Have you ever spent time with someone who’s emotionally stunted? In other words, a person who lacks the ability to be aware of their emotions and the emotions of others. Now, compare that to the experience of spending time with someone who’s in tune with their emotions and displays empathy and understanding of the needs of those around them.
Being emotionally intelligent allows for more effective communication and a greater capacity to connect in a positive and emotionally healthy way.
Emotional intelligence describes the ability to understand and manage our own emotions as well as the emotions of others. Daniel Goleman, psychologist and author of the book “Emotional Intelligence”, refers to emotional intelligence as the capacity for recognizing our own feelings and those of others, for motivating ourselves, and for managing emotions well internally and within relationships. Goleman suggests the following five components as critical to developing emotional intelligence:
The ability to observe emotions, strengths, weaknesses, drives, values, and goals and recognize the impact on others while using gut feelings to guide decisions. It involves knowing our capacities (and limits), understanding when to ask for help, and being able to identify emotional triggers.
Involves navigating difficult emotions and impulses, and adapting to changing circumstances. In other words, managing emotions, especially when they might be complex.
An emotionally intelligent person has the capacity to understand the emotional needs of others, interact well with those around them, and nurture relationships.
Empathy is the ability to understand the emotional makeup of other people—and to recognize, understand, and consider other people’s feelings—especially when making decisions. Acting based on information gathered from observing and understanding the feelings of others makes empathy one of the most important skills for navigating interpersonal relationships.
Being driven to achieve for the sake of achievement or having passion to work due to an inner vision, set of values, a particular joy, or a curiosity in learning, can make internal motivation a key component in emotional intelligence.
In order to be emotionally intelligent, you must first be mindful of your own emotions. That’s why mindfulness—the ability to be fully present, aware of our surroundings, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed —and its ability to bring awareness to your emotions and those of people around you, can be such a powerful tool to use when developing emotional intelligence. I spoke with Cortland Dahl, Ph.D., a research scientist at the Center for Healthy Minds and the Chief Contemplative Officer at Healthy Minds Innovations, about the connection between emotional intelligence and mindfulness.
“Mindfulness is a critical component of each of the main aspects of emotional intelligence, so a significant part of emotional intelligence is the capacity to be aware of your own emotional states,” says Dahl. He believes mindfulness is a necessary prerequisite to managing our own inner world, because if we don’t have the capacity to be fully aware of emotions as they occur, we may also lack the capacity to manage our emotional response. This in turn, negatively impacts virtually every aspect of emotional intelligence. A critical aspect of emotional intelligence is the ability to savor and strengthen positive emotional responses, apply them, and make use of more constructive emotions over time. “If mindfulness is lacking, you might have a positive emotional response in some cases, but there is no capacity to systematically strengthen it,” says Dahl. “It is simply due to whatever conditions are present rather than your own capacity to internally strengthen those responses.”
“Emotional intelligence and mindfulness both have a dramatic impact on virtually every aspect of life,” says Dahl. When practicing mindfulness, you may experience a feeling of being grounded—a sense of ease and contentment, even when emotions, thoughts, and situations are happening that might otherwise pose a threat to your well-being. “Without mindfulness and a higher level of emotional intelligence, our sense of well-being often becomes tied to what we are experiencing or how we are experiencing it,” he explains. For example, if you are experiencing a challenging emotion, it can be difficult to have a sense of well-being. Or, if presented with a difficult situation, it can be hard to feel content or at ease. Dahl believes mindfulness helps us to see that even if we experience an emotion like anger or anxiety, it doesn't have to completely take over our whole sense of identity. We can still feel grounded or content while our anxiety is playing out. “Mindfulness almost gives us an anchor that keeps us balanced when things might be more turbulent in our mind, our lives, and our relationships,” he says. Consequently, when we have this capacity for inner balance, we can have a greater ability to hold space for other people, build positive relationships, and develop a richer sense of emotional intelligence.