What is Emotional Intelligence and
Why do We Need It?

In its simplest and most concise form emotional intelligence (referred temotional intelligenceo as EI or EQ) can be defined as the ability to perceive, assess, and manage one's own, as well as the emotions of others. There is, however, disagreement amongst psychologists as to the scope and depth that emotional intelligence encompasses.

For example, according to psychologist Dr. John D. Mayer, who has published extensively on emotional intelligence and co-developed a four branch model of it with Dr. Peter Salovey, the concept of emotional intelligence is frequently claimed to be many things it is not. Current popular EI literature often inaccurately equates it to other personality traits.

According to Dr. Mayer, Daniel Goleman's book (Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ), while it is an entertaining journalistic account that covers many interesting studies, it incorrectly lumps together different psychological qualities that are separate and independent of each other.

Some of these attributes include social skills, all forms of self-regulation, motives, and warmth, among many others.

Rather than emotional intelligence, such models are called 'mixed models' since they mix attributes unrelated directly, or specifically, to either emotion, or intelligence.

So what is Emotional Intelligence?

Here is what emotional intelligence is NOT, according to Mayer:

  • Agreeableness
  • Optimism
  • Happiness
  • Motivation
  • Calmness
While these qualities are important, they have little to do with intelligence or emotions, and nothing to do with emotional intelligence. In an article for American Psychologist, Dr. Mayer and his colleagues point out:

"...groups of widely studied personality traits, including motives such as the need for achievement, self-related concepts such as self-control, emotional traits such as happiness, and social styles such as assertiveness should be called what they are, rather than being mixed together in haphazard-seeming assortments and named emotional intelligence. (p.514)"

According to Dr. Mayer, emotional intelligence is the capacity to reason about emotions and emotional information, and of emotions to enhance thought.  Compared to Goleman's more inclusive characterization, a precise definition would be:

"Emotional intelligence is the ability to perceive emotions; to access and generate emotions so as to assist thought; to understand emotions and emotional knowledge; and to reflectively regulate emotions so as to promote emotional and intellectual growth."

People who are considered to have high EI can solve a variety of emotion-related problems accurately and quickly. They can correctly perceive emotions in faces in others and what the emotions convey. For instance, they know that angry people can be dangerous, that happy people want to relate with others, and that sad people often prefer to be alone.

High EI people are also adept at managing their own as well as others' emotions. They know how to use emotional episodes in their own lives to promote specific types of thinking.  Solving problems requires less cognitive effort for those high in EI. These individuals also tend to be higher in verbal, social and other intelligences. They are generally more open and agreeable and are drawn to occupations involving social interactions such as teaching, counseling and interacting with others.

Mayer & Salovey's Four Branch Model
of Emotional Intelligence

In the late 1980's, after various psychologists, psychiatrists, and evolutionary biologists had identified a number of human capacities involved in identifying and understand emotions, in 1990, Drs. Mayer and Salovey proposed that these abilities make up the collective concept of emotional intelligence . Ultimately they suggested that emotional intelligence be divided into a four-branch model which was subsequently published in 1997.

The four branch model of emotional intelligence describes four areas of capabilities, or skills, that define emotional intelligence. 

These abilities include:

✓accurately perceive emotions in oneself and others
✓use emotions to facilitate thinking
✓understand emotional meanings, and
✓manage emotions 

The Four Branches of Emotional Intelligence

Perceiving Emotion - The capacity to accurately perceive emotions in the faces or voices of others. It provides the starting point for more advanced understanding of emotions.

Using Emotion to Facilitate Thought - The capacity to utilize EI Chart emotion in guiding cognitive processes. A good system of emotional input helps in the contemplation of important matters. Emotions are also essential for creativity.

Understanding Emotions - Emotions convey information, therefore understanding emotional messages and the actions associated with them are central to this skill.

Managing Emotions - Emotions can be managed. Once the information behind the emotion is gathered and understood, it can be regulated and managed.

Why is emotional intelligence important?

While the definitions of emotional intelligence vary in scope and depth, many believe that it is at least as important as traditional IQ which is why many companies now use EI testing to hire new staff. Here are some ways in which a high EI quotient is beneficial:
  • Helps you relate well and cooperate with others in the workplace (understanding other people's emotions and motives)
  • Helps you achieve your goals (cooperation with others, emotion management, maturity)
  • Maintain satisfying personal relationships (by managing and balancing your emotions)
  • Live a more balanced lifestyle (personal and emotion management)
  • Respond to others with empathy and compassion
  • Allows you to be more playful and creative (in touch with your emotions)
  • Resolve conflict more easily

How to Improve Your Emotional Intelligence

Unfortunately emotional intelligence can be taught and developed. There is much literature and many tests available to help you determine your current EI and identify where you may need to do some work. Here are some tips to help you along:

✓ Become self-aware. Learn to recognize your emotions and their effects, how you react to your environment and how your emotions affect your behavior. Use them to find ways to make better decisions and problem solve in areas where you have weakness.

✓ Observe how you react in stressful situations. Do you get upset quickly? Do you blame others and get angry? How do you behave when things go wrong? Being able to stay calm and keep your emotions in control in difficult situations is important at home and in the workplace.
✓ Manage your emotions. Practice controlling impulsive feelings and behaviors. Deal with your emotions in healthy ways; take initiative; be reliable and responsible; learn to adapt to changing circumstances.

✓ Become socially aware. Take time to observe how you interact with people. Examine how your actions affect others. Do you listen and think about what they are saying? Are you open-minded and accepting? Learn to pick up emotional cues. Appreciate what people are saying and why they are saying it. Develop cross culture sensitivity.

Emotional intelligence is an intelligence that has to do with discerning and understanding emotional information. To be sure, an intellectual understanding of emotional intelligence is very important, but ultimately, the development of it depends on sensory, non-verbal learning and much practice.

Related Articles:
5 Ways to Boost Your Emotional Intelligence
5 Effective Ways to Control Your Emotions
7 Ways to Improve Your Likeability Factor
Develop A Healthy Self-Concept
8 Great Tips on How to Get Along With People

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