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Emotional Intelligence Means More Than Empathy

If you ask me, there’s a narrow understanding of emotional intelligence (EI). People tend to associate it with empathy, but that’s only one piece of an elaborate puzzle. Managers, peers, and team members have told me I have high EI, but if I’m honest with myself, which can be hard, my level of emotional intelligence is good…not great.

Don’t get me wrong – I have strengths I’m proud of that serve me well. I’m self-aware, able to read a room and work harmoniously with others. My weakness? Relationship management. I’ve realized that my need to avoid conflict can sometimes hold me back from reaching my full potential.

EI is a sort of self and social awareness – the ability to understand emotion in yourself and others, and recognize its impact on behavior. Broad definition, right? That’s because we display a complex range of emotions at many different levels. There’s more to it than getting along well with others.

Twelve Components of Emotional Intelligence

According to researchers Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis, EI can be divided into four categories with twelve subcategories or components. It’s their belief that we demonstrate a spectrum of emotional strengths and weaknesses from this list.

  • Self-Awareness
    • Emotional self-awareness
  • Self-Management
    • Emotional self-control
    • Adaptability
    • Achievement orientation
    • Positive Outlook
  • Social Awareness
    • Empathy
    • Organizational Awareness
  • Relationship Management
    • Influence
    • Coach and Mentor
    • Conflict Management
    • Teamwork
    • Inspirational Leadership

Assessment and Reflection

Luckily, your level of EI is not fixed. It can change and grow over time. Take notice of your emotions throughout the day and where they fall on this list. Don’t allow feelings to just wash over you. What are the patterns? Once you recognize which components you want to work on, you can develop them as a flexible set of skills. Train your brain by practicing emotionally intelligent behaviors or responses. In this way, your brain builds new pathways.

My weakness, as I mentioned before, falls under Relationship Management. Specifically, I struggle with conflict management and influence. It’s difficult for me to give people negative feedback because I’m uncomfortable with confrontation. I can smooth over a problem, but might not get to the heart of it.

We’ve all tossed and turned at the prospect of a difficult conversation at work. Maybe you’ve even gone so far as to consider avoiding these kinds of conversations altogether. Of course, that’s not a real option. You must learn to assess the situation, anticipate the listener’s reaction and your own, and regulate your emotional response to conflict.

Never underestimate the power of reflection and self-assessment as a way to improve your EI. They go a long way toward bettering yourself. Consider taking the Predictive Index Behavioral Assessment, which shows the pattern behind your motivations and deeper insight into behavior.

Another option is the 360 degree assessment. This takes into consideration both your self-rating and the anonymous ratings of those who know you well at work. While the 360 degree method has faced criticism, external feedback can be helpful to gauge your level of self-awareness.

Celebrate Your Strengths

I never used to think about who I might influence or how. In larger meetings, I thought about whether it was appropriate to agree or disagree instead of how best to be heard. Now I spend more time assessing my grasp on all 12 components of EI.

I still have work to do—my suspicion is we all do. Remember to take stock of your strengths and celebrate them, but don’t shy away from your weaknesses. Acknowledge them, then adjust.