What is emotional intelligence and what purpose does it serve?

Discover everything about emotional intelligence in this post: its definition, benefits and practical application. Be sure not to miss anything about this fascinating subject!



We often associate emotional intelligence with understanding concepts or with abilities related to reasoning. However, this is not the only intelligence there is. In recent years, the term emotional intelligence has become an increasingly used. But what is emotional intelligence? Let’s take a look.  

Definition of emotional intelligence

We need to know the definition of emotional intelligence in order to understand what it is and its purpose. Emotional intelligence is defined as the ability to recognise and understand our own emotions and those of others. In general, people with a high level of emotional intelligence know what they feel and what their emotions mean, and how these can influence or affect others.  

Remember that emotions, those intense sensations or feelings produced by stimuli (a deed, an idea, a memory…), can be pleasant or unpleasant. However, they are all necessary for our survival and for adapting to the surrounding that we live in. Feeling an emotion (fear, happiness, sadness, anger…) is inevitable; even more so, it is advisable not to suppress it, but to let yourself be overcome by it and to consciously manage it in an appropriate and healthy way. Emotional intelligence has a lot to say on this latter point. 

The US psychologist, Daniel Goleman, is one of the architects of emotional intelligence and, when talking about this concept, he summarises five key elements. These are:  

  • Self-awareness. The ability to recognise your own feelings and emotions. 
  • Self-regulation. Centres on the management of your emotions and your adaptation to different situations.
  • Motivation. People with emotional intelligence are characterised by having great willpower. Optimism is an essential requirement for reaching your objectives.  
  • Empathy. Is defined as the ability to put oneself in another’s shoes.  
  • Social skills. Entails relating with people in our surroundings, not only for your own benefit but also that of others.  

At this point, you may be asking how you can manage your emotions; the answer is in the same way as if they were another skill. Emotional intelligence can be trained. And although not everyone is born with the same abilities (these depend on factors such as genetics or upbringing), there is advice that can be put into practice to help you work on your emotional intelligence.

How do you develop emotional intelligence? 

To learn how to develop emotional intelligence you simply need to put the following advice into practice. Note these down! 

  • Self-evaluation. If you want to know yourself well, you need to reflect on your strengths and weaknesses. To do this, you need to be aware of your areas for improvement and try practicing with these during social interactions. 
  • Identification. Giving a name to what you feel and trying to understand how this has come about is essential. You also need to be aware of any triggers: the things that make you react in a certain way in certain situations. If you know what these circumstances are, you can train yourself to better manage your emotions. 
  • Strategy. It will be easier to regulate your emotions if you have regulating tools within reach. You could use breathing, meditation, movement… However, it is important to start working with these tools before you are faced with a complex situation so that you know how to use them. The objective is to learn to control what you feel in the healthiest way possible. Abdominal breathing, for example, is a good way to do this; you simply need to take a deep breath while counting to four, hold the breath while you count to four again, and then slowly release the breath for a count of eight. You are doing this correctly if your abdomen rises and falls with each breath.  
  • Communication. Communicating your emotions can be a great help, and conversely: when someone tells you something, you should not limit yourself to waiting for your turn to speak; this may be a good moment to use you body language to show that you are taking part in the conversation.   
  • Affective responsibility. Although it may not be your intention, sometimes our actions may have a negative impact on others. If you make a mistake and hurt someone emotionally, you should seek forgiveness straight away and look for ways to improve the situation. You should put yourself in the place of the other person and find solutions, whether talking things through or by reaching an agreement.  
  • Put things into perspective. It is difficult, but when you feel things have got out of hand you should try to think beyond that situation. Usually, in these situations, you don’t tend to view things in the short, medium or long-term; but you should try to rationalise that life goes on, that hours, days and weeks will pass, and that you will probably get over what is affecting you right now.  
  • Time. Developing your emotional intelligence is a process that takes place throughout your life. And as life goes on, you will continue to learn more about yourself, about your emotions and how you relate to others.  
  • Ask for help. Cultivating emotional intelligence is not an easy task, and there may be complex situations that interfere with your ability to manage your emotions. If this is the case, it would be a good idea to seek professional help so you can get advice on how to develop your emotional intelligence.

In the final analysis, emotional intelligence will make us feel happier with ourselves and with others. We should keep this in mind.