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The Why and How of Emotional Intelligence by Cindy Shove

Emotional Intelligence (EI) is one of the three challenges in the triathlon of life. But, instead of running, biking and swimming, you have to think (IQ), gain skills (know-how) and be emotionally smart (EI or EQ-emotional quotient). 

So what is this third leg of this triathlon? It’s emotional intelligence: the ability to recognize your emotions, manage your emotions and affect the emotions of others.

For example, you arrive home much later than planned. Your meeting ran late, you got caught in traffic, your phone died and you couldn't find a way to call. You walk in the door, and your partner, who has been really worried about you, starts yelling, "Where have you been? Why didn't you call?" With your high level of emotional intelligence you:

  • Notice how you feel (defensive, impatient, guilty, irritated, numb?).

  • Choose how you respond (you might listen or apologize, rather than yell back, withdraw or get a drink). 

  • Start to manage the emotions of your partner: "I'm so sorry. You're right. I should have called to tell you I was late. Can we sit and talk for a bit, or is there something you need me to do right away to help?"

That's emotional intelligence.

According to Psychology Todayemotional intelligence includes at least these three skills:

  1. Emotional awareness (the ability to identify and name one’s own emotions),

  2. The ability to harness those emotions and apply them to tasks like thinking and problem solving, and

  3. The ability to manage emotions, which includes both regulating one’s own emotions as needed and helping others to do the same.

What does it actually look like?

  • pausing and thinking

  • responding not reacting

  • being empathetic

  • attempting to connect genuinely

With emotional intelligence, you might identify that you feel guilty about letting someone down. By responding with "You're absolutely right, I should have stopped to call. I'm so sorry," you are addressing the problem head-on and being calm under fire. And "I'm here now and I'd like to make it up to you. How can I help?" is a genuine attempt to connect.

So, why should you care? According to Harvard Business Review, higher EQs “have been associated with relationship success, mental and physical health and happiness.” And thousands of academic studies have proven that EQ assessments can predict “job performance, leadership potential, entrepreneurship and employability.”

With a higher EQ, you might develop stronger relationships, be happier and be more successful at work. You will be less at the mercy of your ego or inner critic, and more in control of what you do and say.

If you're convinced, then WHAT can you do?

  • Increase your emotional vocabulary: The Center for Nonviolent Communications offers this list of emotional states for you to consider. It's a comprehensive list that will help you label what you are feeling. Or you can try this interactive tool: the Atlas of Emotions. The goal is to gain greater control over your emotions and that first step is awareness.

  • Meditate. Do it every day, most days or when you can, but try for some consistency. There’s a reason for the proliferation of meditation apps: consistent meditation practice has been proven to increase your sense of connectedness and empathy, improve your relationships and reduce emotional pain (the research supporting these claims can be found at Science of People: "14 Benefits of Meditation that Rewire Your Brain for Happiness & Success").

  • Create an inventory of your strengths and weaknesses. Consider this list of characteristics from Let It Ripple and honestly rank yourself with respect to each character trait; Let It Ripple has a wealth of resources to help you broaden and deepen your character traits. For more, here is a list of 24 character strengths from the VIA Institute.

  • Learn about the Enneagram personality system as a way to increase your self-awareness. This Enneagram knowledge is also a powerful tool to build empathy for others.

Enneagram personality system


Cindy Shove

Cindy Shove is a certified life, executive and Enneagram coach. She helps individuals be more effective, enabling them to see themselves more clearly and set goals, and she provides accountability and support. Her experience includes start-ups, nonprofits, corporate strategy and college-level teaching. She has an MBA from the University of Toronto and a Master of English degree. More about Cindy can be found on her coaching site QuenchCoaching and her blog.

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