Emotional Intelligence - Personal & Professional Development

Emotional Intelligence Explained – How To Improve Your EQ

Last Updated on March 13, 2023 by Emory Oakley, BA

Emotional intelligence (EQ) is the ability to understand and control our feelings, understand others’ feelings, and react appropriately. One of the reasons we hear about the importance of emotional intelligence is that emotions are a big part of our lives. Emotions affect how we can build relationships, and emotional intelligence is essential for leadership and work success. 

Want to learn more? You’ve come to the right place. Let’s take a look at what emotional intelligence is,  how it influences our personal development, and whether it’s something we can learn or improve.

Definition of Emotional Intelligence 

In 1990, Peter Salovey and John Mayer were the first to develop a theory of emotional intelligence. They defined emotional intelligence as “the skills one develops to accurately recognize, understand, and manage emotions in ourselves and others.”  

Our emotions change our behavior, which can be good or bad for us and those around us. Emotional intelligence is the ability to see, understand and manage our emotions. It can be divided into four categories.

4 Categories of Emotional Intelligence

  • Self-awareness. The ability to recognize and understand our own emotions and their impact. (Remember, our emotions not only affect us but also impact others.)
  • Self-management. The ability to manage our emotions, particularly negative or disruptive emotions. 
  • Social awareness. The ability to recognize and understand how others feel and the awareness to consider those feelings before responding in social situations. Empathy allows us to understand how emotions impact relationships.
  • Relationship management. Using our understanding of emotions to build strong interpersonal relationships. This includes using communication skills such as active listening as well as verbal and nonverbal communication [1].

EQ vs IQ – What Is The Difference, and Which is More Important?

IQ, or intelligence quotient, is not only a measurement of intelligence. IQ is a measure of a person’s reasoning ability based on a standardized test. We calculate IQ through an IQ test and compare the results to the average scores. 

Many people used to believe IQ alone could determine success. But we now realize IQ is a narrow view of human intelligence. To some extent, IQ predicts an individual’s performance at school and work, but it isn’t enough on its own to predict success. Researchers thus stress we shouldn’t overestimate the role of IQ as a predictor of personal achievement [2]. 

It also appears we can improve our emotional intelligence more easily than our cognitive capacities. This means we can influence our success in life by focusing on EQ over IQ. 


We live in a world where social interaction is an important part of our day-to-day lives. Leading a successful, fulfilling life also depends on how well we work with others. As a result, social and emotional intelligence are also significant contributors to personal development and success. 

EQ and IQ exist together and so are most effective when used in combination. But if we had to say which is most important, say in the workplace,  it’s important to realize that emotional intelligence is a more accurate predictor of performance. Research has found that success at work is 80% dependent on emotional intelligence and only 20% on intelligence [3]. So, we can improve our professional performance by developing our emotional intelligence. 

Why Is Emotional Intelligence  So Essential?

Emotional intelligence is essential because of the many aspects of life it influences. Our emotions are a driving force in our decision-making and in building relationships. As a consequence, understanding and managing emotions impact achievement, both academically and socially. 

As we have seen above, emotional intelligence predicts outcomes such as academic performance [4] and workplace success [5]. But it also predicts psychological well-being [6] and helps us to build meaningful relationships with others [7]. Additionally, self-awareness allows us to manage stress better, which improves our physical and mental health. 

How Does Emotional Intelligence Support Leadership?

Emotional intelligence is also important for leadership. Studies have shown that the most successful leaders are empathetic, strong communicators who are able to collaborate when resolving conflict [8].

We can see emotional intelligence is predictive of successful leadership, but why? Self-aware leaders understand how their emotions and behaviors affect others. They also know how they themselves are influenced by others. As a result, they’re more likely to remain calm, even in stressful situations [9]. They are also able to use this information to change their reactions, which is called “self-regulation.” 

Moreover, emotionally intelligent leaders are more likely to be empathic and try to understand people on their team. This empathy fosters motivation and creates an environment where workers are willing to take risks. Leaders high in emotional intelligence are also more effective communicators [10]. They can adapt to change, manage conflict, and understand the importance of mutual respect and recognition.

Leadership And Emotional Intelligence - Respect

What Happens When Leaders Are Not Emotionally Intelligent?

Whether it’s in the professional realm or at home, leadership and management roles can be stressful. Those unable to manage their emotions are going to experience challenges as leaders. They are more likely to react emotionally through aggressive or defensive behavior. Also, leaders are responsible for managing conflict. A lack of empathy will make conflict resolution difficult [11]. 

Being able to deal with conflict in constructive ways is important to creating safe work and home environments. Conflict resolution builds positive relationships and fosters a sense of safety and mutual trust. Conflict resolution also promotes the psychological well-being of everyone involved.

How Leaders Can Show Emotional Intelligence

Showing emotional intelligence can be helpful for those who manage people, independent of whether the managing takes place in the macrocosm of an organization or in the microcosm of family life. This, in turn, influences the well-being of those involved. So, building emotional intelligence skills can improve a leader’s success and effectiveness.

 Here are some ways to build on emotional intelligence as a leader. 

#1 – Connect With People On a Personal Level 

Connecting with people on a personal level helps to build understanding and empathy. This creates a more collaborative atmosphere. It also provides a space where people may ask questions and give feedback without fear of consequences. 

Connection - Emotional Intelligence

#2 – Seek Mutual Understanding 

Through active listening, leaders can seek understanding of others’ needs and emotions. This will help everyone to feel more understood and supported. It will also enable leaders to manage conflicts effectively. 

#3 – Practice Self-Regulation Through Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a great skill to help anyone become more effective at managing stress. Leaders can profit from mindfulness, too, by developing self-awareness and self-regulation, which are related to emotional intelligence.

How To Develop Your Emotional Intelligence

There are many skills you can practice in order to build your emotional intelligence. Here are some ideas to get started:


  • Expand your emotion vocabulary and learn to describe your feelings to understand them better. 
  • Learn about the function of emotions. Emotions – even the negative ones – can serve essential functions. For instance, they can:
    • Motivate automatic actions or reactions in you essential to your survival (e.g., fight, flight, or freeze responses)
    • Communicate your needs to others
    • Communicate Your needs to Yourself. 
  • Understand what triggers are and how they can impact emotional responses. Learn what your own triggers are, e.g. through therapy or conversations with friends.
Emotional Intelligence And Active Listening


  • Practice deep breathing and other relaxing, mindful exercises. Mindfulness helps you to keep a clear mind and manage stress.
  • Practice expressing anger appropriately. Be mindful of how your anger impacts others. While anger is a natural emotion, it makes many people uncomfortable or scared. So, it can be helpful to change the way you think about anger, understand when anger is valuable and when it isn’t, and how to express it appropriately.
  • Ask for constructive feedback from others.

Social Awareness

  • Practice paying attention to cues of emotional responses in others. These may include tone, facial expressions, body language, etc. In conversations with others, repeat or paraphrase what the person said to check your understanding.

Relationship Management

  • Engage in non-judgmental, reflective, and active listening. Express empathy, respect, and appreciation, both verbally and non-verbally.
  • Understand common barriers to responding effectively to emotionally distressed people – for example, uncertainty about what to say or do, lack of clarity about your role and the expectations that are placed on you, or lack of emotional support.
Emotional Support - Friendships

The Bottom Line

Emotional intelligence is an important skill. Many school programs now include emotional intelligence skill-building. Research suggests emotionally intelligent children are more likely to become emotionally intelligent adults. If there are areas of emotional intelligence you aren’t feeling strong in, don’t worry. Developing these skills takes practice, and your skills will improve with time. 

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