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The term “emotional intelligence” was first coined by two American psychologists, Peter Salovey and John Mayer. They introduced the concept in 1990 in an article titled, Emotional Intelligence: Imagination, Cognition and Personality as a theme for future research. Their proposal is based on what they called an “intelligence” – a collection of skills that help us control and regulate emotional states and moods.

Emotional intelligence is considered to be the ability to perceive, assess, understand, motive, appreciate and manage one’s own emotions as well as those of others in order to guide behaviour wisely. As such it encompasses thinking about how we feel about ourselves and others, as well as the ability to manage those feelings in ourselves and others.

The first thing to recognise about emotional intelligence is that it lies at the heart of all human behaviour – our emotions play a big part in who we are, how we act and what happens around us. It’s always there; sometimes it directs us, other times it distracts us. It can affect the way we deal with people and things, even influence how successful we become in life.

The second thing to remember is that it’s a skill – therefore you can improve it like any other skill. It takes time, commitment and patience but with practice anyone can achieve stronger emotional intelligence.

The third thing to know is that EI has two main components – the ability to perceive and understand emotions in ourselves and others, as well as separately we can make use of our understanding to manage those feelings – our own and other people’s.

Emotional intelligence is often referred to as our EQ (emotional quotient). The terms are often used interchangeably but in fact EQ refers only to people’s ability to understand and manage their own emotions.

Anger is a common emotion found within the workplace. This can be due to low levels of emotional intelligence, which may manifest itself as aggression or hostility; it can also be caused by frustration or resentment.

The ability to perceive and understand emotions in others is known as the emotional perception aspect of emotional intelligence, whereas the management aspect reflects how we manage our own emotions and those of other people. Some researchers refer to this as self-management or self-awareness, while others use terms such as social skill or relationship skill. All are essentially the same thing.

In this guide we will focus only on self-management or self-awareness, but in order to do that you need to understand how your emotions work.

Discovering your emotional intelligence

Have a look at the list of feelings below and tick those which you feel are part of you:

  • Feelings of inferiority
  • Feelings of envy
  • Feelings of helplessness
  • Feelings of loneliness

If you’ve ticked any of these then you need to further explore the possibility that all human emotions stem from a common source. Known as Primary Human Values, they are:

  • Primary Human Value A – SECURITY
  • Primary Human Value C – MASTERY KNOWLEDGE

By recognising that all human emotions stem from these values, we can learn to identify our feelings and use them positively to help us achieve more in life.

The key to successful emotional intelligence is recognising the impact each of these values has on our behaviour so they can be controlled and used in a positive way.

Therefore, to become more emotionally intelligent you must first understand your feelings, then why you feel that way – which value is driving the emotion to lead it towards achievement rather than self-destruction.

Understanding your feelings – a step by step guide

Step 1: Identify the emotions you are experiencing.

  • Use all of your senses to get a good picture of what is happening inside you e.g. Is my heart racing? Do I feel warm or cold? How does it make me feel?
  • Write down your feelings. This will help you to clarify your thoughts and identify the true cause of your emotions.

Step 2: Check whether any Primary Human Values are driving or limiting this feeling.

  • Remember, all human behaviour stems from these values – they lie at the heart of who we are and how we act.
  • The chart below shows how the Primary Human Values manifest themselves in our behaviour.

 Value: SECURITY (1)

Behaviour pattern: AVOIDANCE / FAILURE – Fear of failure, desire to escape or avoid some situation e.g. when meeting new people or taking risks or making changes which could cause failure.


Behaviour pattern: FAILURE TO DIFFERENTIATE – Having no sense of self, accepting values or beliefs imposed by others e.g. fear of standing up for yourself or not expressing your opinions or values because you don’t want to upset someone else.

Value: MASTERY (3)

Behaviour pattern: EXCLUSION – Wanting to be in control all the time, needing to be better or more successful than others e.g. feeling as if you can’t relax because of the desire for continuous success and the fear of failure.

Value: KNOWLEDGE (4)

Behaviour pattern: SELF-DISTRUST / FAILURE – Feeling as if you don’t have the right to succeed or that you don’t deserve it e.g. self-doubt interfering with your ability to succeed or achieve and believing failure is inevitable.

Step 3: With your feelings clearly identified, you can now look at how to control them in a positive way and use them to your advantage rather than being controlled by them.

The following exercise will help you to achieve that goal.

  1. Think of the last time you experienced one of these emotions. What was it? When was it? Who were you with? What were you doing?
  2. State what feeling (s) you experienced:
  3. For each of your feelings, put a smiley face next to the Primary Human Value(s) which best explains them: For example, if someone had said something hurtful to me then my feelings of hurt may stem from the fact that I have a strong desire for acceptance or approval.
  4. Now state how you can control this feeling positively: For example, by recognising and accepting that it was my own insecurity which made me feel vulnerable or not good enough. This in turn has given me the power to accept what happened, see things differently and learn something from the situation which could help me feel more confident in the future.
  5. Finally, write down your answer here:

This is not just an exercise. Repeat this process any time you find yourself experiencing a negative emotion – no matter what it is or where it comes from. With practice you will get faster at recognising and controlling your feelings, leaving you free to make full use of your passion in a positive way.

What is self-awareness in Emotional intelligence?

Self-awareness is the ability to recognise your own feelings, emotions and moods. It is the gateway to self-control (see here).

What are some of the signs that you have good self-awareness?

  • You can clearly identify and express how you feel about yourself, other people or a situation.
  • You are comfortable with silence. You don’t need to fill every moment with chatter or distractions.
  • You accept that different people feel and react differently in the same situation.
  • Conflicts don’t scare you. When things go wrong, you stay calm, look at the problem from all angles and try to find the best solution.
  • You accept that you are not perfect, but you are willing to take responsibility for your mistakes and apologise accordingly.


 How do you use self-awareness in Emotional intelligence?

Self-awareness is a vital component of Emotional Intelligence because it tells us how we feel about ourselves and how we are likely to feel in any given situation. If you can manage your own emotions and remain calm under pressure, you will be in a good position to make rational decisions about what to do next.

How you can use it at work

  • You won’t get upset or take things personally when someone criticised or disagreed with your ideas.
  • You won’t let your emotions rule you when making important decisions – instead you will consider the facts and weigh up the pros and cons.


 What is self-management in Emotional intelligence?

Self-management is the ability to control your own behaviour, impulses, emotions and moods.

What are some of the signs that you have good self-management?

  • You can control your temper. You won’t lose your cool in difficult situations, even if people try to provoke you.
  • You know when it is appropriate to show appreciation or gratitude and when not to. In fact, you can be genuinely grateful for anything.
  • You know when it is appropriate to share your ideas and opinions, and when not to. In fact, you are always willing to listen before speaking.


 How do you use self-management in Emotional intelligence?

When someone is under stress or feeling vulnerable they will often react emotionally, which can lead to bad decisions and poor behaviour. Self-management is about learning how to manage yourself in any situation – whether it is a difficult conversation with the boss or an awkward encounter with a colleague.

How you can use it at work:

  • You won’t be tempted to gossip or spread rumours around the office when you know that it is not a good idea.
  • You won’t let your emotions get out of control when working on a stressful project, even if tempers are running high.

What is empathy in Emotional intelligence?

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person.

What are some of the signs that you have good empathy?

  • You stay calm and self-assured, even if someone around you is in a state of panic.
  • You can read people’s feelings like an open book – without them having to say a word.
  • You can put yourself in someone else’s shoes and understand what they are feeling or going through.
  • You treat everyone equally, regardless of their background and social status.

 How do you use empathy in Emotional intelligence?

Empathy is the ability to feel for others. It is sophisticated emotion that involves imagining how someone else is feeling. It isn’t the same as sympathy – which we looked at earlier in the book – because that has a negative connotation, whereas empathy can have both positive and negative implications.

How you can use it at work:

  • When a co-worker is in distress or caught up in some kind of crisis, you will be the first person that they turn to for help.
  • You won’t take advantage of someone else when they are at their most vulnerable – for example, if a customer is feeling disappointed with your service or product.

What is service orientation in Emotional intelligence?

Service orientation is the ability to focus on the needs of other people.

What are some of the signs that you have good service orientation?

  • You go out of your way for a colleague or customer, even if it causes you inconvenience. For example:
  • You volunteer to cover an additional shift at work.
  • You spend time helping a colleague with data-entry or admin tasks, even though you don’t have to.
  • You bring in coffee for the entire office when someone has had a hard day.

How do you use service orientation in Emotional intelligence?

Service orientation is about approaching people and situations with a genuine desire to help. It involves putting the interests of your colleagues or customers above your own – even when it isn’t in your best interests. Service orientation is not something that you will have to practice consciously, because it is so natural and easy for you.

How you can use it at work:

  • You will be the person that everyone turns to for help because of your willingness to lend a hand.
  • You won’t turn away or ignore someone who is clearly in need, even if they are not someone who you like or have any connection with.