Emotions 101: Sharpening Your Emotional Intelligence

Emotions 101: Sharpening Your Emotional Intelligence

[We] need to be comfortable talking about feelings. This is part of teaching emotional literacy – a set of skills we can all develop, including the ability to read, understand, and respond appropriately to one’s own emotions and the emotions of others.

Daniel Goleman

We’re way past the belief that emotions equal weakness.

But does that mean they actually equal strength…?

Far more than that, say psychology researcher Daniel Goleman and colleagues.

In fact, emotions are so important, they comprise their very own type of intelligence!

Want to learn more?

Read on for the 5 components of emotional intelligence, and tips to start sharpening yours today:

1. Self-awareness

Have you ever felt truly stumped by your own emotions?

That’s normal.

We all struggle occasionally with pinpointing what we’re feeling.

But the ability to recognize and understand your own emotions, and how they relate to your actions, is an essential component of emotional intelligence.

Strong self-awareness is often linked to a healthy confidence in the face of challenges, the ability to laugh at oneself and ones circumstances, and a keen understanding of how one is perceived by others.


  • What am I feeling right now? What are the most specific words I can use to describe my current emotion(s)?
  • When I’ve felt this way before, what factors led me to feel this way? And when I’ve felt this way before, what happened next?
  • How are others perceiving me right now? How is what I’m feeling internally influencing how I’m showing up to the world around me?

2. Self-management

So, you flew off the handle and said something you regret?

Those adult-tantrum moments can be humbling. We’ve all been there.

But the ability to appropriately regulate your emotions is an essential component of emotional intelligence.

Those with strong self-management abilities are skilled at conflict resolution, able to take initiative in ambiguous situations, and sensitive to the complex needs of those around them.


  • If I had the freedom to express my emotions in their rawest form right now, what would I say or do?
  • Given the reality of my circumstances, how can I modify the reaction above to express my emotions more appropriately?  
  • What kinds of support do I need in the meantime? How can I calm, soothe, or care for myself right now? Who can I ask for help determining what “appropriate” might look like in this case? 

3. Empathy

We talk about empathy a lot around here.

And with good reason…

The ability to understand how another person is feeling– and to feel it with them— is the most fundamental component of emotional intelligence.

Empathy enables you to accurately tune in to the emotions of those around you, connect those emotions to the behaviors of others, and discern how these factors connect to the complex dynamics within a group, system, or organization.


  • Who are 3 people I interacted with today? Based on these interactions, what’s my best guess at how they’re feeling?
  • What types of cues do I give off when I’m feeling interested, excited, lonely, ashamed, etc.? Did I see any evidence of these in the people I talked to today? What kinds of other cues did I notice?
  • Taken together, how might my own feelings and the feelings of others have shaped our interactions today? How did it affect what we discussed? The words we chose to use? The distribution of power and influence between us?

4. Skilled relationships

Brushing up on your emotion-reading skills is one thing…

But the ability to transfer this information into your everyday interactions with others is where things really get interesting.

Relationships (i.e., social) skills equip you to connect with, assist, and lead others. It’s what helps emotional intelligence become a living, moving force for good in the world around you.


  • What kind of listener am I? Do I truly aim to hear and understand what a person is saying? Am I primarily preparing for my turn to speak? Or does it depend on who I’m talking to, and the situation we’re in?
  • Besides the words I use, what am I communicating to the people around me? Based on my posture, eye contact, facial expressions, pace of movement, etc., what kinds of messages may I be sending my coworkers, friends, and family members?
  • If I were to try and persuade the following people to do something, how would I go about trying to convince them?
    • my boss
    • my son or daughter
    • a stranger
    • a close friend 

5. Motivation

What kinds of rewards or “prizes” tend to motivate people?

Money? Praise? Upward mobility?

Motivation is what remains when external rewards are taken away. It’s the ability to be driven by ones own internal values and goals, and it is another essential component of emotional intelligence.

Those with strong intrinsic motivation tend to set intentional goals, seek out lifelong learning opportunities, and take frequent action on the things that matter to them.


  • If I had to keep my same exact job but no longer received pay, what would motivate me to continue working, improving, and trying new things in my role?
  • If my entire week were structured around working towards just 3 goals, what would those goals be? 
  • One year from now, what will I wish I had started today? What can I start saying or doing (or not saying or not doing) TODAY in order to set myself on the path toward the goals that matter most to me?

Enjoy this post? You might also like:

Emotions 101: 5 Myths About Emotions
Self-Compassion: 4 Ways to Start Practicing It Today
Habit Change in 3 Easy(-ish) Steps

Ready to sharpen your emotional intelligence?