What is Emotional Intelligence?

Frequently Asked Questions about EI

What is Emotional Intelligence? The term Emotional Intelligence was coined by psychologists Peter Salovey and John Mayer in their 1990 article published in the journal Imagination, Cognition and Personality titled ‘Emotional Intelligence’. Their definition read: "Emotional intelligence is the ability to perceive emotions, to access and generate emotions so as to assist thought, to understand emotions and emotional knowledge, and to reflectively regulate emotions so as to promote emotional and intellectual growth." This was the first time that the words ‘Emotional Intelligence’ were published.


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References to how we get along with the people around us, was referred to in concepts as early as the 1930’s by Edward Thorndike, but at this stage it was labelled as ‘Social Intelligence’ and Emotional Intelligence was yet to be referenced.  It wasn’t until 1995, when Daniel Goleman published his book ‘Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ’, that the concept of Emotional Intelligence really become popular and a more well-known term.

Within his book, Goleman talks about the five components of Emotional Intelligence as:

1. Self-awareness

2. Self-regulation

3. Internal Motivation

4. Empathy

5. Social Skills

Today, this remains one of the most common explanations of Emotional Intelligence, but what does it mean? These aren’t terms that we use every day, nor are they actions, so for many, there is still confusion. What does self-awareness and self-regulation include? What’s the difference between empathy and sympathy? We require a certain level of emotional intelligence to understand what these terms actually mean.

Is It EQ Or EI?

Emotional intelligence is referred to as both EQ and EI, so what is the right reference? Is it EQ or EI and what is the difference? EI is the abbreviation for Emotional Intelligence and refers to the core concepts and meaning of Emotional Intelligence. EQ is an abbreviation for Emotional Quotient which is the scoring result after measuring our level of Emotional Intelligence based on the core concepts. EQ aligns to the use of the abbreviation IQ (Intelligence Quotient) and other quotient measures. IQ is never referred to as HI (Human Intelligence) or anything other than IQ whether we are referencing the quotient score or the core concepts. For this reason, it has become common to refer to emotional intelligence in the same manner and call it EQ. Both terms are relevant and understood as being emotional intelligence.

Can It Be Taught or Are We Born With It? 

I truly believe that some people are absolutely born with EI. This kind of research is extremely hard to prove but we definitely see some children that naturally display levels of EI at a very young age. Whether it is empathising with other children and adults, knowing what they like and dislike without overthinking and fear of judgement, or asking ‘why’ to understand the purpose.


We see children comforting other children or adults and knowing exactly what to say in the moment to help them feel better, a great display of empathy. They know what they like, they know what makes them happy and they are motivated to make it happen.

There are many adults that have a high level of EI yet may not understand what EI is? To them, it’s just who they are and have always been. They have no idea that it is the connection with their EI and may struggle to help others develop skills and behaviours like their own. Again, it’s like it is in their DNA, a no-brainer they might say, it just happens naturally.

 Then there are others that do lack EI in certain areas and are very aware of this. They are proactively looking for ways to learn and further develop their EI knowing that they can be better and the impact they have on those around them can also improve. EI can be taught. I’ve seen and taught many people in this field. The key is, we must want to learn it. We must commit to continually recognising the need, reframing and reviewing.

Is EI More Important Than IQ? 

There is an ongoing debate as to whether EI is more important that IQ with opinions differing depending on who we speak with. It’s similar to ‘what came first the chicken or the egg? Both EI and IQ are part of who we are. Every human being has both EI and IQ, with only the levels differing. Each circumstance requires a degree of both EI and IQ in order to identify, assess, develop and resolve. IQ is always required in any learning environment, yet EI is always required in order to communicate or deliver our IQ. We need to have the ability to be flexible and adaptable to the situation, and the people involved, to get the right balance between EI and IQ. Overall, neither is more important than the other. EI will only get us so far without a level of IQ, the same as, IQ will only get us so far without EI skills. The balance and the adaptability are what really matters.

I much prefer to reverse the process by defining how an emotionally intelligent person behaves and having us assess ourselves based on our own definitions, capability and realistic delivery.

This approach to measuring our EI creates total ownership in us. It’s our definitions, our score, our blockers, our ways to increase it. There is no one else to blame and no justification as to why it can’t happen. We own it!

How Do I Measure My EI? 

Measuring any type of human behaviour, reaction, personality, characteristic or emotion is always a challenge. Although each human mind has the same structure and functionality, the content, triggers and usage are completely different. Each and every one of us are completely unique so the process can never be 100% accurate.

There are many Emotional Intelligence assessments that can be found simply by searching the internet with many of them being free. There are also personality tests and quizzes that complement the EI assessments to paint a more inclusive picture of our personality.

Make It Simple   

Even with the evolution of the definition of Emotional Intelligence, it remains confusing to many. As I said, there needs to be a level of Emotional Intelligence education to understand what the headings of the key factors even mean. For many, the core concepts themselves are not everyday words nor are they easy to remember.

I’m a big fan of simplicity and action. The human brain always responds well to a call to action, especially when we can relate to simple and familiar words. For this reason, I have created a simple 5 part methodology incorporating and expanding on the concepts of Emotional Intelligence to Disrupt Mindsets in order to Own Performance and Amplify Engagement. 

Let’s explore this methodology together to understand what it actually means and the benefits that accompany the concept.

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