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Emotional Intelligence: How to Develop the 4 Essential Skills

Updated on July 29, 2013

A Quick Diagnostic Test

I want you to ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I let myself feel emotions?
  • Do I feel emotions physically?
  • Do I consider emotions when making decisions?
  • Am I comfortable expressing emotions?
  • Do I recognize others’ emotions?
  • Do I prioritize thought and suppress emotions?

If you answer authentically, you will quickly and naturally assess your current level of Emotional Intelligence.

The Benefits of Emotional Intelligence

In essence, the more you let yourself feel, recognize, and consider emotions when making decisions, the more Emotional Intelligence you have.

A high level of Emotional Intelligence is vitally important for people who want success in their career, relationships, and health because it’s the foundation of integrity, empathy, and self-understanding.

Numerous studies have also proven a variety of other benefits, such as improved academic performance, life satisfaction, a better ability to build and maintain casual and professional relationships, and being perceived as more friendly and attractive.

(For a good overview, follow this link:

Why Aren't We All Emotional Geniuses?

Now, if Emotional Intelligence benefits people in these numerous ways, then why is it so undervalued in our culture?

Let me tell you:

When people discuss the concepts of “mind” and “emotion,” confusion abounds.

Even dictionaries disagree with themselves! Look at these two blatantly contradictory definitions for “mind” found at

1) (in a human or other conscious being) the element, part, substance, or process that reasons, thinks, feels, wills, perceives, judges, etc.:

2) Intellect or understanding, as distinguished from the faculties of feeling and willing; intelligence.

According to this, the mind is the mental element that that feels and wills, but it’s also an intellect that is separate from the faculties of feeling and willing… What?

As Wayne Payne points out in his landmark 1985 dissertation entitled A Study Of Emotion: Developing Emotional Intelligence, the underlying problem here is our culture’s “[failure] to discriminate between experiences.”

On the one hand, we have the wide variety of present moment emotions, which comprise our feelings, moods, and states of being.

On the other, we have an extraordinary capacity to develop intelligence about these emotions and an understanding of their meaning. Without external provocation, we can recall past emotions and simulate whatever emotion we desire in the present moment. Try it: with some degree of passion say "I'm angry!" or "I'm sad..." and see what happens to your body.

First Emotions, Then Intelligence

The fundamental reason why Emotional Intelligence remains undervalued is that our culture maintains that both emotions and the awareness/analysis of those emotions are called “mind,” as if they were the same thing.

As a result, our culture mistakenly upholds intelligence, supposedly a person’s whole mind, as the primary measure of a person’s worth. That’s why standardized tests, diplomas, and GPAs play such an essential role in a contemporary citizen’s success.

What we fail to understand, and what I hope to teach, is that the mind has different components. The standard idea of "intelligence" is only one half of the equation.

In other words, Emotional Intelligence is as much, if not more, about the actual emotions a person experiences as it is about his ability to reason with those emotions in an intelligent way.

Think about it: if you were presented with a logic puzzle and you either had incomplete information, confusing terms, or totally wrong ideas, do you think you could still arrive at the right answer?

Similarly, if you are presented with a life puzzle or challenging situation and you either have incomplete emotional information, confusing emotions, or totally wrong ideas about the significance of those emotions, do you think you could still solve your own problems?

Of course not!

What Is Emotional Intelligence?

In 1990, Peter Salovey and John Mayer, in Imagination, Cognition, and Personality, defined Emotional Intelligence as “a set of skills hypothesized to contribute to the accurate appraisal and expression of emotion in oneself and in others, the effective regulation of emotion in self and others, and the use of feelings to motivate, plan and achieve in one's life.” Put another way, “the emotionally intelligent individuals accurately perceive their emotions and use integrated, sophisticated approaches to regulate them as they proceed toward important goals.”

I want to emphasize that this definition presents Emotional Intelligence as a skill set. Consequently, in order to develop and optimize your ability to reason with emotions, you’ll need daily practice and a training regimen.

I will provide you with exercises later in the article.

The Four Skills

With practice you will gradually develop a level of competency in four skills:

1) Self-Awareness

2) Self-Management

3) Social Awareness

4) Relationship Management

In order to more fully elaborate on the divide between the emotional component and the intellectual component, many proponents of Emotional Intelligence have constructed the following table:

As you can see, while exactly half of the skills, Self-Awareness and Social Awareness, are categorized as “Awareness,” the other half, Self- and relationship management, are labeled “Management.” Whereas the former strictly relates to actual emotions whether experienced by you or others, the latter deals with your ability to intelligently act on that information.

Skill #1: Self-Awareness

The best way to learn about emotions is to analyze the ones you naturally feel every day. If you want to master this skill fast, schedule times, called “Check-ins,” throughout your day to examine your feelings/emotions.

How to perform a “Check-in:”

1) Go someplace quiet, without any potential for interruptions.

2) Sit with your back against a wall or a chair

3) Take a couple of deep breaths

4) Close your eyes

5) Ask yourself “How am I feeling, right now?”

6) Scan your body to see where any tension arises

7) Don’t try to do anything with that tension, just remain of aware of it and breathe into the tension

8) Notice any thoughts/memories/feelings arising

9) Continue breathing and follow the tension for as long as you’d like

(Note: you can also perform this exercise at any time, anywhere. Following the previous instructions is simply a good way to familiarize you with the process so that it becomes more natural and effortless if you decide to do the exercise in public)

Write In A Journal:

Another task that will aid in your quest to develop self-awareness is keeping a journal where you record the most emotionally powerful events of your day.

As you recall these events, ask yourself A LOT OF QUESTIONS:

  • What was the emotion I was feeling? Give it a specific name.
    • What shade of that emotion was I feeling? (i.e. anger can be frustration, irritation, madness, annoyance, etc.)
    • Does this represent a pattern in my behavior?
      • When does this pattern typically arise?
      • How often does this pattern happen?
      • Where in my body do I experience the feeling?
      • What triggered this emotion?
        • Make a list of your “triggers"
      • How did this feeling affect my behavior?

This self-awareness exercise also relates to your positive emotions.

When you are writing in your journal, ask yourself the same questions about what made you feel happy, ecstatic, and wonderful throughout your day. Also, start to brainstorm about potential things you could do to find happiness, fulfillment, and ecstasy. This type of informed emotional planning will help you find fulfilling activities!

In total, the concept of self-awareness includes not only recognizing emotions when they are present, but also being able to distinguish both entirely different emotions (i.e. sadness from anger) and shades of the same emotions.

With practice, your emotional vocabulary will grow more precise and you will be able to identify the exact shades of emotions as they are happening. Best of all, you will have confidence knowing what caused them and how to use them for your benefit.

An Analogy

Developing your emotional vocabulary and learning the language of feelings are only difficult processes if you don’t give them daily attention.

As an analogy, I want you to remember that if you’re reading this, you’ve already proven that you can master a language.

Let me explain: When you were a baby, you couldn’t possibly understand the random noises coming out of your parents' mouths. But, over time, you developed verbal fluency because you listened to other people talk and you responded with those same words multiple times a day.

Even now, the noises of another language have absolutely no meaning to your untrained mind. But, if you immersed yourself in that language and had several conversations in a day, you would soon have no trouble speaking and expressing yourself without even thinking about it.

In the same way, I want you to commit to learning the language of emotions. Take the time to “Check-In” several times a day to discover what your emotions, and the emotions of others, are saying.

Skill #2: Self-Management

Before I explain how to develop this essential skill, I want to stress that self-management is NEITHER suppressing negative emotions NOR hiding any authentic emotion.

Instead of thinking of self-management as controlling your emotions, understand that it’s more about controlling your reactions to those emotions. In other words, you can feel furious inside, but choose to stifle that fury’s influence on your behavior, rather than stifling the fury itself.

Through self-awareness, you will discover that your emotion and your expression/reaction are two completely distinct things. In essence, choosing a different behavior does not automatically stifle an emotion.

Rather, the emotion remains whole without physical expression if you remain aware of it in your body while it’s happening.

That being said, over control is just as problematic as no control. So, the best way to handle intensely negative emotions is to:

1) Deliberately break the negative thought pattern with humor or by completely changing where you are.

2) Reframe

  1. Is there another way to describe the situation?
  2. How realistic is it that my worst fears will be realized?
  3. Create a new perspective—interpret the situation in a different way

3) Disclosure

  1. Find a clear, calm, honest expression of how you feel
  2. Express yourself using “I” Statements in regards to feelings. “I feel _____, when you do _____”


Mentally revisit the situation later to discover your triggers and why you had that intense emotional experience.

Here are some tips:

1) When you journal about negative events, mentally rehearse positive outcomes happening when the pattern arises in the future

2) Figure out where these intense emotions originate

  1. Who provokes this emotional response? How? Why?
  2. Discover your “Hot Buttons”- certain subjects or words that instigate the overblown response

3) Imagine, in advance, how you will handle these emotions. For example, calmly responding “Why do you feel that way?” or another response when someone criticizes you. Get creative!

On the other side of the coin, self-management also entails learning how to channel your positive emotions in order to get something productive done.

Skill #3: Social Awareness

The foundations of social awareness are found in empathy. The foundations of empathy, in turn, are found in self-awareness.

The goal here is to study your own emotions in order to better understand the feelings, wants, and needs of others. Since the language of emotions is universal,* the way one person expresses sadness is probably very similar, if not the same, as the way everyone else does.

*(Skeptical about this point? Check out this webpage:

Thus, if you can either appreciate how you typically express individual shades of anger or become aware of how others tend to express those same shades of anger, then you can determine exactly how another person is feeling. This knowledge makes you extremely useful as a friend once you start to learn your own strategies for overcoming that particular feeling.

In his landmark book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R. Covey mentions three habits of successfully empathic people:

1) Think Win/Win. When dealing with other people, seek mutually beneficial relationships and agreements. This requires simultaneous self-awareness and empathy.

2) Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood. Without a full understanding of another person, empathy is impossible. While paying attention to a person’s overall physiology and gestures can reveal how they feel from afar, if you ask them questions and actively listen, you can appreciate their perspective and respond much more effectively.

3) Synergize. Find ways to build powerful alliances with people that allow you all, as an organization, to accomplish feats that would be virtually impossible for a single person. To do this, you have to know what motivates your allies and what they can contribute.

Skill #4: Relationship Management

This skill represents the intelligent utilization of the other three skills. In other words, the major problem most people have with relationships is a moderate lack of self-awareness, self-management and empathy.

When you don’t know what you want in a relationship, communicating your desires authentically, something essential to successful partnerships, is nearly impossible.

Similarly, how can suppressing your emotions, overlooking them, or completely denying them foster any kind of vulnerable conversation? These conversations are especially important since they represent the cornerstone of intimacy.

Now, letting your emotions completely dictate your behavior is not a much better alternative. One word, look, smell, touch, etc. can trigger a whole range of emotions. And while increasing your emotional sensitivity and your ability to express that whole range of emotions is extremely important, allowing your expression to rely on the whims of your instincts and demands of that emotion is just stupid. Literally. It’s not emotionally intelligent.

And since a relationship is, unfortunately, not all about you, being highly skilled at deciphering your partner’s moods and current frame of mind is extremely important.

When she’s angry, you can proactively do something nice for her or ask her questions in an attempt to comfort her by really listening.

When she’s happy, you can amplify the feeling by spontaneously turning on some music and dancing with her or buying a nice bottle of wine for dinner.

And so on. Get creative!

Relationship Management is all about communicating authentically with others and building relationships. Acting spontaneously, with integrity (in a way according to your value system), allows for the best relationships because you are being vulnerable.

True vulnerability comes from knowing who you are, what you stand for, your strengths/joys/passions, your weakness/traumas/challenges, and what you want out of life. This degree of self-awareness allows you to confidently show yourself to the people around you.

Instead of compromising your values and beliefs to please others, you act congruent with your values in every second regardless of the pressure.


Expressing Your True, Inner Self

The best part about being in tune with your emotions is you will know exactly when you are being who you want to be and when you aren’t. Your emotions don’t lie.

If you remain perpetually conscious of your feelings, they will reveal your true, inner self.

Think about Emotional Intelligence this way: just as musicians use various instruments to express their true feelings, you will be able to use English (or whatever language you speak), your body, and your emotions to eloquently and creatively express who you truly are on the inside.

Enjoy your new life!


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    • James Herrera profile image

      James Herrera 

      4 years ago from Los Angeles, California

      I really enjoyed this hub, you provided a lot of information and explained it in a way that was easy to understand. You provide new perspectives to give us a better understanding of some of the very important areas of EQ (emotional intelligence).

    • Michael Kismet profile image

      Michael Kismet 

      4 years ago from Northern California

      Talk about an informative article, this must have taken a wee bit of time and care. Emotions are essentially what moves us, everyone who wants to up their emotional IQ needs to read this, it is very insightful and well-written. I might have to read this again, thanks for the time invested and for sharing!


    • Celiegirl profile image


      5 years ago

      Thanks for the break down, EQ makes the difference, yet i wonder about how much we do the 'self' part in terms of getting over, 'self', to impact others.

    • denise.w.anderson profile image

      Denise W Anderson 

      5 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      There is a lot to think about in the area of emotional intelligence. We all can use improvement in the four areas mentioned. Emotions are such a big part of our lives, and when we express them, we don't always think about the affect we have on others, we just want to resolve what we are feeling ourselves.

    • FullOfLoveSites profile image


      5 years ago from United States

      Thanks for your wonderful post. I think a high intelligence quotient will serve us in life better than an IQ. It's way practical too. Whether we like it or not we're surrounded by people and we should deal with them. So it's better to develop your emotional intelligence and social skills. It's important to have those things not only in business or in work but in everyday life as well.


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