Studies have shown that emotional intelligence (EI) helps improve performance, decisions and relationships. It accounts for 58% of performance in all job types when compared to 33 other key skills; 90% of high performers also have high EQs, and people with high EI bring home on average $29,000 more per year. It’s also climbed to the #6 position on the “Top 10 skills in 2020” list, published by the World Economic Forum.
I was introduced to EI in grad school in a class called “The wise manager”. Daniel Goleman’s book had only been on the market for a few years and to illustrate how ahead of his time my professor was: there were only 4 people in my class.
In a nutshell, emotional intelligence is about recognizing, understanding and labeling the emotions in yourself and in others; managing and expressing them, and then using them to improve your relationships with yourself and with others.
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Emotional intelligence and your health
EI stands on 5 pillars: self-awareness, self-regulation (it’s more than self-control), internal motivation, empathy and social skills.
1. It helps manage stress better
Stress in our society is mainly psychological. Successful management requires a great deal of self-study and self-regulation. Since those are the first 2 pillars, EI can become a critical tool in managing the ups and downs of life.
In a 2014 study among US adults, 64% of respondents named money and a close 60% cited work as the main sources of stress. Economy ranked third at 49%, only 2% ahead of family responsibilities and 3% ahead of personal health concerns.
The study shows that our #2 source of stress is work. The situation is not much rosier in other parts of the world. In fact, the UN declared occupational stress a global epidemic. Ouch! “The amount of work and interpersonal relations are the main reasons for occupational stress. More than one third of employees lose 1 hour or more per day in productivity, while almost one third miss between 3 and 6 days per year due to stress” (Statista. 2015). Besides productivity loss, you can get some stats here, here and here on the effects of stress on your health.
There is a growing number of research that suggests that people are so stressed that they do not even realize that they behave rudely in the office (i.e. they’re not self-aware) (Business Insider. 2015). The irony is that we cite interpersonal relations as one of our top workplace stressors, yet our (lack of) ability to handle stress, both as a “giver” and a “receiver”, may hamper our ability to compassionately communicate with our co-workers, leading to troubled interpersonal relations.
The first step in addressing this disconnect is self-awareness. Only when we recognize and name the emotion associated with stress can we “regulate or redirect [our] disruptive impulses and moods” (Goleman via Sonoma State University).
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2. It motivates us to flush out toxic emotions
Let’s face it, self-study can be hard. It’s easier to be busy than to sit with our emotions and deal with the crazy stuff we’ve swept under the rug. Science has proven that happier people keep healthier as they age. Emotional intelligence forces us to confront our demons so we can create more happiness in our lives. We develop a deeper understanding of our internal motivations and how to use them to our advantage. As part of this process, we recognize and shed old, unhealthy behaviors and replace them with new ones. This metaphorical shedding is very real in our physical bodies, too.
Holding onto unpleasant, toxic emotions creates just that in our bodies: toxicity. Every emotion or memory we experience leaves a trace in our cells. This emotion and our associated behavioral patterns get activated when we become exposed to the said emotion again. In other words, our cells remember. With the help of emotional intelligence, we have an opportunity to reprogram our patterns. When we are in stress or hold grudges, we inhibit the ability of our lymph system to properly drain and eliminate toxins from our bodies, ultimately leading to disease.
3. It helps foster life-enriching social connections
The beauty of EI is that it connects the work we’re doing on ourselves with our environment. It helps improve our empathy (in a positive way) and social skills. Both are essential in building strong relationships.
By design, we are social creatures. Even the most alone-time-loving person on this planet enjoys the company of others from time to time. Several studies show the health benefits of being social, citing that “people with strong social relationships increase their odds of survival over a certain time period by 50 percent…That’s on par with ceasing smoking, and nearly twice as beneficial as physical activity in terms of decreasing your odds of dying early”. That sounds pretty convincing to me to want to build some skills that will make people want to spend time with me!
Whether you’re just starting out on your EI journey or have been on it for a while, we all have room to grow. And now you know that it can offer benefits beyond performance, decisions and relationships. Embrace it for your health!
Image by Riciardus, Pexels