What Is Emotional Intelligence?

by Emotional Intelligence Coach Robin Hills

In searching for an answer to the question “ What is emotional intelligence? ” you will come across a wide range of different answers and emotional intelligence definitions.

According to John D. Mayer and Peter Salovey, two of the leading researchers in this area, one emotional intelligence definition is “the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions.”

Daniel Goleman in his 1995 book Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ stated that ‘There is intelligence in the emotions (and) intelligence can be brought to emotions’

Many ways of describing emotional intelligence include words such as, authentic, empathic, empowering, expansive, resilient, etc. Using these can cause confusion especially if the true meanings of these words are not clearly understood by those people you are trying to explain emotional intelligence too.

Interest in emotional intelligence has grown significantly since the 1990s, with research suggesting that good emotional understanding can lead to improved effectiveness and better interactions when working with people.  It is mainly for this reason that you will discover that emotional intelligence is being recognized as a fundamental component of coaching.

You may find many people will struggle to identify with the term “Emotional Intelligence” itself, especially if the phrase is new to them. What is intelligent about being emotional?? In helping people to understand what it all means, it is worth taking an emotionally intelligence approach - have concerns about other people and think about how your answer is going to affect them.

In the absence of any clearly agreed answer to the question “ What is Emotional Intelligence? ” the best answers , for me, come from a time long before anyone had come up with the expression Emotional Intelligence. “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you” comes from the Bible (Matthew 7:12) and Aristotle is reputed as saying “Anybody can become angry - that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way - that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.” 

In a 2004 article, Mayer and his colleagues presented some observations on the characteristics of emotionally intelligent people. They found that these people are:

  • better at perceiving, using, understanding, and managing their emotions and those of other people
  • generally more agreeable and open
  • less likely to engage in risky behaviors, such as smoking, drinking, taking drugs, and violence
  • able to enjoy more positive social experiences

So in summary to answer the question what is emotional intelligence? - It is all about a set of skills that define how effectively people perceive, understand, reason with and manage their own and others’ feelings. Within coaching these skills become vitally important as emotions are an inherent part of coaching activities at all levels.

Further Reading

The Emotional Intelligence Pocketbook (The Pocketbook) by Margaret Chapman (Paperback - 20 Oct 2001)

The New Leaders: Transforming the Art of Leadership into the Science of Results by Daniel Goleman, Richard E. Boyatzis, and Annie McKee (Paperback - 6 Jun 2002)

Working with Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman (Hardcover - 24 Sep 1998)

See Also:-

Why Should We As Coaches Know About Emotional Intelligence
Emotional Intelligence Theory
Emotional Intelligence Assessment
Working With Emotions To Drive Business Performance
Free Emotional Intelligence Articles

Book Reviews:-

The Emotional Intelligence Pocketbook
Working With Emotional Intelligence
The New Leaders


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