Dr. Stacy Storey

Emotional intelligence is built up by self-awareness, self-regulation, empathy, motivation, and social skills. Self-regulation is something that comes up a lot in counseling sessions because people often view self-regulation as a separate entity from overall emotional intelligence. All of these factors combined help to increase a person’s emotional intelligence and all of these skills are intertwined to help support each other. While working on self-regulation is an amazing skill, it is important to look at the pieces to the bigger picture and begin to support all areas of the self and emotional intelligence. What is emotional intelligence as a whole? Emotional intelligence is your own personal ability to understand and manage not only your own emotions but those around you as well. While we can not help to manage other people’s emotions, that is not our place, it does help to have a strong understanding of your own emotions and how that can impact other people.

Let’s start by exploring self-awareness, which is the ability to be aware and understand your emotions, as well as the impact your emotions have on the people around you. Self-awareness is an amazing tool to take into consideration when you feel that your emotional reactions are not corresponding with how you feel compared to your behavior. In counseling sessions, it is important to be able to not only listen to people’s words, but their tone, and body language. Having strong self-awareness would be supported by a cohesion of words, tone, body language, and how you are feeling. Increasing your self-awareness helps to recognize your personal strengths and where you could improve, as well as reflecting on experiences and interactions and being able to learn more about yourself and how to improve your interactions with others.

Woman accepting and loving herself.

Self-regulation is built on having the ability to express your emotions appropriately. This is a very difficult skill due to emotional reactions often being just that, emotional-based reactions. Being reactive to situations means that you are not able to regulate how you react or respond to the emotions you are feeling. People who are more successful with self-regulation are able to take a step back and breathe before reacting, to be able to access their emotions and their desired reaction and then react appropriately. Areas to support increasing your self-regulation skills are practicing communication skills, offering yourself space in challenging situations before responding or reacting, deep breathing skills, practicing looking at the situation from a different perspective, and understanding how your reactive responses impact those around you. 

Social skills is an incredibly broad topic, but this use of the term social skills primarily focuses on communication skills; active listening skills, as well as verbal and nonverbal communication skills. Social skills within the parameters of emotional intelligence focus on how we interact with others, as well as how we interpret other people’s reactions, and in turn how we respond to the situation. One of the top ways to support increased social skills is active listening, showing an interest in other people’s topics of conversation, and watching your personal body language. As mentioned above, the actions, reactions, and body language, all need to correspond to your emotions. In social situations, your body language says a lot more than your words. 

Empathy is important for emotional intelligence as it is the understanding of other people’s feelings and the ability to see things from other people’s points of view. Not only understanding what people are experiencing but being able to understand why they would feel that way. Empathy is understanding that while you might not feel the same way in a situation, you know why the person might feel the way they do. Different tools to support increasing empathy skills are being willing to share your feelings and emotions, but also being willing to listen to what someone else is feeling and validating their feelings. Working to try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes, and trying to understand how they feel or why they would feel a certain way is a great way to start to build empathetic skills.

Finally, motivation. There are two types of motivation; intrinsic and extrinsic. Extrinsic motivation is built from the desire to have external rewards such as money, fame, recognition, or accolades. Intrinsic motivation is the internalized motivation, the personalized drive that we possess for one thing or another. The intrinsic motivation is the motivation that we are focused on with emotional intelligence. Personally setting goals and feeling motivated to reach those goals, for personal reasons, will help to improve this part of your personal emotional intelligence. Ways to increase your motivation are to focus on the intrinsic motivators, celebrate yourself, set personal SMART goals, and get the support of the people around you to help you stay accountable as you are working towards building this skill.