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Soft Skills: Emotional intelligence and success

What is Emotional Intelligence?

In 1990, scientists John D. Mayer and Peter Salovey came up with the concept of emotional intelligence. The term described a form of social intelligence that included the ability to:

  • Monitor one's emotions and those of others,
  • discriminate between these emotions and feelings, and, 
  • to use this understanding to guide one's behavior. 

Simply put, emotional intelligence is a person's ability to identify, understand, and monitor their emotions and those of the people around them. Emotional intelligence differs from cognitive intelligence, which is more intellectual and includes understanding information and solving problems. Emotional intelligence is interpersonal; it plays a big role in the development of one's people skills. 

  • Why is it important?

Emotional intelligence can be a critical determining factor in social functioning. In some ways, it is much more important than cognitive intelligence to overall success.  Understanding other people and how they feel can give you a strong advantage both professionally and personally. It is much easier to communicate to a person in a way that they understand, to motivate people, and to stimulate teamwork if you know where people are coming from.  There are some different ways that emotional intelligence is expressed. Below are a few excellent examples of emotional intelligence in action.  


Sometimes called the cornerstone of emotional intelligence, empathy, and emotional intelligence go hand in hand. Empathy is a key behavior demonstrating emotional intelligence. Empathy can be understood as the ability to put yourself in someone else's shoes and understand how it feels to experience the world from their point of view. It leads to better communication because when you understand how someone else feels, you can better explain things to them in a way that is meaningful and memorable. This understanding of others, in turn, increases trustworthiness.


As one moves into adult life, self-awareness becomes critical for high-level functioning. Self-awareness includes having a true understanding of one's emotional motivations, desires, and goals. Another part of Self-awareness is awareness of your strengths and weaknesses; this enables you to make academic and career choices that will benefit you by enabling you to build up skills you lack and fully develop those that come more easily to you. Self-awareness also includes your self-esteem and confidence. It is important to know where you feel confident and where your self-esteem could use a boost.  Self-Awareness ultimately leads to self-management, emotional regulation, and an appropriate overall understanding of the self about the greater world. 

Effective Teamwork 

Emotional intelligence is key to success in the workplace. Nearly all top performers have mastered emotional intelligence. This means that they understand their motivations, strengths, and goals AND that they also understand what motivates others. When team members feel understood and respected,  there will naturally be trust, and that leads to much more effective collaboration and teamwork. This aspect of emotional intelligence is important as we move through our careers. Understanding people and recognizing the subtle clues that emotional intelligence illuminates can make all the difference in the opportunities one os given. Additionally, if there are interpersonal challenges in the workplace, the empathy, and self-awareness that come as a result of emotional intelligence lead to more effective conflict management.

Developing emotional intelligence

As is evidenced above, emotional intelligence is an asset as one moves into more social, team, and career situations. Having a better understanding of other people can be useful throughout one's academic life and as one moves onto their career path. So how can you increase your emotional intelligence skills?

  • One of the easiest ways to increase emotional intelligence is to be begin noticing nonverbal communication. Observe the people around you and start to note whether you can tell what their mood is based on how they stand or walk, their facial expressions, and their gestures. You will be amazed by how much you can tell just by watching people.
  • Another way to improve your emotional intelligence is to pay attention to your responses to various situations. Rather than reacting, try to experience the feelings and emotions you have about certain events and then choose a proactive approach to dealing with situations that bring up strong emotions. Learning to observe your patterns in a non-reactive manner can help you become more self-aware and improve your self-management.
  • A great way to boost your emotional intelligence is to learn techniques for managing your stress. When you are in control of your emotions, you are better equipped to pay attention to all the subtle social cues in your environment. You can also help the people around you manage their stress better when you approach things with a cool head. This can be challenging at first, but after you find some strategies that help you manage stress, you will be able to deal with well with any pressures that come along.
  • Be honest and kind. A very powerful way to increase your trustworthiness is to be honest in a kind and constructive way. This does not mean to say whatever is on your mind; empathy will enable you to gauge how you can communicate in a manner that is forthright and also helpful. Learning to say things that are difficult is one of the fastest ways to gain trust and respect. It can be hard at first, but by practicing you can make this part of your approach to dealing with others. 

Formerly on staff at the Tulane Student & Health Center of Psychiatry, helping emerging adults uncover the best path to success is my passion. I am a professional psychotherapist and I specialize in academic, success, and life coaching. I work primarily with college students and young professionals. I would love to put my expertise as a certified success coach to work for you.  



Dr. Eileen Wynne

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