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A Head with a Heart: What is Emotional Intelligence?

In my late 20s, I supported homeless youth in Seattle, WA, as a case manager. I had transitioned from teaching first grade, and the skill I had to develop quickly in order to support my clients was emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence is defined as the ability to control one’s emotions while expressing empathy for others. According to Psychology Today:

Emotional intelligence is generally said to include at least three skills: emotional awareness, or the ability to identify and name one’s own emotions; the ability to harness those emotions and apply them to tasks like thinking and problem solving; and the ability to manage emotions, which includes both regulating one’s own emotions when necessary and helping others to do the same.

Why is Emotional Intelligence Important?

For the artist, mastering emotional intelligence is a twofold advantage:

(1) Creative types are observers. That’s how we create art by observing and then interpreting our emotions and viewpoints through our respective mediums (paint, prose, sculpture, song, etc.). Strong observation skills, therefore, develop the capacity for building emotional intelligence, which impacts art-making for the better (maybe?)

(2) The second advantage is for creative leaders. Without emotional intelligence, your leadership style might be interpreted as rude, unforgiving, or flat out robotic. Working with others requires compromise, and it can be achieved by identifying your emotions, harnessing them into problem solving, while simultaneously being empathic with others.

Develop Your Emotional Intelligence

So, the more I worked with homeless youth, the quicker I had to develop my emotional intelligence skills, as I was serving their needs and not the other way around. Here’s what I learned:

  • Self-regulate by listening: Have you ever been in a conversation and just want to be heard? What’s worse is when someone offers you advice when you just need to vent. Similarly, regulate yourself by simply listening if someone needs your comfort.

  • Ask open ended questions: If someone is venting to you and you think more venting will be useful for this person, ask an open ended question, like “How did that make you feel?” or “What were you thinking in the moment?” Getting others to talk is sometimes the best medicine to offer.

  • Acknowledge emotions: This is a classic guidance counselor tactic, which is using phrases like “What I’m hearing is…..” or “I can understand your feelings of…”. The most critical component, however, is being genuine. If you’re on your phone while saying this, or multitasking, send this person to a stronger listener.

Learn More

Read the article What is Emotional Intelligence? and read similar posts in the ‘Leadership’ category of Wellness-ish-ness.


Wellness-ish-ness is a blog for creative hot messes by D.A. Navoti. Read his bio and find him on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

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