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What Is Emotional Intelligence? Exploring the Value of a High EQ

what is emotional intelligence

You’re not in love with your current job, and everyone says that going back to college is the next right step for you. The power of a good education isn’t lost on you, but you also might not be super confident about jumping back into school. Your high school days were filled with unpleasant evenings of cramming for tests and scrambling to finish assignments that just felt like busy work. You always put forth your best effort, but you were never exactly a straight-A student. What if you’re just not cut out for college?

Not to worry—college is more than a stuffy academic setting designed to increase your IQ at the expense of everything else. A solid college education will also provide you with experiences that make you a more well-rounded person and help you build soft skills that are in demand in the workplace. One important skill you’re likely to develop? Emotional intelligence—or EQ for short.

What is emotional intelligence? “It’s the ability to understand and manage your emotions and the emotions of those around you,” says Janelle Coleman, managing partner at Four Letter Consulting.

Emotional intelligence isn’t a skill you’re born with, and hiring managers are always on the lookout for new recruits who display a high EQ. Learn how your emotional intelligence could be your biggest asset in your next career and how a college education can help you develop this important skill.

What is emotional intelligence?

Emotional intelligence isn’t just about being in touch with your feelings. It also involves understanding how your emotions impact your interactions with others, says Amma Marfo, leadership speaker and facilitator. “Most importantly, emotional intelligence at work is the ability to understand the impact that emotions have on the performance of one's coworkers or employees.”

According to Dr. William Hodgetts, an expert in organizational and leadership psychology, emotional intelligence can be divided into four dimensions:

  • Self-awareness: Understanding and monitoring your own emotions
  • Self-management: Using this awareness to change your behavior for the better
  • Social awareness: Accurately sensing others’ emotions, both individually and as a group
  • Relational management: Using this awareness of your own and others’ emotions to manage conflicts, collaborate with others and be an effective leader

Together, these aspects of emotional intelligence make a formula for a valuable member of the workforce. High EQ is being recognized as an asset in the workplace now more than ever. Ninety-five percent of all human resources managers agree that it’s important for workers to have a high EQ, according to an OfficeTeam survey.

Additionally, research suggests that there’s not necessarily a strong correlation between intellect and emotional intelligence, according to Dr. Hodgetts. That means that you don’t have to be a straight-A student to be a successful manager of the emotions of yourself and others. While it’d obviously be ideal to be strong academically and in managing interpersonal relationships, plenty of successful people have learned to lean on their strengths to help overcome any shortcomings.

Why employers value emotional intelligence

It’s clear that emotional intelligence is important, but how exactly can it help your career?

“In the workplace, emotional intelligence is a highly desired skill for workers at every level,” says Dr. Sal Raichbach of the Ambrosia Treatment Center. “Rather than getting stuck with a problem, they will reduce the overall stress of a workplace with a focus on problem solving. They work well in teams or alone since they are commonly flexible and highly adaptable.”

Successful organizations rely on teams that not only have strong technical skills, but are also able to get along with each other and provide support to their peers to benefit the company as a whole. Someone with a high EQ is better equipped to do that than someone with low interpersonal skills.

Not only does a high EQ make you a valuable team player, it can also boost your individual achievement at work. “Many studies have shown and continue to show that EQ is correlated with effective leadership, career success and job performance,” says Dr. Hodgetts. Forty percent of HR managers acknowledge that the soft skills that come along with a high EQ, such as problem solving and communication, are more difficult to teach than technical skills. This comes as no surprise that the employees who walk in the door with emotional intelligence are valued and rewarded for their contribution to the company.

How college helps develop emotional intelligence

While many organizations are putting programs in place to develop their employees’ emotional intelligence, you’ll be ahead of the pack when you enter the workforce with a higher EQ thanks to the experiences you had in college. “There is no greater emotional intelligence builder than college,” says Dr. Raichbach. “College forces people to solve social and educational problems on a daily basis, having to tend to your own needs while balancing interpersonal skills with academic requirements.”

Simply keeping up with classes and interacting with peers and instructors will give your emotional intelligence a workout, but there are also steps you can take to get the most personal growth out of your college experience.

Coleman recommends taking advantage of group projects by viewing them as preparation for your future career. He adds that group work is a great way to stretch the emotional intelligence of students, because it encourages them to work with others and gain exposure to different ways of thinking and interacting.

Using your college career as a time to practice stress management and self-care is another way to build emotional intelligence, according to GinaMarie Guarino, licensed mental health counselor at PsychPoint. “Colleges provide resources and lessons for students that help them not only learn how to manage time and stress, but also learn how to pace themselves, know their limits and know what they need to do to work past those limits to reach a higher level of functioning.”

Emotional intelligence: Your secret weapon

Now that we’ve answered the question of what emotional intelligence is, you can’t deny its importance in the workplace—or the impact a high EQ could have on your future career.

Getting a college education is one way to give your EQ a boost, but that’s not the only valuable soft skill you’ll gain in college. Learn about other things real-life college grads acquired in our article, “7 Life Lessons You Learn in College.”

Ashley Brooks

Ashley is a freelance writer for Collegis education who writes student-focused articles on behalf of Rasmussen College. She believes in the power of words and knowledge and enjoys using both to encourage others on their learning journeys

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