Developing Emotional Intelligence

We all know people who are masters at managing their emotions. They don't get angry in stressful situations. Instead, they have the ability to look at a problem and calmly find a solution. They're excellent decision makers, and they know when to trust their intuition.

Regardless of their strengths, however, they're usually willing to look at themselves honestly. They take criticism well, and they know when to use it to improve their performance. How do these masters of social situations do it? They have high emotional intelligence.

What Is Emotional Intelligence?

Emotional intelligence is a set of emotional and social skills that collectively establish how we perceive and express ourselves and develop and maintain social relationships. The key parts of emotional intelligence are:

  • Self-perception: The ability to understand your strengths and weaknesses and seek personal and emotional improvement.
  • Self-expression: The ability to clearly express yourself and your feelings.
  • Interpersonal skills: The ability to establish trusting and compassionate relationships based on empathy for others and social responsibility to the greater community.
  • Decision making: The ability to objectively problem solve without being impulsive or biased.
  • Stress management: The ability to manage stressful circumstances while maintaining a positive attitude and hopeful disposition.

Why Is It Important?

Research suggests that professionals interested in advancing into leadership roles need to enhance their emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is a key to achieving team goals, and some companies now use emotional intelligence testing to hire new staff. Having high emotional intelligence allows leaders to be mindful of their and other people's emotions and use this to better engage clients, co-workers, and the public.

There is a good example of emotional intelligence in the ASHA Leader article "Make It Work: Handling a Hard Conversation." In the article, Sarah is worried about having a hard conversation with the parents of a young child. She must use her self-perception, self-expression, and interpersonal skills to effectively communicate with the parents. The key to her success hinges on self-reflection and understanding empathy. In the article, Judy Stone-Goldman, PhD, CCC-SLP, suggests:

Know that the client's emotional experience may feel uncomfortable to you. Instead of trying to escape (through excess words or cutting yourself off emotionally), sit still and imagine the emotions are a wave that will flow over you safely. The wave does not have to knock you over.

Judy is describing empathy—an element of interpersonal skills—which is putting yourself in someone else's shoes, and sharing the experience with the other person while not letting the wave of emotion consume you. Empathy encourages us to treat others as we'd like to be treated. Emotional intelligence requires that we feel our way through situations, not just say what we think is expected.

How to Develop Emotional Intelligence

Developing emotional intelligence requires self-reflection, which differs from cognitive intelligence. It's more than studying traits and personalities—it's being able to take the emotional temperature in various situations. To develop emotional intelligence, make sure to:

Observe People Who Excel at Managing Situations.

What have they done that impressed you or transformed a situation? Maybe it's their ability to listen or anticipate a need or concern that allows them to connect, gain the trust of the group, and help move the situation forward. Maybe it's their use of silence or humor that provides an important break in tension. Reflecting on these situations will allow you to understand how and why they were able to turn a potentially negative situation into something positive and productive.

Read about emotional intelligence.

Check out books and articles, such as "Supervision: Emotional Intelligence: A Tool for Improving Managerial Skills and Team Functioning" from SIG 11: Perspectives on Administration and Supervision.

Seek mentorship from a colleague who excels in emotional intelligence or communication.

Finding a mentor will help you refine your emotional intelligence, and they can help hold you accountable. Unlike cognitive intelligence, emotional intelligence is situational; some days you will be able to read situations easily and respond appropriately, and other days you may need some help. Having a specific person as a sounding board can help you gain perspective as you navigate new situations that test your emotional intelligence.

Take emotional intelligence training programs.

Take advantage of free webinars like the ASHA Leadership Academy's webinar on emotional intelligence.

Practice, practice, practice.

Emotional intelligence requires continual self-reflection and the ability to be flexible in different social situations. Practice these skills at home, at work, or in a volunteer capacity. You may not be perfectly poised in every situation, but it's important to come to each situation with fresh eyes and prepared to use your emotional intelligence tools.