What is Emotional Intelligence and How to Develop it in 6 Steps!

Daniel Goleman

In a very real sense we have two minds, one that thinks and one that feels.


What Exactly is Emotional Intelligence?

Emotional intelligence is having the ability to effectively perceive, control, and evaluate emotions in yourself as well as in others.

To be emotionally intelligent means directing your emotions in optimal ways to relieve stress and anxiety in various situations. Furthermore, it’s about using your emotions to overcome life’s problems in a calm and controlled manner.

To be emotionally intelligent means having the ability to empathize with others, which subsequently helps you to better understand people’s deepest needs.

Emotional intelligence is about communication and social interaction. Specifically, it’s about directing your emotions in optimal ways that help you communicate effectively with others using verbal and nonverbal cues.

An emotionally intelligent person understands how to defuse conflict in rational ways to mend relationships, which subsequently helps build deeper levels of trust.

You display emotional intelligence when you become aware of the emotions you are experiencing. However, awareness is only a start. You must also show that you understand these emotions and the impact that they have on your state-of-mind. Moreover, you need to recognize how your emotions are affecting the people around you.

I recognize my emotions.

I understand my emotions.

I realize how my emotions affect others.

You also display emotional intelligence when recognizing another person’s emotions. In other words, when you empathize with another person, you are displaying emotional intelligence.

I recognize this person’s emotions.

I empathize with their situation.

I understand how to respond accordingly.

That is in essence what emotional intelligence is all about.

What is Emotional Intelligence


The Value of Having Emotional Intelligence

The value of having emotional intelligence extends beyond the “self” and positively impacts the relationships we have with others. In fact, everyone we interact with benefits. They benefit because of how we communicate with them.

No longer are our emotions running rampant and causing destruction, they are instead somewhat subdued and controlled.

When we’re emotionally intelligent, we don’t react to situations or people. We instead respond rationally, objectively, and with empathy. In other words, we think before we respond. We assess the person and situation, then respond in a way that helps us build deeper and more lasting relationships with the people we interact with.

Emotional intelligence helps us develop self-control. It helps us to develop our mental toughness and resilience when facing difficult problems. Moreover, it helps us to better adapt to changing conditions and circumstances, thereby improving our performance and productivity.

When we’re emotionally intelligent, we are not ruled by our emotions or mood swings. Yes, we still experience difficult emotions throughout the day. However, because we’re emotionally intelligent, we don’t fall victim to the temptations that they throw our way. We instead embrace these emotions and wield them in ways that serve our greater good as well as the greater good of others.



Do You Have Emotional Intelligence?

To grow your emotional intelligence, you will need to focus on four key areas of development. These areas include:

  • Self-Awareness: Having an awareness of yourself and of your emotional experiences, while at the same time understanding how your emotions impact your behavior.
  • Self-Management: Having an ability to control your emotional impulses and delaying instant gratification.
  • Social Awareness: Understanding how to empathize and relate to people. This is essentially about understanding people’s needs and concerns.
  • Social Management: Having the ability to work together with others, to influence people in empowering ways, and to communicate your needs clearly and more efficiently.

Addressing these four areas will help us to identify how emotionally intelligent we truly are. In other words, it will help us to assess how often our behavior directly stems from our emotional intelligence or the lack of emotional intelligence.

To accurately assess these four areas, let’s go through the following list and ask yourself whether or not each statement is true for you.

Self-Awareness

I recognize my own emotional experiences.

I understand how my emotions affect my thoughts and behavior.

I acknowledge my strengths and weaknesses.

I don’t allow my emotions to get out of control.

I have confidence in myself to make intuitive decisions.

Self-Management

I am in control of impulsive feelings, behaviors and thoughts.

I take personal responsibility for all my emotions.

I have the strength of mind to delay gratification.

I am able to balance my needs with those of others.

I am able to adapt to change and stay committed to my cause.

I think before I react to people or circumstances.

Social Awareness

I understand the emotions, needs and concerns of other people.

I have deep levels of empathy.

I easily pick up on people’s emotional cues.

I understand how to form strong bonds with people.

I recognize the social dynamics within a group.

Social Management

I am able to communicate my needs clearly.

I feel comfortable in social settings.

I have the ability to inspire and influence others.

I work well in a team and have the ability to manage conflict.

Having gone through each of the four areas, ask yourself:

Where do I excel? Where exactly do my strengths lie?

What areas do I most need to work on?

When it comes to developing our emotional intelligence, we all have our strengths and weaknesses. Recognizing and understanding areas for improvement is a good first step that will help you to begin developing your emotional intelligence.

Working with Emotional Intelligence


How to Develop Your Emotional Intelligence

In this final section, let’s break down a six step process for developing your emotional intelligence.

It’s important to note that as much as emotional intelligence is a mindset, it’s also considered a soft skill. And, like with most skills that we commit to mastering, it will take considerable time and effort to develop it to a level where it becomes second nature.

There are four phases that you must pass through before you master any skill. Using emotional intelligence as an example, these phases include:

Phase 1: The Unconscious Incompetence Phase

Here you don’t yet know what emotional intelligence is all about. You’re not even aware that it exists. In other words, you have no knowledge or experience in this area. You, therefore, go about your day as you typically would without ever realizing that there could be a better way to respond to the world around you.

Phase 2: The Conscious Incompetence Phase

Here you are starting to learn about emotional intelligence and the profound impact it can have on your life. However, you don’t yet have enough knowledge, practice, or experience to make full use of it. This is a broad learning phase where you might feel somewhat overwhelmed with the idea of developing your emotional intelligence.

Phase 3: The Conscious Competence Phase

Here you have spent a great deal of time learning how to become emotionally intelligent. You also make use of it. However, it still takes a considerable amount of focus and conscious effort to apply it each day. You, therefore, make plenty of mistakes, but no doubt learn from them and adapt your approach moving forward.

Phase 4: The Unconscious Competence Phase

Here you have reached a phase where emotional intelligence has become second nature. You no longer need to think about applying it to your daily life because it has now become a habit that has been deeply ingrained into your consciousness. It’s part of you and part of who you have become as a result of the work and dedication you have put into developing this skill. In other words, it has become a habitual mindset that has been deeply rooted and ingrained into your decisions, actions and daily behavior.



Now that you have a clear understanding of the four phases you will need to pass through as you grow your emotional intelligence, let’s now walk through a six step process you can use to develop your emotional intelligence.


Stage 1: Become Aware

Awareness is the first step toward developing your emotional intelligence. You must, therefore, take the time to become aware of the emotions you experience each day. Specifically, stay vigilant and aware of your emotional state-of-mind throughout the day. However, be sure not to judge. Just be mindful of how you’re feeling at each moment.

As you become more aware of your emotional state-of-mind, this will help you to better understand yourself. Specifically, your needs, motivations, and inclinations.

Awareness, though, often begins with a self-assessment. It begins with a set of questions that challenge you to think objectively about yourself and about your experiences. With this in mind, here is a set of self-assessment questions that will help you to get a deeper understanding of your emotional tendencies.

What types of emotions do I typically experience? (list them)

Why do I experience these emotions?

How do I experience these emotions?

What specifically happens?

When do these things happen?

Where do I experience these emotions?

How intense are these emotions?

What physical sensations accompany my emotions?

Are my thoughts to blame? Do I have any limiting beliefs?

Are these emotions helpful or are they hurting me? In what ways?

How well do I tolerate these emotions?

Do I feel comfortable talking about these emotions?

Having undergone this self-assessment, you should now be more familiar with how you express yourself emotionally throughout the day. However, this self-assessment doesn’t stop there. To become more emotionally intelligent, you must return to these questions at regular intervals. Only in this way will you truly understand your emotional tendencies.

Before moving onto Stage 2 of this process, let’s quickly talk about stress. Stress is, of course, a very challenging emotion that is often difficult to manage. It’s, therefore, a primary emotion that you should give particular attention to. Here are three questions that will help you to become more aware of how stress is affecting your body and mind.

What exactly does stress feel like?

How does my body feel when I’m stressed?

How does stress affect my behavior?

Remember, that it is “awareness” that gives birth to emotional intelligence.

Stage 2: Identify Emotional Patterns

Having become aware of your emotions, it’s now time to delve a little deeper and explore your emotional patterns and how they are affecting your behavior.

Identifying your emotional patterns is of tremendous value because it helps you recognize emotional triggers. Moreover, it helps you determine the sequence of steps you typically take to experience a particular emotion. Understanding these triggers and the sequence of steps allows you to make adjustments that will help you to adapt your behavior accordingly.

To help you identify your emotional patterns, ask yourself the following questions.

In what ways do I tend to express the emotions I identified earlier?

How do I behave? What are the consequences?

What typically triggers these emotions within me?

How do my emotions tend to ebb and flow throughout the day? What patterns are evident?

What are the consequences of experiencing these emotions?

Are these desirable consequences, or would I prefer different outcomes?

Do I tend to avoid difficult emotions?

How exactly do I do this? Do I distract myself? Do I just shut down emotionally?

How do my emotions influence my choices and decisions?

Is there any value in experiencing these emotions in the way I experience them? If there was, what would it be?

These questions should now provide you with a deeper understanding of your emotional tendencies and the resulting patterns. It’s important though, to view your answers objectively. Keep an open mind and figure out whether or not you could express your emotions in more optimal and helpful ways.

This is especially important when it comes to stress management. In general, we just don’t handle stress very well. And this takes a toll on our body and mind. This is why it’s important to also take the time to assess your stress response and the resulting patterns. Ask yourself:

How do I typically respond to stress?

Do I get angry when stressed?

Do I tend to freeze up when stressed?

Do I become depressed and withdrawn?

What other patterns are evident here?

When emotionally intelligent people get angry, they practice calming their mind using mindfulness techniques. When emotionally intelligent people tend to freeze up, they make an effort to immediately get active. And when emotionally intelligent people tend to withdraw, they quickly find ways to energize themselves.

These are all simple examples of what it takes to display a higher level of emotional intelligence when facing stressful situations.

Developing Emotional Intelligence

Stage 3: Take Full Responsibility

Emotionally intelligent people don’t throw blame, make excuses for their emotions, or complain. They instead assume responsibility. No matter how challenging their emotional experiences are, they own each and every emotion they experience. They take full responsibility for their emotions and for the resulting behavior.

This is all very important because when we take responsibility, we acknowledge that we are in control. We acknowledge that we alone control our emotions and the resulting behavior. And when we are in control, we have the power to change and reshape that behavior.

The key though is to refrain from resisting your emotions. Instead, find comfort in them. Recognize your emotions for what they are, and then fully embrace them. That is the only way you will develop your emotional intelligence.

I recognize my emotions for what they are.

I accept and take comfort in them.

Stage 4: Cultivate Lightheartedness

Emotionally intelligent people have a very carefree nature. More specifically, they are very lighthearted in how they approach life. They are typically more optimistic than the average person and tend to enjoy laughter, humor, and play.

This lighthearted nature is essential because it helps keep their frustrations and disappointments in proper perspective. Moreover, it keeps their stress levels low and gives them the leverage they need to defuse conflict and tension in social situations. Lightheartedness also helps relieve fatigue and helps them stay more attuned to their emotional state-of-mind.

But most importantly, cultivating a lighthearted nature will help you to detach yourself from your emotional experiences. It allows you to view them in more objective ways, which helps you to progressively develop and grow your emotional intelligence.

Stage 5: Explore Optimal Ways to Respond

Now, that you are familiar with your emotional patterns, have taken responsibility for your emotions, and have committed yourself to cultivating a lighthearted nature, it’s time to begin thinking more proactively about your emotional experiences.

To think proactively requires first noticing how you feel, and then deciding what would be the best way to respond to each particular situation. For instance, you could say:

I’ve noticed how I feel…

I’m now deciding how to respond…

This will immediately put you in the right frame-of-mind to respond to circumstances in more optimal ways.

For the purpose of this discussion, let’s use stress as an example.

Stress is obviously a very painful emotion that’s often triggered when we feel overwhelmed, frustrated, or angry. Any of these emotions can instantly raise our stress levels.

Emotionally intelligent people understand their “stress triggers.” They understand the typical emotions that tend to trigger stress. As such, they find optimal ways to relieve stress through meditation, physical exercise, deep breathing techniques, reconnecting with nature, through questioning their stress, and more.

When we question something, we throw doubt upon that “thing” we are questioning. In other words, we are shaking up our belief systems about something that we perceive to be true. And when our beliefs are riddled with doubt, that is when we start to make a paradigm shift in how we think and feel about something.

With this in mind, here are several questions you can ask yourself that will throw a little doubt on your stressful experiences.

Why am I thinking about this stressful problem?

Does thinking about this problem help me in any way?

Could I think about this problem another way?

Could I be thinking about something else instead?

What’s a better thought to have right now about all this?

Emotionally intelligent people rarely get overwhelmed by stress. They instead assess their stress response in an objective way, which helps them to view their experience in more optimal ways. To do this, they apply a little technique known as reframing.

Finally, effective stress management is closely tied to our five senses: sight, sound, scent, touch, and taste. When we’re completely overwhelmed with stress, each of the five senses is affected on some level. Therefore to effectively relieve stress, you just need to utilize your five senses in more effective ways. Here are some ideas:

  • Sight: View uplifting and inspiring images.
  • Sound: Listen to relaxing music or to a water fountain.
  • Scent: Breathe in soothing essential oils.
  • Touch: Hug a person or pet or squeeze a stress ball.
  • Taste: Chew on some gum.

To become emotionally intelligent, you need to train yourself to respond to your emotional tendencies in optimal ways. For instance, set rules in place that are triggered when you experience certain emotions. So, for example, when you feel stressed, you will follow a set of guidelines that help you to relieve stress. And, you will, of course, have rules for when you’re feeling overwhelmed, frustrated, angry, anxious, depressed, etc. However, be flexible with your rules, because they may not apply or be appropriate in every situation.

Growing Emotional Intelligence

Stage 6: Stay Mindful and Aware

The key to developing your emotional intelligence over the long-run is to stay mindful and aware.

For instance, as you go about your day, stay vigilant of the emotions you experience. But, beyond this, stay vigilant also of how you communicate with others, and more specifically of your nonverbal communication, i.e., how you sit, stand, the gestures you use, your posture, the eye contact you give, etc.

Emotionally intelligent people clearly understand the effect they have on others. And this doesn’t just come through the words they speak, but also through their body language and subtle facial gestures. You must become acutely aware of all these things to develop and grow your emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence is, however, not only about you, it’s very much about the other person. You must, therefore, also, train yourself to become aware of other people’s body language, eye cues, gestures, and even the subtleties in the words they speak.

Moreover, you need to become aware of how people respond to you verbally and non-verbally. Only in this way will you truly understand the nature of the people you interact with. And, only in this way will you progressively develop and grow your emotional intelligence.


Concluding Thoughts

This certainly wasn’t a detailed breakdown of what it takes to become emotionally intelligent. There’s a lot more that could be said. However, the purpose of this article wasn’t about providing you with excessive details, but rather with the main fundamental ideas that you can immediately apply to your life and social interactions.

If you would like a more detailed account of what emotional intelligence is all about, then I would highly recommend reading Daniel Goleman’s book on Emotional Intelligence. In his book, Goleman takes you through a detailed breakdown of what is required to develop your emotional intelligence.

Whether or not you choose to explore this topic in further detail, you do now at least have a basic understanding of what emotional intelligence is about. And that is all you need at this stage. Don’t get lost in the details, just start with what you know right now and begin implementing these ideas into your life.

It will, of course, take practice, but that’s true for any new skill you choose to master. The truth is that you will probably struggle at times. But, as long as you stay committed and stick with it through the tough times, you will develop and grow your emotional intelligence and subsequently change your life and results in ways you might not have imagined.


Time to Assimilate these Concepts

Emotional Intelligence

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Adam is a life coach, mind mapper, doodler and visual thinker. He founded IQ Matrix in 2009 and has created over 350 self-growth mind maps. He also has a Free 40 Day How to Doodle Course where he teaches how to doodle using simple daily lessons. Read more about Adam's story, and how he created the concept for IQ Matrix. Feel free to also get in touch and send Adam a message here.