Emotional intelligence plays a crucial role in building relationships and enhancing your mental wellness. You could even say it’s a requirement to prosper within the world — yet many people lack it. Everyone doesn’t grow up knowing what it is or how to practice it, which can make navigating relationships tough.

Thankfully, you can develop it at any point in your life through careful introspection. First, you should know what emotional intelligence entails.

What Is Emotional Intelligence?

Emotional intelligence, also known as your emotional quotient, is the ability to acknowledge your emotions and use them in positive, healthy ways. Doing this enables you to communicate effectively with others, deal with conflict, and create lasting relationships. It’s the difference between making a mistake at work and letting it affect your performance versus recognizing that errors don’t determine your value. Researchers usually split emotional intelligence into four categories, including self-awareness, social skills, emotional management, and empathy.

Self-awareness is exactly what it sounds like — this aspect focuses on your ability to recognize your emotions. Acknowledge feelings of sadness, anger, or jealousy without avoiding them or trying to push them down.

You shouldn’t marinate in them either, though — an emotionally intelligent person examines these feelings and tries to alleviate them. Be conscious of your actions and acknowledge areas for improvement. Respect your limits instead of pushing them.

Your social proficiency depends on how you communicate with others. Do you listen to them when they talk? Do you seek diverse viewpoints? Are you someone people go to for guidance? High social skills consist of abilities such as understanding others’ feelings, registering social cues, and learning power dynamics. Empathy relates to this aspect — it determines how you recognize others’ emotions. When you connect with someone, you build a closer relationship with them.

Emotional management refers to how you handle emotions. Do you take negative feelings out on your peers, or do you examine things you can do to reduce their occurrence? Regulating your reactions means you avoid acting on impulses — especially destructive ones. You use problem-solving skills and adapt to change instead.

How It Affects You and Others

Your EQ affects you on multiple levels — some you haven’t considered before. It influences how you interact with peers or higher-ups at work and school. Managers with higher EQ levels tend to be more empathetic to their employees and make more effective leaders. They support their employees’ needs, wants, and concerns and provide them with the tools for success. Employees with high EQs work well on collaborative projects and have higher productivity rates.

Low or high emotional intelligence impacts your relationships. If you can’t relate to others on an intimate level, you remain detached and may have a hard time making friends.

People may think you don’t make an effort to consider their feelings. On the contrary, you may get too close too fast without regard for the other party’s comfort, which scares them away. People with high EQs don’t cross boundaries, shun opportunities to socialize or close themselves off from others.

Low EQ isn’t only an emotional issue — it also affects your physical health. You may experience intense stress, but don’t have any strategies for reducing it. This stress can take a toll on your health by weakening your immune system and causing high blood pressure. You may handle negative emotions in harmful ways, such as eating unhealthy food or using alcohol and other drugs.

How to Cultivate It

Make efforts to relate to others. Be an active listener during conversations and consider other viewpoints before responding.

Conflict is a part of life, but you don’t have to give in to it. Defuse tough situations by showing respect and a calm attitude. This skill proves necessary in school and work environments where you often encounter different opinions.

Pay attention to peoples’ body language. If someone’s already in a bad mood, you don’t want to say something they could construe as rude or hurtful. It’s easy to read someone’s disposition when you’re focused and engaged, but distraction can create misunderstandings. Don’t multitask or zone out in the middle of conversations.

If you have trouble labeling your emotions, try journaling whenever certain feelings arise. Note how you feel physically and mentally, and examine what caused your reaction. If it’s positive, consider what you can do to cultivate it. If it’s negative, reflect on ways to reduce it. Assess behavioral patterns — do you make huge decisions in intense moments? Do you shut down in the face of conflict? Analyzing your emotions and cognitive processes can shed light on why you engage in certain behaviors.

If you often ignore your feelings, start giving them importance. You may spend hours working without taking a break and consider this productivity. However, you can’t achieve your best when you’re tired and stretched beyond your capabilities. When your body tells you it’s exhausted, put away the work and take a break or leave it for the next day. Avoid skimping out on self-management tactics when working toward a higher EQ.

Be Mindful of Your Peers

Emotional intelligence prepares you for the world by showing you how to tackle conflict and create meaningful connections. Developing it can only help, not harm, so brainstorm ways to squeeze in opportunities whenever you can. It’ll make you view the world with clarity and empathy.