Psychology: What is Emotional Intelligence

What does it mean to be intelligent? It depends on what type of intelligence you’re talking about. According to psychologists, there at least three forms of intelligence, although some argue that there are as many as seven or eight.

  • Abstract intelligence is the ability to understand and manipulate verbal and mathematical symbols. This is the kind of intelligence measured by most IQ tests and tends to tap what underlies school smarts.
  • Concrete intelligence is the ability to understand and manipulate objects. Some intelligence tests include scales that measure this ability under scales referred to as “performance” scales. This is the ability that underlies spatial reasoning or the technique of a skilled carpenter or artist.
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    Psychology: What is Emotional Intelligence

  • Social intelligence is the ability to understand and relate to people. It includes the ability to understand others, their motivations, and how to work cooperatively with them. It also captures the ability to understand yourself, your motivations, what drives you, and use that information to succeed in life.

Prior columns discussed the IQ test, which is thought to tap parts of abstract and concrete intelligence. Standard IQ tests include very few subtests that tap social intelligence, despite our growing understanding of its importance.

Social (Emotional) Intelligence
In recent years, social intelligence has received lots of attention from the media, but under a different name: emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence moved into the media’s attention in the late 1990’s with the publication of Daniel Goleman’s bookEmotional Intelligence. Emotional intelligence is the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ emotions. It also includes the ability to understand and interpret emotions correctly to guide behavior.

Social, or emotional, intelligence involves at least five types of skills:

  • Self-Awareness. This refers to your ability to understand and maintain awareness of your own feelings and moods. It requires the ability to observe yourself and monitor your thoughts and emotions. Sometimes we’re upset and don’t recognize it or understand why. Self-awareness involves breaking though these barriers and understanding your feelings.
  • Managing Your Emotions. Do you display your emotions in socially appropriate ways? Can you control your anger, sadness, and fear?
  • Motivation. This refers to the ability to use your emotions to attain goals. Can you stifle impulses and delay gratification to obtain a goal?
  • Empathy. Empathy is very different from sympathy, or feeling sorry for someone. Empathy is the ability to understand how another person is feeling, to “walk a mile in their shoes.” It refers to the ability to take the perspective of another person, be sensitive to his or her feelings, and appreciate your differences.
  • Social Skills. Are you socially skilled? These skills capture what is necessary to maintain relationships with others. Can you carry a conversation and deal with other people’s emotions? Are you socially competent?

As you can see, each of these components of emotional intelligence are important for succeeding in life. Traditional notions of IQ are not enough because we live in a complex social world. In fact, the combination of abstract and social (emotional) intelligence best predict success over a person’s lifetime.

How can you increase your emotional intelligence?
Many volumes have been written on this subject. One column cannot possibly articulate what’s necessary. Instead, I’ll point to what I believe is the first step to increasing emotional intelligence: self-awareness.

Increasing your emotional intelligence involves first becoming self-aware. What are you feeling? Why are you feeling it? This is perhaps the most difficult of the emotional skills, but the one that I believe is essential for growth.

An understanding of yourself is the cornerstone on which the other emotional skills rest. How can you achieve an understanding of your emotions? Stop and think. Ask yourself questions. Write. Meditate. Take some time to focus on yourself.

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