First of all, what is emotional intelligence? I bet you’ve read some fancy definitions, and maybe even some of the academic articles trying to distinguish between emotions, feelings and moods. Part of emotional intelligence is what we could call “common sense.” So, some common sense definitions of emotional intelligence (EQ) would be understanding your emotions and those of others, being able to sense what’s going on, being able to manage your own emotional state (taking the information but not getting drowned in it), good reality-testing, and good communication skills.

Emotions give us information but don’t need to be acted upon without thought. For instance, anger is good for telling us what we want but not for getting it.

Emotions aren’t “better” than thinking. Emotional intelligence is about the interface between the two. Good judgment and maturity require a balance between the two, i.e., you might feel like hitting someone, but if you stop and think, you’ll realize it won’t get you what you want, and also might land you in jail.

However, cognitive reasoning isn’t enough alone. In fact it can rarely answer the most important questions in life. Say, for instance, you are listening to someone trying to talk you into doing something. They build a good intellectual case, but – and here come the intuition words (part of high EQ) – something doesn’t feel right, you smell something fishy, he makes your flesh creep, or you have a feeling in the pit of your stomach, a “gut feeling” that you shouldn’t do it. “Sounds good, feels bad.”

Many of the virtues combine emotions and thinking. Character requires competencies such as authenticity, personal power and Intentionality. It requires more thought to act with character, more self-control. The easiest route, the one dictated by pure emotion, is not always the best course of action, i.e., it’s easier to blame someone else than to accept your own responsibility. However, character also requires acting from the heart. Employees who are under-producing do so for different reasons, and require different remedies. One may be suffering through a divorce and temporarily distracted. Another may be an inveterate slacker whose life goal is to take advantage of everyone, including employers. A third may be lacking in technical skills and need additional training. The good manager, the one with EQ, knows the difference, just as the good parent knows that one child’s learning style requires that she know the “why” and then she will conform, while the other responds best to quickly-dealt consequences, without the rhetoric.

One reason researchers began to define the field of emotional intelligence is because we know intuitively that cognitive intelligence has its limitations. We see it all the time – people with high IQs whose lives are a mess because of naivete, poor social skills, or abrasiveness.

Emotional intelligence defines the competencies that contribute to such vague constructs as “getting along,” “maturity,” “common sense,” and even “street smarts.”

For the good life, for authentic happiness, cognitive intelligence is not enough. No less than Stephen Hawking, Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge said, “It is not clear that intelligence has any long-term survival value.” He’s alluding to the fact that bacteria will probably be around after humans have destroyed one another and much of the planet. But let’s take it in another direction. While cognitive intelligence is clearly needed in a complex, technological world like ours today, it alone is not the answer to what makes our lives worth living – relationships that nurture us, compassion and empathy for others so we do not live in isolation, inner peace, the ability to self-soothe in a sometimes frantically stressful world, and personal power, a sense that we can act upon our world and are not simply victims. It’s the basis for our ability to connect. Without it, you can be “isolated” in a room full of people, and isolation is worse for your health than obesity, smoking and high blood pressure – combined.

So don’t let yourself fall into the either/or trap; in fact such flexible thinking is part of EQ. Goleman is often mis-quoted as saying that EQ is more important than IQ. He said it “can be,” and your gut feeling will lead you to the same conclusion, as well as a plethora of research showing that success in the most important aspects of life is more likely with the development of emotional intelligence competencies.

Perhaps the biggest selling point about emotional intelligence is one that’s often missed: it’s crucial to our wellness. Our emotions affect our immune systems directly, and our immune systems are our health. A few minutes of anger will suppress the immune system for a number of hours. Can you afford to go without your immune system for hours because of a traffic jam, a co-worker taking your yogurt from the ‘frig, or an incompetent public servant on the telephone? We have antibiotics for bacteria, but for viruses, like bird flu, our only line of defense is our immune system. If you think it’s not a good idea to go without yours, do you realize you have a choice in you react to things? That’s EQ.

Emotions come unbidden. Some are instinctive, coming from the reptilian brain. We experience them as physiological ‘symptoms’. If someone jabs their elbow into your rib, your body will automatically go into “fight or flight,” with increasing blood pressure and heart beat, pounding pulse, tension in the pit of the stomach. In addition to stressing your body, they pull blood and oxygen from the thinking brain, limiting your ability to think. Sounds like something you’d like to have a handle on? It’s possible to limit the intensity, duration and effect.

Other emotions are intricately bound with thought. With a full stomach, you wouldn’t likely mind that you were the only who didn’t get a cookie if you didn’t have an intellectual sense of “justice” and “fairness,” which therefore makes you “angry.” And if you didn’t think a religion when you saw a cross, you would not have feelings one way or the other about seeing one in a courthouse.

The less you understand emotions, the more irrational your behavior is likely to be. This is why people say “I don’t know what came over me,” “I wasn’t acting like myself,” “I don’t know what happened, I just went crazy,” t must have been a weak moment,” and even “the devil made me do it.”

Developing your emotional intelligence is one of the smartest things you can do. Emotions developed before cognitive intelligence (as you know from your baby). They are stronger because they have to do with survival. Being able to harness them and use their energy wisely will allow you to make better choices in your life. It’s about what works and what doesn’t, and that begins with understanding the most powerful force within you, your emotions. Either you control them, or they control you.

We are our emotions … so why not get to know “us” better. If you don’t understand why you do things, or why others behave the way they do (and words are a behavior), all the book learning in the world isn’t going to help.

The most effective way to learn emotional intelligence is to work with a certified EQ coach, where you learn principles and applications, and practice them with feedback. You can’t just read about it, it isn’t like self-help, because it involves limbic learning. You must put it into practice and get some guidance. If you already knew what it was like you’d be doing it, because it would make your life work better. In that way, it’s quite self-motivating.

The good news is that emotional intelligence can be learned. What are you waiting for?

Author's Bio: 

©Susan Dunn, MA, The EQ Coach,, Offering a wide range of EQ programs, Internet courses and ebooks for individuals and businesses, tailored to your needs. EQ Alive! program – training and certifying EQ coaches internationally. Find out why EQ is a global phenomenon and what it can do for your business. It can give your organization the leading edge. Available on-site and long distance