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  • Harvard Professional Development

Emotional Intelligence

Enter emotional intelligence (EI), a set of skills that help us recognize, understand, and manage our own emotions as well as recognize, understand and influence the emotions of others.

We recently spoke with Margaret Andrews, instructor of Emotional Intelligence in Leadership, about how people can build EI for better interpersonal relations. Andrews is the former associate dean at Harvard University’s Division of Continuing Education and executive director at the MIT Sloan School of Management.

“Emotional intelligence is critical in building and maintaining relationships and influencing others—key skills that help people throughout their career and wherever they sit in an organizational structure,” says Andrews.

Additionally, research suggests that people with a high emotional quotient (EQ) are more innovative and have higher job satisfaction than those with lower EQs.

Let’s dive into what exactly EI entails, and how you can improve on this essential component of successful relationships.

What Are the Components of Emotional Intelligence?

Emotional intelligence is a set of skills and behaviors. While some people will be naturally more adept at certain aspects, EI can be learned, developed, and enhanced.

The four main components of EI are self-awareness, self-regulation, social awareness, and social skills:


Self-awareness is the ability to identify and understand your own emotions and the impact we have on others. It’s the cornerstone of emotional intelligence and the other components of EI depend on this self-awareness.

“It all starts with self-awareness, which is the foundation of EI, and it builds from there. If you’re aware of your own emotions and the behaviors they trigger, you can begin to manage these emotions and behaviors,” says Andrews.

Our emotions impact our mood, behaviors, performance, and interactions with other people. “We are all having emotions all the time,” says Andrews, “the question is whether you are aware of these emotions and the impact they have on your behavior – and other people.”

According to Tasha Eurich, an organizational psychologist, researcher, and author of Insight, people who are self-aware tend to be more confident and more creative. They also make better decisions, build stronger relationships, and communicate more effectively.


Self-awareness opens the door to self-regulation, which is the ability to manage these emotions and behaviors. Once we’re aware of our emotions, we can begin to manage them and keep the disruptive emotions and impulses under control.

“People with strong self-regulation can pause and take a deep breath in tense and stressful situations, explains Andrews, “which helps them remain calm and think before they speak or act.”

These people tend toward a positive outlook and are adaptable to a variety of situations and circumstances. “On the flip side,” she says, “those that cannot contain their negative emotions and impulses often set off a chain reaction of negative emotions in others.”

“There’s an old adage that people join organizations and leave managers,” says Andrews, “and it’s true. So, companies – or managers – that have high turnover rates should take a look in the mirror.”

Social Awareness

Social awareness is our ability to understand the emotions of others and a key component of this is empathy.

Jamil Zaki, a Stanford professor and author of The War for Kindness, describes empathy as having three components – identifying what others feel, sharing this emotion, and wishing to improve their experience.

“It’s not about how you would feel in their situation, but rather, how they actually feel,” says Andrews.

People with strong social awareness tend toward kindness. However, this doesn’t mean they cannot give others difficult feedback – in fact, they may be better at delivering this ‘tough love’ because they understand the other person and want to help them improve.

Social Skills

“Social skills are what separate a great manager from a good one,” says Andrews.

These skills, which include influence, conflict management, teamwork, and the ability to inspire others, make it possible to build and maintain healthy relationships in all parts of your life.

People with strong social skills can make an enormous difference on a team and in organizations because they understand others and act on this knowledge to move people toward a common goal.

To improve your emotional intelligence, you need to start at the beginning, with self-awareness. However, gauging your self-awareness is innately difficult because, as Andrews puts it, “you don’t know what you don’t know.”


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