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The 4 skills of emotional intelligence, part 3

How much do you know about emotional intelligence? Did you know, for example, that mastering emotional intelligence could work to your benefit in the workplace? Did you know that it’s a skill that can give you the advantage even in your own personal life?

As human beings, we are emotional creatures. That’s simply the nature of things. Like it or not, we are often driven by our emotions, and this holds true for those we interact with every day. It naturally follows, then, that if we come to better understand how our emotions affect us, we can become better strategists for the big and small decisions we make every day.

Today, we continue our series on emotional intelligence and our examination of the Mayer & Salovey model, which highlights four skills in particular when it comes to emotional intelligence. Those skills are:

  1. Identifying Emotions
  2. Using Emotions
  3. Understanding Emotions
  4. Managing Emotions


Let’s continue by taking a look at the third skill in this model: understanding emotions.

Understanding emotions is the ability to predict emotional reactions and understand how emotions progress.

To demonstrate what this might look like, let’s consider the following scenario:

Robert has been working long hours on a new project, but he feels that his boss David doesn’t value what he does. David has cancelled several meetings with Robert, stands him up, and is difficult to get a hold of when Robert needs to make a decision. Robert’s frustration gradually increases until he’s resentful, and then angry, and then furious. Finally, he applies for a transfer to another group. David is astonished by this news. He knew Robert was dissatisfied – he’d mentioned it here and there – but he had no idea Robert’s emotions would escalate if he never addressed the issue.


Higher emotional intelligence would’ve served David better in this example. With it, he would’ve understood that Robert’s frustration would eventually grow, and he’d be better positioned to understand why and to predict how the situation might improve or worsen based on his own actions. With this knowledge, he could’ve chosen to empathise with Robert and address his concerns, thereby keeping a valuable team member in his group.

Fortunately, it’s easy to improve our understanding of emotions. Below, find four strategies you can begin using today.


1) Understand the causes of emotions. At a basic level it looks like this:

  • Things are working out for me = happiness
  • Someone or something is getting in my way, or trampling on my values and beliefs = anger
  • I have lost something I hold dear = sadness
  • Something is offensive to me = disgust
  • I am being threatened = fear
  • Things are not going to plan = surprise
  • I have not lived up to my ideals = shame or guilt
  • I have made a social blunder = embarrassment

2) Reflect on your own emotions. Think about a recent emotion and track back. What happened and why did it make you feel that way?

3) Reflect on the emotions of others. Think of a time a team member was angry or upset. Track back. Can you identify what caused the emotion? Then imagine an event and track forward. How might people feel about it? What impact might this have?

4) Build your emotional vocabulary. Start with each emotion and find a word that describes a low level of that feeling, a moderate level and a high level.

Example: pleased, happy, ecstatic

Then build on those lists by adding more words and practice using them to describe how you feel. Over time you will develop the ability to predict how emotional states progress.

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