From vulnerability to self-awareness, here are five factors key to raising your emotional quotient.
– KEYS SOULCARE
We’ve all heard the adage: make new friends, but keep the old. It’s a lovely and important goal — one that admittedly requires a bit of effort. But what might make the pursuit and maintenance of friendships not just easier but better overall? That got us thinking about emotional intelligence, or EQ. Perhaps that’s the key to unlocking strong relationships.
We spoke with marriage and family therapist Esther Boykin, LMFT, who is also the CEO of Group Therapy Associates, about what exactly emotional intelligence is and how we can cultivate it in our daily lives.
Emotional intelligence is about awareness
“I describe emotional intelligence as the ability to identify, articulate, regulate, and respond — not react — to our emotions and the emotions of others,” Boykin says. “Emotional intelligence is the combination of being aware of our feelings, attuned to the feelings of others, and letting that inform but not control our behavior and decisions.”
If you’re wondering if you already have some level of EQ, you can compare your behavior with Boykin’s checklist. “People with high emotional intelligence have cultivated the ability to be with feelings and take care of their needs if emotions become overwhelming,” she says. “[They] practice being aware of and naming emotional experiences, especially when those feelings may be complex or multifaceted.”
But EQ isn’t just about awareness. It’s also “about having empathy and learning to be tuned in to the feelings of others,” says Boykin. This can include “learning to notice body language, changes in tone of voice, and most importantly, becoming curious about how others feel and perceive things.”
If you’re listening, you’re already halfway there
Whether you’re already highly emotionally intelligent or you want to brush up on your skills, how can this make you a better friend? “If you consider that one of the keys is listening well, then you can see how that supports having better friendships,” says Boykin. “Emotional intelligence means that you are able to be aware of and respond compassionately to your friend’s emotional world. That kind of vulnerability builds lasting and meaningful connection.”
Vulnerability is key
If you’re numbing out your emotions, it’ll be hard to connect with others. “Emotional intelligence is as much about our awareness and management of our own feelings as it is about how we respond to others,” says Boykin. “The more comfortable you are noticing how you feel, the easier it becomes to share that part of yourself with others.”
It might sound simplistic, but it isn’t necessarily easy: if you can be yourself with friends, they’ll feel more comfortable being themselves with you. “It’s in the sharing of our emotional experiences, both joyous and difficult, that we are able to connect more deeply with others,” says Boykin.
“[It’s] also one way to minimize unnecessary conflict and hurtful reactive behavior,” she says. “The more you know and can talk about feelings, the easier it is to regulate them and keep from lashing out at others when the issue isn’t about them.”
Emotional intelligence makes it easier to deal with conflict
“High emotional intelligence means you have the skills to navigate disappointments and disagreements with grace and compassion for all sides,” says Boykin. But even an emotional genius will muck things up sometimes. If you fall short, you’ll be “better equipped to apologize, ask for an apology, and do the work of repairing any friendship hiccups along the way” if you’re flexing your EQ muscles.
Practice makes perfect—and charts help
Improvement is possible as long as you’re committed to change. “Practice asking yourself how you feel, and notice how that feeling directs your behavior and attitude towards others,” says Boykin. “If you’re having trouble naming your feelings beyond happy or mad, print out a feelings word list or chart.” Though you might roll your eyes, there’s nothing wrong with a little visual cue to help identify your feelings. “Humans experience so many emotions, and there’s no shame in having a ‘cheat sheet’ to help you name them all,” she says.
You can also try asking other people how they feel, and really tune into their response. “Does their answer match the facial expression, body language, or energy they give off,” Boykin asks. “If not, ask if there is more they want to say.” You might be surprised by the outcome. And if your friend does have more to say, remember that they might just want you to listen. Emotionally intelligent folks “practice listening without advising.”
“Listening to understand without any attempts to fix a problem or offer tips on how to deal allows you to hold space for others and to get comfortable with the feelings that come up for you in the process,” says Boykin. And we could all use a little more space to be held for us.
How are you feeling, here and now? Share your feels in the comments below.