What Is
Emotional Intelligence?

What is Emotional Intelligence?

Emotional intelligence consists of a range of skills and abilities related to understanding, controlling and managing your emotions or feelings - and the emotions of others. Apply the skills of Emotional Intelligence to improve your confidence, relationships and success.

By Mark Connelly       Updated: 3 November 2023

what is emotional intelligence?
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Emotional intelligence emphasizes that the ability to understand and manage our feelings - and the emotions of other people - plays an essential role in our professional lives and relationships.

This is where the power of emotional intelligence lies. We learn to control our emotions so that we respond thoughtfully, instead of reacting to people or events around us.

This means that when we say something or take action we know why we're doing it that way.

Other people also have emotions and feelings. Emotional intelligence helps us understand their behavior and what they're thinking.

As we grow in our ability to do this we are able to influence the ways people respond to us.

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Origins of Emotional Intelligence

In 1990 Peter Salovey and John Mayer published an article called Emotional Intelligence. This was the first real academic research into the subject and they proposed a model of emotional intelligence that focused on abilities.

Salovey and Mayer said that emotional intelligence was about being aware of and controlling your feelings and other people’s feelings, and the ability to use this knowledge to control our reactions.

Based on this model and research Daniel Goleman wrote 'Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ'. Released in 1995 the book became a best-seller. It popularized the theory of emotional intelligence and made it practical to apply in our lives and work.

Before these events your IQ or Intelligence Quotient was highly valued as the most important type of intelligence.

This was challenged in the decades before Goleman's book, resulting in a lot of research into different types of intelligence.

Goleman proposed that emotional intelligence (or EQ) was more valuable for success in business and life than IQ.

Five Key Abilities

In 'Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ' (1995) Daniel Goleman identifies five main abilities of emotional intelligence: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills.

Self-awareness is the ability to recognize and understand your emotions and their impact on you.

For example, when I set clear boundaries and maintain them I’m demonstrating that I’m aware of my values, and my limits.

Self-regulation, or self-management, involves controlling impulsive actions that stem from emotions and feelings. Self-awareness is an essential foundation for success in this area.

For example, when I get stuck in traffic I recognize my frustration. Instead of driving aggressively I calm myself and call someone to let them know I’ll be late.

Thirdly, positive motivation is the ability to keep a focus on fulfillment, to do well, to be enthusiastic and optimistic, and to achieve goals because it makes you feel good.

For example, even when I’m struggling in life I look for the good in the situation and make a plan to get through it.

Empathy, the essential fourth component, also builds on self-awareness. Goleman points out that we must be aware of our own feelings in order to ‘read’ the feelings of others. Empathy is the ability to know how someone else feels, and respond with understanding.

For example, I pay attention to my partner’s nonverbal communication, recognize their feelings, appreciate that they experience things differently to me, and I respond with compassion.

Lastly, social skills is an ability to connect with people, understand their needs, provide leadership, and manage disputes. It involves active listening, verbal and non-verbal communication, leadership abilities, and negotiation skills.

For example (and this happened to me), I read the anger in a meeting and choose to make time to listen and understand rather than simply delivering the message I intended.

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Four Key Skills

These five abilities are often represented as four domains of emotional intelligence:

  1. Self Awareness
  2. Self Management
  3. Social Awareness
  4. Relationship Management

Each of these domains consists of a number of abilities. Each of these links opens a new page to explore further.

According to Daniel Goleman emotional intelligence is made up of all the above abilities and is practically applied in business and in our personal lives.

Very few people ever 'master' all four domains of emotional intelligence. Building emotional intelligence is a lifelong journey of identifying areas you can improve and learning to be more effective in these areas.

Most of us have strengths in some of the four domains. Use these strengths and build your strengths in other areas.

The best part about emotional intelligence is that it can be learned, so be inspired and start building emotional intelligence right now.

What is Emotional Intelligence?

Self Awareness

Know yourself and what you're feeling...
It all starts with you! Identify your feelings and recognize how situations make you feel. This is an essential ability if you're going to manage your feelings effectively.

If you're not able to do this you'll find that you're reacting to everything that happens around you.

What is Emotional Intelligence?

Self Management


Control your reactions...
Okay, so you're aware of your emotions. Now you can use this knowledge to control how you respond.

Once you learn to choose how you respond you realize that your behavior doesn't need to depend on how you feel.

Yes! You choose how you respond and express yourself. This is self management, managing how you respond in any situation.

What is Emotional Intelligence?

Social Awareness

Understand other people's feelings
Emotional intelligence is also about understanding another person’s feelings, their needs and what they are worried about.

When you understand what other people are concerned about you are in a strong position to meet their needs.

The important word here is empathy - understanding someone else's point of view. Get this right and people will respond positively to you. Ignore it at your peril!

What is Emotional Intelligence?

Relationship Management

Communicate well and manage others
Stand up comedians, sales people, politicians, lawyers...these are examples of people who are masters at inspiring and influencing others.

They do it by being aware of how people respond to them.

Then they say or do things that win others over to their way of thinking. Managing relationships is an essential component of emotional intelligence.

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The Inclusion of Social Intelligence

In later work Daniel Goleman amended his model to include Social Intelligence.

Goleman (2006) highlights the value of social intelligence within the emotional intelligence model and acknowledges that his original model of EI “folded in social intelligence” (p 83).

First proposed by Thorndike in 1920, Social Intelligence was mostly dismissed during the 20th Century.

Based on developments in neuroscience and brain-mapping, Goleman reformulated his model of Emotional Intelligence. He suggests that the four existing domains be divided into two groups: Emotional Intelligence, which embraces Self-Awareness and Self-Regulation, and Social Intelligence, which embraces Social Awareness and Relationship Management (which he renames Social Facility).

Goleman suggests that these two constituting groups (Emotional and Social Intelligence) are a more accurate reflection of Emotional Intelligence (Goleman, 2006).

Find out more about Emotional Intelligence

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Learn more about developing YOUR emotional intelligence starting today.

Improve self awareness
Develop self management skills
Master social awareness
Develop effective relationship management
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