Photo by Ilyuza Mingazova on Unsplash

Emotional intelligence is experiencing a resurgence. The concept, which teaches that there is power in understanding and managing emotions, first gained popularity decades ago. And the principles behind it have been around for centuries.

Still, there are many who are unsure what emotional intelligence really is, and what it looks like in the real world. Is it just a “feel good” set of guidelines? Is it simply the ability to show common sense? Or is it something more?

In my book, EQ Applied: The Real-World Guide to Emotional Intelligence, I aimed to answer some of these questions using real-world examples and current research. Below you’ll find answers to five of the most popular questions regarding emotional intelligence–and discover why it’s important that you work to develop yours.

What is emotional intelligence?

Simply put, emotional intelligence is the ability to identify, understand, and manage emotions. It’s a practical ability that enables you to use knowledge about emotions to inform personal decisions, and to manage your thoughts and actions.

More simply put:

Emotional intelligence is the ability to make emotions work for you, instead of against you.

What are the four types of emotional intelligence?

To understand the full scope of emotional intelligence, it’s helpful to break it down into four general facets, or abilities.

Self-awareness is the ability to identify and understand your own emotions and how they affect you.  Through self-awareness you recognize how your feelings can help or hinder you from reaching your goals. You become aware of your emotional tendencies, strengths, and weaknesses.

Self-management takes things one step further: it’s the ability to manage emotions in a way that allows you to accomplish a task, reach a goal, or provide a benefit. It includes the quality of self-control, which is the ability to control your emotional reactions.

Social awareness is the ability to accurately perceive the feelings of others and understand how those feelings influence behavior. In order to achieve social awareness, you must be empathetic, ready to see and feel things from the perspective of others.  

Relationship management allows you to get the most out of your relationships with others. Instead of trying to force others into action, it allows you to use insight and persuasion to motivate them to act. It also includes the ability to strengthen the level of trust between you and others.

How do you know if you are emotionally intelligent?

Just like what you might think of as traditional intelligence, everyone possesses a degree of emotional intelligence.

However, it’s difficult to measure emotional intelligence since tests are inherently subjective and imperfect. Nonetheless, here’s a five-minute test you can take that will help you determine not only how emotionally intelligent you are, but where your strengths and weaknesses lie.

Here’s a quick summary of the test:

1. Do I try to control my thoughts?

2. Do I think before I speak?

3. Do I learn from negative feedback?

4. Do I acknowledge others?

5. Do I have a balanced view of myself?

6. Do I listen for the message, and not just the words?

7. Am I authentic?

8. Do I show empathy?

9. Do I praise others?

10. Do I give helpful feedback?

11. Do I willingly apologize?

12. Do I forgive and forget?

13. Do I keep my commitments?

14. Do I know how to handle negative emotions?

15. Do I practice self-care?

16. Do I focus on what I can control?

17. Can I tell when others are using my emotions to manipulate or control me?

[For a more detailed explanation of the test, read this.]

Can emotional intelligence be taught?

Yes, to an extent. A variety of factors will affect your ability to understand and manage emotions, including your genes and environment. And your formative years definitely play an important role.

But research demonstrates that you can grow these abilities. For example, Stanford psychology professor Carol Dweck has shown the advantages of having a “growth mindset” vs. a “fixed mindset.” In other words, individuals who believe their talents can be developed through hard work, effective strategy, and feedback from others (growth mindset) tend to achieve more than those who believe their talents are innate gifts with finite development potential (fixed mindset).

You can apply the growth mindset to emotional intelligence, too.

How can I become emotionally intelligent?  

Emotional intelligence begins with self-awareness. We often go through life reacting, never really thinking about how or why we respond the way we do.

But you can develop self-awareness by asking the right questions. For example, begin by asking yourself: In what situations do I find that emotions work against me?

Once you’ve identified a few areas, you can then ask someone you trust to give you feedback on the same question. It could be a family member, a close friend, or another confidant. Be clear that you’re working to improve yourself and you want them to answer the question honestly; then, allow enough time so that they can give the question some thought.

Some other questions you can ask yourself (and others):

  • What effect does my communication have on others?
  • How would I (or you) describe the way I make decisions?
  • Do I tend to make decisions slowly or quickly?
  • How do my mood or emotions affect my thoughts and decision-making?
  • Do I tend to focus on the positive or negative traits of others?
  • What traits in others bother me? Why?
  • Do I find it difficult to admit when I’m wrong? Why or why not?

And if you’re looking for a set of simple tricks that can help you put your emotional intelligence into practice, try these.

It’s important to know that emotional intelligence isn’t about dissecting every feeling you have it. Rather, it’s the ability to search for deeper understanding when beneficial–or to simply enjoy the moment when not.

Emotions are beautiful–they make us human. But they can also lead to major regrets if we allow them to control us. When you instead strive to harness the power of your emotions, you avoid becoming a slave to your feelings.

That’s making emotions work for you, instead of against you.

Enjoy this post? Check out my book, EQ Applied, which uses fascinating research and compelling stories to illustrate what emotional intelligence looks like in everyday life.

A version of this article originally appeared on