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How emotional intelligence makes you a better human

September 19, 2022 - 15 min read


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What is emotional intelligence?

The 9 components of emotional intelligence

How to measure emotional intelligence skills

Tips to improve emotional intelligence

Your friend is telling you about their worries, and you’re unsure what they want from you. Are they looking for advice? Do they need a hug? Or maybe they need reassurance?

If only there was a manual for how to deal with people’s emotions. You could flip to page 20, to the subsection titled: “My friend is angry at themselves about a mistake they made” — and then you’d know exactly what to do.

Unfortunately, no such document exists. You’ll have to rely on your own intuition. In other words, you’ll have to use your emotional intelligence.

This skill comes more naturally to some than others. Some are gifted at this, and for others, it takes practice. But with some effort, you can improve your emotional intelligence.

The first step is understanding your own emotions and what you need to handle different situations. Doing so requires radical emotional awareness and confronting parts of yourself you might not like. This process of self-discovery can be scary. But it’s worth it. 

You’ll learn to take better care of yourself, including your mental and emotional health. And after, you’ll be better equipped to extend that emotional support to others.

So what is emotional intelligence? And how can you develop yours?

Let’s get into it. 


What is emotional intelligence?

There are several schools of thought on how emotional intelligence works. But simply put, the concept of emotional intelligence describes your ability to:

  • Perceive, evaluate, express, and regulate your emotions. If you’re angry about something your boss said in a meeting, emotional intelligence promotes the necessary self-regulation to discuss the situation calmly and privately.
  • Understand, interpret, and respond well to the emotions of others. If your co-worker had a death in the family, emotional intelligence could involve offering comfort and support and covering their workload while they grieve.


For some, these abilities don’t come naturally. More often than not, they require copious self-work and self-discovery.

As you begin to better understand yourself, this knowledge becomes a framework for your interpersonal relationships. You can better support a grieving colleague because you understand how a similar event would impact you and your emotions.

And if you know the person well, you might recognize that what you would need isn’t what they need. Your emotional intelligence will help you intuit how to react to the situation. 

Positive impacts of emotional intelligence

Developing your emotional intelligence takes work, but it will positively impact your work and personal life:

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The 9 components of emotional intelligence

To fully develop your emotional intelligence, you’ll go through nine phases. Each builds on the last, taking the shape of a pyramid. When you reach the peak, you’ll have developed healthy emotional skills that allow you to connect more deeply with yourself and the people around you.

Here’s a breakdown of each phase:

1. Emotional stimuli

The pyramid’s base is composed of your reactions to the world around you. When an event occurs, you process it through your physical senses — such as sight, smell, or touch. Your brain then interprets the event through its emotional mechanisms, inciting behavioral responses.

For example, if someone cuts you off in traffic, your brain might react with anger, and your behavioral response is to honk your horn.

2. Emotion recognition

This is the second layer of the pyramid. It refers to your ability to recognize others’ feelings through non-verbal communication. Humans have an innate ability to read others’ emotions through cues like facial expressions, tone of voice, and body language — whether we’re conscious of it or not.

If you’ve ever asked someone how they’re doing and heard “I’m fine” as a response, their non-verbal cues might have communicated something different to you. If their voice sounded tight, you might think they were angry. Or, if they’re sniffling and their eyes are watery, you might deduce that they’ve been crying and aren’t fine at all.

3. Self-awareness

The third layer involves knowing yourself. This means clearly perceiving your strengths, weaknesses, thoughts, beliefs, values, motives, and feelings. If you don’t know these things about yourself, it’s difficult to understand and interact with others, making it nearly impossible to properly respond to others’ feelings.

If you have a stressed-out colleague, you won’t know how to support them unless you know your types of stressors and how to deal with them.


4. Self-management

Once you’ve mastered self-awareness, you can intervene and change any of your bad behaviors. Identifying what you’re feeling, what caused it, and how you usually respond helps you recognize negative behaviors and work to react differently. 

Next time an employee makes a mistake, you might change your approach. Instead of immediately scolding them like usual, you might take a moment to decompress before offering constructive feedback.

5. Social awareness

Now that you can manage your emotions, turn your attention to the world around you. You’re now better equipped to recognize and respond to others’ feelings, needs, and concerns. You can put yourself in their shoes and understand their point of view.

Perhaps you’re a working mom who is also a manager. You previously had a boss who didn’t understand the challenges of balancing work and family life. Ideally, this would help you understand what working parents on your team need.

6. Social skills

At this level in the pyramid, you should be able to identify other people’s emotions, understand their points of view, and act on that information.

Your social skills and adapting to other people’s needs allow you to be a great collaborator, accommodating different communication styles, diffusing tension, and resolving conflict.

If you’re a team leader, your empathy will inspire your workers to do their best. You know what motivates each of them and can support them accordingly.

7. Universality of emotions and self-actualization

At this point in the pyramid, you understand that everyone, including yourself, is an emotional being that requires care and compassion. You also see that everyone is capable of reaching their full potential and deserves support.

You might experience this with an intern. Fresh out of school, they definitely don’t have the experience to hit the ground running — but you recognize that, if given a chance, they can make a difference on your team.

8. Transcendence

When you reach transcendence, you can help others self-actualize, find fulfillment, and realize their potential. You recognize your struggles in getting to this point, so you want to help others progress up their own pyramids. 

At this point, you’re ready to be a leader. You understand your team’s emotions, strengths, weaknesses, and main motivators. Because of this, you’re equipped to support, inspire, and elevate them to new heights.

9. Emotional unity

At the pyramid’s peak, you have a new appreciation for your interconnectedness with people. You understand your own emotional dependence on others and their dependence on you.  

This makes you a more caring and compassionate person. Recognizing other people’s emotions comes more easily to you because you feel connected to them. They’re struggling through life, just like you are.

BetterUp can help you master each phase of the pyramid. Our coaches will help you recognize patterns and behaviors you weren’t previously aware of. Then you can take your first steps toward higher levels of emotional intelligence.

How to measure emotional intelligence skills

Emotional intelligence is measured through an emotional quotient (EQ). Your EQ is a reflection of your proficiency in:

  • Managing emotions and emotional responses
  • Being aware of your emotional state
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Self-control
  • Social Intelligence
  • Relationship management


Rating your behaviors on a scale through a self-report test is the most common way to measure your EQ. Afterward, tally up your results to determine your EQ.

Mental health professionals can also administer EQ tests. Doctors John Mayer, Peter Salovey, and David R. Caruso created one of the most popular tests in the field, the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT). The MSCEIT measures your ability to perceive, identify, understand, and manage emotions.

Tips to improve emotional intelligence

These components of emotional intelligence offer insight into how to improve your emotional intelligence to understand yourself and others. 

Here are some example techniques on how to improve your emotional intelligence:

1. Meditate

Meditation is known to increase mindfulness, boost your mood, decrease perceived stress, and increase interpersonal awareness in the workplace. It’s a powerful tool for introspection and helps you solidify the foundation of your emotional intelligence pyramid.

2. Read literary fiction

In some cases, reading fiction can help enhance empathy. This type of literature often offers detailed depictions of characters’ minds, psychology, and relationships, which can translate to real-life emotional insight.

3. Develop your communication skills

Emotional intelligence can lead to effective communication. Do this in conversations by:

  • Listening closely and reflecting on what was said before responding
  • Acknowledging and affirming other people’s opinions before presenting your own — even if you disagree
  • Gathering information to aid in decision-making 


4. Identify your boundaries

Emotional intelligence doesn’t mean putting other people’s emotional well-being before yours if it’s a detriment to your own. Instead, it’s about being aware of your and other people’s limits. Setting and respecting boundaries is a fundamental part of emotional intelligence.

5. Ask for help

A professional therapist or BetterUp coach can help you identify your toxic behaviors and emotions and how to address them. This will improve your self-awareness, ability to cope with stress, and overall mental health.

6. Step out of your comfort zone

Challenging yourself and trying new things will teach you a lot about handling and overcoming stress, your limits, and the type of support you need. The more you step outside of your comfort zone, the larger your frame of reference for connecting with other people. 

Try taking a class, going on a trip, or taking on new projects. These experiences will help you improve your emotional intelligence.

And sometimes, things get messy. Emotions become overwhelming, and people lose their cool. In these moments, you may want to abandon feelings altogether. Life would certainly be less complicated if we were all robots. But, it would also be a lot duller.

Emotions make us human. And what is emotional intelligence if not a way to authentically connect with others?

Don’t miss your chance. At BetterUp, we want to help you build meaningful connections. We can help you develop emotional intelligence, improve your social skills, and present your best self to the people in your life.

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Published September 19, 2022

Maggie Wooll

Managing Editor

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