What is Emotional Intelligence, and does it really matter?

It’s likely that you’ve heard the term ‘Emotional Intelligence’ before, but what does it really mean?  

Look it up in the dictionary and here’s one definition you’ll find…

e·mo·tion·al in·tel·li·gence(noun): the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one's emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.  "emotional intelligence is the key to both personal and professional success"

Ok, a little on the technical side, but pretty much sums up the gist of it.  But let’s be real, if you really wanted the technical info on emotional intelligence you could get lost in a whole google search rabbit hole… but that’s probably not why you’re here, so let’s get straight to the point.  

When you boil it all down, the last sentence of that definition is what really speaks the most about the power of emotional intelligence: “the key to both personal and professional success”.  Who doesn’t want to feel successful at work or have better relationships, right? I know I do.

The basic idea of emotional intelligence comes down to two main areas: yourself and others. It starts with your awareness and management of your own feelings (that’s the ‘self’ part obviously), and then builds on that with your awareness of the emotions of others and how you manage relationships (that’s the ‘other’ part… but you got that already).  To be clear, that doesn’t mean that you are responsible for managing other people’s emotions.  

But it does mean that if you have high emotional intelligence you are more in tune with others emotions, meaning you’re more likely to know what they may be thinking and feeling without them telling you, or without them even knowing themselves. The second part of that is that you also have more strategies to help you navigate, manage, and improve your relationships with everyone you encounter (from the boardroom to the bedroom). 

Let’s start by looking at the benefits of high emotional intelligence in the workplace. 

Leaders like Elon Musk, Tony Robbins, Ursula Burns, Jeff Bezos, and Indra Nooyi are all known for running their company’s well and being high in emotional intelligence. The “soft skills” of emotional intelligence are often much more far reaching in terms of business success then traditional hard skills, because business is dependent on relationships and human interactions.  

As an employee, if you can begin to build your emotional intelligence skills you will be much more likely to gain the boss’s attention as someone with leadership qualities, networking/coworking capabilities, and asset development.  As a CEO or manager, building your emotional intelligence skills will not only make you a more effective and robust leader, it will also likely help your entire team perform better due to the model you set, the trust you can develop and through enhanced communication skills.  

Sounds pretty good so far, right? So, how do you up your game? 

Well it all starts with your ability to pinpoint, label, and understand your own emotions. For women this tends to come a little easier, because most of us have been conditioned since childhood to focus on our emotions and share our feelings with each other.  Men on the other hand, haven’t necessarily had it that easy.  And really, this post is for you.   

Most men in the U.S. and many other countries are conditioned from a young age that it’s not okay for them to express their emotions, let alone feel some of them.  I find that men in general have a much harder time even defining their emotions in words other than “good”, “pissed off”, “okay”, “irritated”, “great”, “tired”, and a few others.  Not to say that these are the only words men use to describe how they feel when asked.  But quite often their responses are much more limited, and more likely to stop with some broad statement without giving any follow up information as to how they ended up feeling that way. 


Because talking about how you feel is for girls, right? Women talk about their feelings all day, not men.  At least those are the kinds of things I used to hear all the time when working with men in prison.  Truth be told those statements aren’t completely false.  Women do tend to spend more time talking about how they feel with each other than men do, and as a result are much better equipped at understanding their emotions.  I’m not saying that all women are then naturally higher in emotional intelligence, we just might have a little bit more practice in the game than men.

So, back to what you can do (whatever gender you define yourself as).  One way to start is by keeping track of what emotions you feel throughout the day.  Keep a mental list or better yet jot them down in your phone when you notice yourself feeling anything.  Some people might have more mood changes than others, but also keep track if you find yourself not really having any mood changes throughout the day.  And note to yourself whether your feelings are pleasant or unpleasant.  I try to stay away from words like “good” or “bad”, for two reasons.  One, because it’s an overly simplified descriptor, and two because “good” and “bad” assign a judgement, which isn’t really helpful. So simply note what’s going on for you.  

The important thing is to know is this; emotional intelligence is a skill just like any other, which you can learn and grow at any point in your life, if you are willing to do the work.  There are many ways to build your emotional intelligence skills, which I’ll touch on more in future posts.  

One great place to learn all about emotional intelligence and practice building your skills is in therapy.  Together we can take an assessment of where you stand already and focus on ways to help you improve. 

What have you really got to lose?  

And hey, if in the process it also helps you get that raise or promotion at work, or stop ending up in the wrong relationships, or improve your marriage, or help you connect better with your kids, friends, parents, coworkers, siblings, etc. then what’s so bad about that?