometimes involves life-or-death decisions. Those working in the health coaching profession also need emotional intelligence to be able to connect with their clients.

But regardless of profession, higher emotional intelligence correlates with success in the workplace by fostering skills in:

  • Leadership: Emotional intelligence correlates strongly with effective leadership skills, especially in higher-level positions. (13)
  • Teamwork: High-level executives with higher emotional intelligence scores were more likely to cultivate productive working relationships with their colleagues. (14)
  • Decision-making: People with higher emotional intelligence are especially good at making “hot” decisions, where the emotional stakes are high. (15, 16)
  • Negotiation: Negotiation involves self-regulation, good social skills, and interpreting others’ thoughts and emotions. One interesting study that assigned participants the roles of “buyer” or “seller” found that sellers with higher EQs were better at negotiating deals, but that emotional intelligence didn’t make a difference for the buyer’s negotiating skills. (17)
  • Performance: A 2015 meta-analysis showed that emotional intelligence was a strong predictor of overall job performance and job satisfaction. (18)
  • Working memory capacity: People with higher emotional intelligence have a greater capacity of working memory and the ability to weed out extraneous information and focus on the task at hand, especially in emotional situations. (19)

Your Relationships

A strong connection between high EQ and good interpersonal relationships is not at all surprising. Emotional intelligence consistently predicts positive relationships in both children and adults. (20, 21) Being more aware of your emotions and those of the people around you cultivates compassion. Being able to self-regulate extreme emotions ensures that you won’t default to something hurtful (that you’ll likely regret) in the heat of the moment. And if you are on the receiving end of a negative comment, with EQ you’ll have the ability to process the emotions it may elicit in a way that will be helpful, and not harmful, to yourself and others.

How to Improve Emotional Intelligence

As I mentioned earlier, IQ is considered a fixed value for most people, but you can work to improve your emotional intelligence by taking advantage of your brain’s own neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is the ability of our brains to change based on stimuli like thoughts, behaviors, and emotions. (22) Connections between neurons can either grow stronger or weaker based on habitual patterns. As neuropsychologist Donald Hebb described it, “Neurons that fire together, wire together.”

Neuroplasticity explains why expert violinists show extra development in the brain regions that control dexterity, why cab drivers in London tend to have great spatial memory—and why your thought patterns and emotional habits can affect your health. (23, 24)

Several studies have shown that intensive programs of emotional intelligence can improve EQ. After a 10- or 11-week intervention, managers and supervisors showed significant improvements in EQ. (25, 26) Similarly, employees who completed an intervention program demonstrated improved emotional intelligence, along with improvements in well-being, performance, and stress levels. (27)

Behavioral, cognitive, and psychological therapies of all kinds have the potential to enhance emotional intelligence, but I’m going to focus on a few that I consider to be most effective.

Mindfulness

I’ve written in depth about the benefits of mindfulness and mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness is the antidote to our distracted tendencies in the modern world. By being aware of the present moment, physical sensations, thoughts, and surroundings, we are more connected with our emotions and can begin to identify patterns and triggers.

Once we are able to better identify our emotional patterns, we can start to implement the self-regulation aspect to recognize when emotions might be out of proportion or damaging to the current situation, whether we’re in a work environment or dealing with a personal relationship. Mindfulness has been shown to increase positive emotions, reduce negative emotions and stress, and even produce measurable brain structure changes. (28, 29)

The Dynamic Neural Retraining System

The Dynamic Neural Retraining System (DNRS) aims to repair the body’s limbic system. The limbic system in the brain is basically a series of structures located within the midbrain that is known as our “feeling and reacting” brain. When we experience emotional or psychological stress or other types of trauma, our limbic system becomes “stuck” in a trauma response. DNRS uses a top-down, self-directed, neuroplasticity-based approach to repair the trauma response.

For more information on DNRS, check out my podcast with Annie Hopper.

Positive Psychology

The aim of positive psychology is to shift one’s focus from correcting their weaknesses to building up their best qualities. (30) There is a time and a place to work on self-improvement or remedying a dire situation, but by harnessing your character strengths, you can rekindle self-motivation and be happier.

I don’t mean to imply that “thinking positive” will fix everything, but changing how you react to stressful events and failures can make a huge difference in your life. In Martin Seligman’s book Learned Optimism, he discusses what he calls “the three P’s of resilience.” He argues that when something “bad” happens to pessimists, they tend to view the situation as:

  • Personal, i.e., their own fault
  • Pervasive, i.e., that these negative situations occur in every aspect of their lives
  • Permanence, i.e., that things don’t have the potential to improve

Instead, in response to a negative experience, it’s better to consider the problem to be:

  • Due to other people or outside circumstances, instead of one’s own fault
  • Contained to this situation, instead of being applicable to one’s entire life
  • Temporary, instead of believing things can never change

If you are able to recognize these three P’s in your own thinking, you can take steps to redirect your thoughts. With practice, optimism can become more automatic.

So, are your emotional intelligence levels at work and at home healthy and in balance, or could one or both use some fine-tuning? For most of us, if we’re totally honest, the answer is yes. I hope some of the information here will lead you to a higher, healthier EQ.

I encourage you to think of a good boss you’ve had or a close relationship you’ve maintained—do you think high emotional intelligence played a part? How would you rate your own emotional intelligence? What can you learn from successful relationships you’ve experienced, and how can you apply it today, at work and at home?

Health coaches help their clients hit their goals and achieve long-lasting change. Using their knowledge of human motivation and behavior, as well as their ability to connect and build strong relationships with others, they empower their clients to tap into their own wisdom and strength, offer support without judgement, help others create their own solutions to their problems, and hold them accountable to their goals.

Their work makes a difference each day in the lives of their clients and in the fight against the chronic disease epidemic. If this appeals to you, you might have what it takes to become a health coach—and the ADAPT Health Coach Training Program can help you do it. Find out more about our year-long virtual course and discover if health coaching is the right career for you.