What is Emotional Intelligence?

So, what is emotional intelligence (EQ)? That’s a question I often get.

The bare bones answer has two parts. The me part: understanding what I’m feeling and managing it productively. The others part: understanding what’s happening with the people around me and engaging with it in productive ways.

In Life, EQ is the Key to Success

Emotional intelligence (EQ) plays a role in almost every interaction we have. Daniel Goleman, who brought the concept into the popular vernacular, said that for overall success in life, EQ matters more than IQ. This has been debated, of course. But most of us have seen that if we want to connect with and help others, it’s good to be self-aware, deal with what we’re feeling, key in to what people around us are experiencing, and know how to engage.

My current favorite working definition of EQ is “that which closes the gap between what we intend and how we actually impact people.”

Here’s the me part of this. Let’s say I start the day with great intentions. I want to eat healthy and avoid those chocolate-covered donuts people always bring to work. I want to be kind and gracious. I want to really listen to the people in my life and show them how much I care. As I’m driving to work, my presentation for this afternoon’s meeting pops into my mind. My stomach flutters. “I’m looking forward to the challenge,” I tell myself robustly. “Nothing to worry about.” I walk into the office, snatch up a chocolate-covered donut, and stuff it into my mouth. My computer still isn’t working right, and I’m sharp with the guy at the IT help desk. The woman in the next cubicle wants to show me photos of her new grandchild. As I say, “Yeah, um-hm, cute,” my gaze flicks to the stack of papers on my desk.

A gap between what we intended and what we did . . . our impact.

Emotional Intelligence can help close this gap. How? The more we’re aware of what we’re experiencing inside, the more we can make conscious choices to manage those emotions in a positive way. If I had immediately identified my anxiety about the upcoming meeting, that would have been the first step toward consciously choosing productive responses over the unconscious, unproductive ones I actually chose. The impact on both me and those around me would have lined up better with my intentions.

One of my favorite scriptures is from David’s writing after Nathan confronted him. He said, “God, you desire truth in my innermost being, and in my hidden parts you will make me know wisdom.” God wants to help us be wise in what’s happening inside us, able to use it productively for His Kingdom. David’s son Solomon encouraged us to watch over our hearts “with all diligence, for they are the wellspring of life.”

God made us beings who think, feel, choose, believe and create. All this flows from what’s happening in our “hearts.” EQ helps us grow in understanding and managing it in ways that please Him.

As for the others part of emotional intelligence, God speaks to that as well. Scripture gives us over 20 “One-Anothers,” including to love, honor, respect, forgive, and accept one another; to be kind and tenderhearted to one another; to bear with and be at peace with one another. We can live out the One-Anothers in practical ways as we learn to recognize what someone else is feeling and enter into it with them for God’s good purposes in their lives.

EQ Can Completely Change Our Interactions

Now let’s say I did identify my anxiety on the way to work, prayed during the drive, and gave it to God. I’m more at peace. In the office, I stop by my friend Jes’s desk. She greets me cheerfully and we chat for a few seconds. I start to turn away, then pause. Is Jes just a little too cheerful? Her foot taps rapidly against the floor. She smiles and laughs but never quite meets my eye. She says everything’s going great, but . . . I ask the Holy Spirit, Is there something you want me to follow up on here? Getting a go-ahead from Him, I say, “Hey, Jes. Are you sure you’re okay?”

Quick tears pop into her eyes, but her face relaxes into a genuine smile. “Wow, thanks for asking,” she says. “I need a friend right now. Let’s talk at break.”

Three steps to grow in the me part:

  1.         Know who and what pushes your buttons
  2.         Take control of your self-talk
  3.         Seek feedback

Three steps to grow in the others part:

  1.         Watch body language
  2.         Practice the art of listening
  3.         Put yourself in their shoes

If you want to learn more, Mark Heintzman and I led a workshop on EQ at the National Conference. Check out the video of the workshop. Also, a good first book is Emotional Intelligence 2.0, by Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves. The book includes a free code for the EQ Test on their website.


References: Ps 51:6; Prov 4:23; John 13:34; Rom 12:2; Eph 4:2; Eph 4:32; Mark 9:50; Rom 15:7; Col 3:13


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