Emotional Intelligence: Definition, Components & Examples

By Mia Belle Frothingham, published June 26, 2022 | Fact Checked by Saul Mcleod, PhD


Emotional intelligence, or EI, refers to perceiving, controlling, and evaluating emotions. Some researchers propose that emotional intelligence can be learned and strengthened, while others argue it is an inborn characteristic.

The ability to express and manage emotions is essential, but so is the ability to understand, diagnose, and react to the emotions of others. Imagine a world in which one could not understand when a friend felt sad, or a classmate was angry. Psychologists refer to this knowledge as emotional intelligence, and some experts even suggest that it can be more significant than IQ in one's overall success throughout one's life.

Why is Emotional Intelligence Critical?

Emotional Intelligence is the “ability to monitor one’s own and other people’s emotions, to discriminate between different emotions and label them appropriately, and to use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior” (Salovey and Mayer, 1990).

Having a higher level of emotional intelligence allows one to empathize with others, communicate effectively, and be both self and socially aware. How people respond to themselves and others impacts all types of environments.

Living in this world signifies interacting with many diverse kinds of individuals and constant change with life-changing surprises. Being emotionally intelligent is key to how one reacts to what life throws one's way. It is furthermore a fundamental element of compassion and comprehending the deeper reasons behind other people's actions.

It is not the most intelligent people who are the most prosperous or the most fulfilled in life. There are many people who are academically genius and yet are socially incompetent and unsuccessful in their careers or their intimate relationships.

Intellectual ability or intelligence quotient (IQ) is not enough on its own to achieve success in life. Undoubtedly, IQ can help one get into university, but your Emotional Intelligence (EI) will help one manage stress and emotions when facing final exams. IQ and EI exist in tandem and are most influential when they build off one another.

Emotional intelligence is also valuable for leaders who set the tone of their organization. If leaders lack emotional intelligence, it could have more far-reaching consequences, resulting in lower worker engagement and a higher turnover rate.

While one might excel at one's job technically, if one cannot effectively communicate with one's team or collaborate with others, those specialized skills will get neglected. By mastering emotional intelligence, one can make a positive impact anywhere and continue to advance one's position and career in life.

EI is vital when dealing with stressful situations like confrontation, change, and obstacles. Emotional intelligence helps one build stronger relationships, succeed at work or school, and achieve one's career and personal goals, as well as reduce group stress, defuse conflict, and enhance job satisfaction.

It can also help connect with one's inner feelings, turn purpose into action, and make informed decisions about what matters most to oneself. During these times, it is essential to remember to practice kindness, and being in touch with our emotions can help one do just that. 

What are the Four Components of Emotional Intelligence?

How does one become emotionally intelligent? Below we will discuss what one can do to learn to improve the skills that are behind emotional intelligence (EI).

Emotional intelligence refers to the ability to recognize the meanings of emotions and to reason and problem-solve on the basis of them (Mayer, Caruso, & Salovey, 1999).

By working on and improving these skills, one can become more emotionally intelligent and, therefore, more successful!

Emotional Intelligence Components

Emotional Awareness and Understanding

Self-awareness, or the ability to recognize and comprehend one's own emotions, is a vital emotional intelligence skill. Beyond just acknowledging one's feelings, however, is being conscious of the effect of one's actions, moods, and emotions on other people.

According to research done by Tasha Eurich, organizational psychologist, 95% of individuals believe they are self-aware. Still, in actuality, only 10 to 15 percent genuinely are, and that can cause problems for the people one interacts with. Being with people who are not self-aware can be frustrating and lead to increased stress and decreased encouragement.

To become self-aware, one must be capable of monitoring one's emotions while recognizing different emotional reactions and correctly identifying each distinct emotion. Self-aware individuals also have the ability to recognize the connections between the things they feel and how they act.

These individuals also acknowledge their own strengths and weaknesses, are open to new data and experiences, and learn from their exchanges with others. Furthermore, people who maintain self-awareness have a fine sense of humour, are confident in themselves and their capabilities and know how others perceive them.

Here are some tips on improving one's self-awareness:

  • Ask for constructive feedback from others.

  • Keep a journal of one's thoughts and feelings.

  • Practice mindfulness - try meditating.

  • Pay careful attention to one's thoughts and emotions.

  • Pursue one's passions and do what makes one happy.

  • Learn new skills and set goals for oneself.

  • Reflect on one's experiences and be grateful.

  • Use positive self-talk daily.

  • Work on building a growth mindset.

Emotional Self Regulation (Managing Emotions)

In addition to being aware of one's own emotions and the impact one has on others, emotional intelligence requires an individual to be able to regulate and manage one's emotions.

This does not mean taking emotions out of sight and essentially "locking" them away, hence hiding one's true feelings. It just means waiting for the right time and place to express them. Self-regulation is all about communicating one's emotions appropriately in context. A reaction tends to be involuntary.

The more in tune one is with one's emotional intelligence, the easier one can transition from an instant reaction to a well-thought-out response. It is crucial to remember to pause, breathe, compose oneself, and do what it takes to manage one's emotions. This could mean anything to oneself, like taking a walk or talking to a friend, so that one can more appropriately and intentionally respond to tension and adversity.

Those who are proficient in self-regulation tend to be flexible and acclimate well to change. They are also suitable for handling conflict and diffusing uncomfortable or difficult situations.

People with healthy self-regulation skills also tend to have heightened conscientiousness. They are reflective about how they influence others and take accountability for their actions.

Here are some tips on improving one's self-regulation:

  • Look at challenges as opportunities.

  • Be mindful of one's thoughts and feelings.

  • Build distress and anxiety tolerance skills.

  • Work on accepting one's reflections and emotions.

  • Find ways to manage difficult emotions.

  • Practice one's communication and social skills.

  • Recognize that one has a choice in how one responds.

  • Use cognitive reframing to change emotional responses and thought patterns.

Social Empathy (Perceiving Emotions)

Empathy, or the capability to comprehend how other people are feeling, is crucial to perfecting emotional intelligence.

However, it involves more than just being able to identify the emotional states of others. It also affects one's responses to people based on this knowledge. How does one respond when one senses that someone is feeling sad or hopeless? One might treat them with extra care and consideration, or one might make a push to lift their mood.

Being empathetic also allows one to understand the authority dynamics that frequently influence social relationships, especially in the workplace. This is essential for guiding one's daily interactions with various people. In fact, it is found that empathy ranks as the number one leadership skill.

Leaders proficient in empathy perform more than 40% higher in coaching, engaging others, and decision-making. In a different study, researchers found that leaders who show more empathy toward their co-workers and constructive criticism are viewed as better performers by their supervisors.

Those competent in this element are able to recognize who maintains power in different relationships. They also understand how these forces impact feelings and behaviors. Because of this, they can accurately analyze different situations that hinge on such power dynamics.

Here are some tips on improving one's social empathy:

  • Be willing to share one's own emotions.

  • Listen to other people.

  • Practice meditation.

  • Engage in a purpose like a community project. 

  • Meet and talk to new people.

  • Try to imagine oneself in someone else's place.

Social Skills (Using Emotions)

The ability to interact well with others is another vital aspect of emotional intelligence. Solid social skills allow people to build meaningful relationships with others and develop a more robust understanding of themselves and others.

Proper emotional understanding involves more than just understanding one's own emotions and those of others. One also needs to be able to put this information to work in one's daily interactions and communications.

In workplace or professional settings, managers benefit by being able to build relationships and connections with employees. Workers benefit from developing a solid rapport with leaders and co-workers. Some prefer to avoid conflict, but it is crucial to address issues as they arise correctly.

Research shows that every unaddressed conflict can waste almost eight hours of company time on unproductive activities, damaging resources and morale. Essential social skills include active listening, verbal communication, nonverbal communication, leadership, and persuasiveness.

Here are some tips on improving one's social skills:

  • Ask open-ended questions.

  • Find icebreakers that will help start conversations.

  • Practice good eye contact.

  • Practice active listening with the entire body.

  • Notice other people's social skills.

  • Show interest in others and ask them personal questions.

  • Watch one's body language and that of others.

Examples of Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace

Emotional intelligence includes showing genuine compassion, empathizing with the needs of individuals, and encouraging the on-going personal growth of individuals.

When a leader takes into account the emotions of their followers, they then learn how to best engage with them.

1. Lending a Compassionate Ear to a Frustrated Co-Worker

It is inevitable that employees will get upset, have bad moods, argue, and just generally have bad days. In practice, compassion, understanding, and awareness are definite signs of emotional intelligence.

Awareness of and reacting to other people's emotional states shows an understanding that all humans experience intense emotions and says that a person's feelings matter.

2. Listening to Others Respectfully

Ever been in a conference when it seems like everyone is speaking over each other, trying to get the last word?

This is not only an indication of egos taking over and a lack of consideration for others; these are also indications of there being a lack of emotional intelligence.

When individuals are allowed to speak, and others listen without persistent interruptions, it is a good sign of EI. It shows reciprocal respect between parties and is more likely to lead to a productive conclusion in meetings.

3. Being Flexible

Flexibility is a critical term in organizations today. Building flexibility into how people function can be the difference between keeping the best workers and drifting out the door.

Emotionally intelligent leaders comprehend the changing needs of others and are ready to work with them, rather than attempting to impose rigid restrictions on how people go about their work.

They do not expect everyone to work the hours that they do, hold the same priorities, or live by precisely the same values.

Examples of Emotional Intelligence in the Healthcare

1. Being Patient with Hurting Individuals

When in healthcare, it is expected that doctors and nurses will have to manage people in pain. Emotional intelligence not only allows for better patient care but also for better self-care.

For instance, if a patient is lashing out, and one can see that they are in pain, one will be far less likely to take their combativeness personally and treat them better.

2. Acting as the Effective Leader

In healthcare, there is a necessity to have influential leaders, a trusting environment with a helpful team, critical thinking, and quality patient and family-centered care.

A higher emotional intelligence will allow healthcare professionals to respond and react better to patients. Studies have shown a correlation between emotional intelligence and positive patient outcomes.

3. Responding Better to Stressful Situations

Multiple occasions in healthcare involve an urgent situation involving a life or death scenario. Doctors and nurses must be checking their own emotions. Being in healthcare is a highly emotional career, and being aware of your feelings when they come up is key to effective self-care.

Interacting with patients can cause overwhelming joy or deep sadness, and these fluctuations can be utterly exhausting.

The ability to deal with these feelings, take breaks and ask for help when you need it is another example of good emotional intelligence that nurses should practice.

Be more self-aware

Awareness of one's emotions and emotional responses to others can significantly improve one's emotional intelligence. Knowing when one is feeling anxious or angry can help process and communicate those feelings in a way that promotes healthy results.

Recognize how others feel

Emotional intelligence could start with self-reflection, but measuring how others perceive one's behavior and communication is essential. Adjusting one's message based on how one is being received is an integral part of being emotionally intelligent.

Practice active listening

People communicate verbally and nonverbally, so listening and monitoring for potentially positive and negative reactions is essential. Taking the time to hear others also demonstrates a level of respect that can form the basis for healthy relationships.

Communicate clearly

Solid communication skills are critical for emotional intelligence. Knowing what to express or write and when to offer information is crucial for building strong relationships.

For instance, as a manager in a work environment, communicating expectations and goals is required to keep everyone on the same page.

Stay positive

A positive attitude is incredibly infectious. Emotionally intelligent people comprehend the power of positive words, encouraging emails, and friendly gestures. When one can also remain positive in a stressful situation, one can help others stay calm. It can also encourage further problem-solving and collaboration.

Empathize

Thinking about how others might be feeling is an essential quality of emotional intelligence. It means you can empathize with feelings that one may not be feeling oneself and respond in a way that is respectful and relaxing to others.

Be open-minded

Emotionally intelligent people are comfortable to approach because they are good listeners and can consider and understand other viewpoints. They are also receptive to learning new things and embracing novel ideas.

Listen to feedback

It is essential to be the type of person who can hear feedback, whether it is positive on a recent presentation or more critical advice on how you should commission tasks more efficiently.

Being receptive to feedback means taking responsibility for one's actions and being willing to improve how one communicates with others.

Stay calm under pressure

It is essential to approach stressful situations with a calm and positive attitude. Pressures can quickly escalate, primarily when people are operating under deadlines, so keeping steady and concentrating on finding a solution will help everyone complete their goals.

History of Emotional Intelligence

In the 1930s, psychologist Edward Thorndike explained the concept of "social intelligence" as the ability to get along with other individuals.

During the 1940s, psychologist David Wechsler suggested that different practical elements of intelligence could play a critical role in how successful people are in life.

In the 1950s, the school of thought was known as humanistic psychology, and scholars such as Abraham Maslow concentrated attention on how people could build emotional strength.

Another critical concept to arise in the development of emotional intelligence was the concept of multiple intelligences. This idea was put forth in the mid-1970s by Howard Gardner, presenting the idea that intelligence was more than just a single, broad capacity.

Emotional intelligence did not come into our vernacular until around 1990. The term "emotional intelligence" was first utilized in 1985 as it was presented in a doctoral dissertation by Wayne Payne. In 1987, there was an article written by Keith Beasley and published in Mensa Magazine that used the term emotional quotient or EQ.

Then in 1990, psychologists John Mayer and Peter Salovey published their milestone article, Emotional Intelligence, in the journal Imagination, Cognition, and Personality. They described emotional intelligence as the capability to monitor one's and others' feelings and emotions, discriminate among them, and use this knowledge to guide one's thinking and actions. 

Salovey and Mayer also initiated a research study to develop accurate measures of emotional intelligence and explore its significance. For example, they found in one investigation that when a group of people saw an upsetting film, those who ranked high on emotional clarity, or the ability to recognize and label a mood that is being experienced, recovered more quickly.

In a different study, people who scored higher in the ability to perceive accurately, understand, and appraise others' emotions were sufficiently capable of responding flexibly to changes in their social environments and building supportive social networks.

But despite it being a relatively new term, attraction to the concept has grown tremendously. In 1995, the concept of emotional intelligence was popularized after the publication of Daniel Goleman’s book Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ.

 

Why is emotional intelligence important in the workplace?

Researchers have indicated that emotional intelligence influences how excellently employees interact with their colleagues, and EI is also considered to play a role in how employees manage stress and conflict.

It also affects overall performance on the job. Other studies have connected emotional intelligence with job satisfaction. Studies have shown that workers with higher scores on measures of EI also tend to be ranked higher on criteria of interpersonal functioning, leadership abilities, and stress management.

While standard intelligence was associated with leadership success, it alone was not enough. People who are prosperous at work are not just brilliant; they also have a high EI. But emotional intelligence is not simply for CEOs and senior executives.

It is a quality that is essential at every level of a person's career, from university students looking for internships to seasoned workers hoping to take on a leadership role.

Emotional intelligence is critical to success if one wants to succeed in the workplace and move up the career ladder.

Can emotional intelligence be taught?

As it turns out, the question of if emotional intelligence can be learned is not a straightforward one to answer.

Some psychologists and researchers claim that emotional intelligence is a skill that is not quickly learned or improved. Other psychologists and researchers, though, believe it can be improved with practice.

One key to improving EI is sustained practice – especially in high-stakes situations. Referring back to the above tips, one could read them and say those guidelines are pretty straightforward.

But, the challenging task is to do these practices in real-time and consistently. It takes practice to develop these skills. Then as you acquire them, you have to rehearse them under stress.

Can emotional intelligence be measured?

Several different assessments have arisen to gauge levels of emotional intelligence. These trials typically fall into one of two types: self-report tests and ability tests.

Self-report tests are the most abundant because they are the quickest to administer and score. Respondents respond to questions or statements on such tests by rating their behaviors.

For example, on a comment such as "I sense that I understand how others are feeling," a test-taker might describe the statement as strongly agree, somewhat agree, somewhat disagree, or strongly disagree.

On the other hand, ability tests involve people responding to situations and assessing their skills. These tests often require people to demonstrate their abilities, which a third party rates.

If one is taking an emotional intelligence trial issued by a mental health professional, here are two measures that could be used: Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT) and the Emotional and Social Competency Inventory (ESCI).

About the Author

Mia Belle Frothingham is a Harvard undergraduate in her senior year majoring in Biology & Psychology. She is a passionate author, science communicator, and aspiring astrobiologist and astronaut with a great interest in clinical, cognitive, and behavioral psychology.

Fact Checking

Content is rigorously reviewed by a team of qualified and experienced fact checkers. Fact checkers review articles for factual accuracy, relevance, and timeliness. We rely on the most current and reputable sources, which are cited in the text and listed at the bottom of each article. Content is fact checked after it has been edited and before publication.

Cite this Article (APA Style)

Frothingham, M.B. (2022, June 26). Emotional Intelligence: Definition, Components & Examples. Simply Psychology. www.simplypsychology.org/emotional-intelligence.html

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