What are the Five Components of Emotional Intelligence?

November 10, 2016

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When most people think of intelligence, they think about IQ and mental knowledge, or mastery over some field of study. They think of the ability to remember facts, understand complicated theories, or interpret the world in a way that goes far beyond our individual selves.

But there is much more to intelligence than just brains and cleverness.

In the 1990’s the term “emotional intelligence” was coined and has since become a widely recognized element of both personal and professional development. It means having the ability to notice one’s own and other’s emotions, understand them, and be able to manage them. What does it mean to be “emotionally intelligent”? It means not only having the ability to recognize positive emotions within oneself and others but also the negative emotions, using that recognition and understanding to modulate one's reaction, behavior, and communication.

Developing and strengthening emotional intelligence skills allows us to connect and understand others - and ourselves - on a deeper level. By developing emotional intelligence, we strengthen our ability to find common ground with others, which can be especially important in the workplace and with our friends and family.  

Emotions play a role in how we move through the world, regardless of how “smart” we are in other ways. We can memorize and learn as many facts and figures as we want to try to impress others or get ahead, but how we communicate this knowledge and relate to the world around us is even more important in creating a life in which we feel happy, healthy, and fulfilled. 

Just as the Circle of Life requires us to look at the multi-dimensional aspects of one’s health, so too should we consider the many elements that make up true emotional intelligence.

These are the five components of emotional intelligence:

1. Self-Awareness

Self-awareness is the ability to recognize and understand your own emotions, especially in the moment when they arise, which is often the easiest time to get swept away by them. Self-awareness is the foundation on which emotional intelligence is built, as the other components rely on achieving self-awareness.

Being emotionally self-aware allows you to diffuse emotions - especially the strong emotions - long enough to realize why they are happening and prepare you for addressing them with thoughtfulness and balance. In practice, this looks and feels like:

  • Recognizing and understanding that you feel frustrated when your partner doesn’t make eye contact with you during important conversations
  • Recognizing and understanding that you feel upset when a friend doesn’t invite you to a social outing
  • Recognizing and understanding that you feel angry and defensive when you are critiqued on your performance at work

What happens when you achieve self-awareness?

To successfully achieve self-awareness, you must have the ability to 1) properly identify the emotion(s) you are feeling; 2) understand why you are feeling that emotion(s); and 3) recognize and understand the effects of the emotion(s) on your eventual behavior. 

Achieving self-awareness allows you to move on to regulate your emotions and respond appropriately. 

2. Self-Regulation

Self-regulation of your emotions means the ability to properly express, regulate, and manage those emotions. Regulating your emotions includes exhibiting self-control, such as not reacting impulsively; conscientiousness, or taking responsibility for yourself and your actions; and adaptability, or the ability to be flexible. 

In practice, this looks and feels like:

  • Taking a deep breath before responding or starting a potentially intense conversation
  • Reminding yourself to approach any conversation from a place of calm and kindness
  • Focusing on the positive aspects of the situation instead of the negative

What happens when you achieve self-regulation?

When you achieve self-regulation, you are properly able to demonstrate self-control when responding to a difficult or challenging situation, as well as better able to take in the situation from a holistic perspective in order to gauge how you should respond and behave.

3. Intrinsic Motivation

Motivation can come from within or from external sources, but in order to properly cultivate emotional intelligence, fostering intrinsic motivation is key. Those who are more motivated by internal factors, such as their goals, dreams, and values, than external factors, such as wealth, fame, and reward, are more likely to have stronger emotional intelligence. And vice versa: those with stronger emotional intelligence are more likely to better recover from setbacks and pursue their goals. Self-motivation is often accompanied by an inner sense of drive, commitment, and optimism.

In practice, this looks and feels like:

  • Getting passed on for a promotion at work, but continuing to work towards the greater good of the team for a potential future opportunity
  • Spending your Sunday volunteering in a homeless shelter because you enjoy giving back to your community, not just to bolster your LinkedIn profile
  • Continuing to pursue an entrepreneurial passion project despite multiple failed attempts because you truly believe in the eventual success of your work

What happens when you achieve self-motivation?

Receiving rewards for your time and energy is not a “bad” thing, nor is it something to avoid altogether, but the key element here is to achieve a sense of self-worth that propels your performance in every area of your life. When you come from a place of being motivated by your own will and desire to do something, you are more likely to feel a sense of purpose, accomplishment, and fulfillment. And when you do so, your behavior and communication towards others will be aligned with those feelings, and others will definitely take notice.

4. Empathy

Being empathetic means having the ability to see and feel from the perspective of others, and then respond appropriately to their feelings because you understand how it feels to be in their position. Genuine empathy is not the same as sympathy, nor does it mean validating or accepting someone else’s behavior. Empathy is the ability to sense and feel what the other person is feeling while also suspending judgment and personal beliefs.

In practice, this looks and feels like:

  • Anticipating that your partner may be upset on Mother’s Day due to the recent loss of their mother, so asking how they are feeling and how you can best support them on this day
  • Giving a colleague the opportunity to share their ideas in a team meeting after you noticed they were repeatedly interrupted by another colleague
  • Expressing genuine joy and excitement when a friend shares an important life update such as an engagement or promotion, because you do share their excitement!

What happens when you achieve being empathetic?

When you express empathy, you cultivate trust and honesty that will help build stronger and more genuine relationships. Forging these kinds of bonds is incredibly beneficial to your physical and emotional health because you will feel physically and emotionally supported, especially during challenging situations. You’ll also have the enhanced ability to sense whether others are able to express empathy and create genuine connections, which is important in both your personal and professional life.

5. Social Skills

Exhibiting proper social skills in any situation or interaction is the final component of emotional intelligence, as it depends upon every other component. Refining these skills allows you to interact with others in an appropriate manner and successfully navigate social situations, especially those that might be tense or stressful. These skills can include conflict management, collaboration, cooperation, leadership, communication, and being a catalyst for change. 

In practice, this looks and feels like:

  • Guiding your colleagues to participate equally in a group project instead of letting the dominant voice of the group take over
  • Sensing that your friend is getting upset by a topic of conversation, so calmly addressing their concerns in real-time and asking what would make them feel more comfortable
  • Noting when someone is joking or using sarcasm in order to understand the tone of the conversation and being able to diffuse a potentially intense conversation

What happens when you achieve demonstrating proper social skills?

Achieving the social skills needed to navigate any and all of your interactions will allow you to seamlessly manage your different kinds of relationships. Learning and understanding how to communicate with different kinds of people will not only reduce stress, especially in the workplace or with certain friends or family members, but will also leave you feeling satisfied in such relationships.

Health Coaches tend to have a firm footing in all of the above, which makes them great leaders in wellness, possessing the strong ability to inspire others while continuing to grow in their own ways. You can develop your emotional intelligence just as you can develop any other skills, through learning, lots of practice, and patience. Go through the above and see what might be a common challenge for you, then work on it, asking for help if you need it.

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