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Next Wave
Managing Emotions

Understanding the five components of emotional intelligence.
  • Carly Burnham
  • September 2019
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Carly Burnham

Carly Burnham

Emotional intelligence is a valuable tool for managing your insurance career.

Last month, I said I would begin a series about emotional intelligence. It's a concept that has been popular over the last decade or so. The term was first coined in 1964, and in 1994 it was the title of a popular book, written by Daniel Goleman. Recently, researchers have been trying to determine if high emotional intelligence makes for more successful employees and executives. Results of the research have been mixed, but even if studies remain inconclusive, emotional intelligence is a valuable trait to develop within yourself and can help you develop positive skills for your insurance career. What is it, exactly?

At its most basic, emotional intelligence is the ability to identify and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others. That definition is at once easy to understand and incredibly abstract. We can develop a better understanding of that concept by breaking it down into the building blocks of high emotional intelligence. Researchers have found that emotional intelligence is made up of five components:

Self-Awareness: Many of us struggle with identifying our emotions. If you can't identify your emotions, it can be hard to appropriately deal with them. We have all been in situations where something was bothering us, but we couldn't exactly put our finger on it. You may not have been able to say whether you were angry, scared, or even just hungry. Getting to know your physical reactions to emotions—and what sorts of things might be emotionally resonant that you're unaware of—is a part of developing your emotional intelligence. Beyond identifying individual emotions as they come up, self-awareness includes being able to assess your strengths and weaknesses over time.

Self-Management: This is the ability to regulate your emotions. It includes being able to display emotions or redirect them, as appropriate. Being unaware of your emotions may allow them to be on display more than you might like, so the first step in management is awareness. Once your awareness is developed, you may develop the ability to redirect your frustration to action, in place of venting or procrastinating, in a difficult situation, even if that is not what comes naturally to you.

Motivation: When we're talking about motivation and emotional intelligence, we're referring to intrinsic motivation or being motivated by your own inner needs and goals. Self-motivation improves your optimism and resilience. It also tends to increase readiness to act.

Empathy: Empathy refers to the ability to understand the feelings and perspectives of others. More broadly, empathy can include sharing and feeling the emotions of others. When we talk about it from an emotional intelligence perspective, it is more useful to focus on the understanding piece. The purpose of empathy, in this context, is to use your understanding of another's perspective in managing your response to them.

Social Skills: This component builds on all four of the preceding components and puts them into practice. The ability to keep others comfortable, communicate effectively, and build strong relationships is all a part of possessing strong social skills. Those who exhibit strong social skills are good at active listening, verbal and nonverbal communication, persuasiveness and conflict resolution.

With knowledge of these components, it's not hard to understand that emotional intelligence is a valuable tool for managing your insurance career and, beyond that, your life. While the jury may be out on whether emotional intelligence improves business outcomes, it is easy to see how it would improve your own well-being. Over the next few columns, I'll write about developing it and recognizing it in others.


Carly Burnham, CPCU, MBA, has been in the insurance industry since 2004. She blogs at InsNerds.com and can be reached at bestreviewcomment@ambest.com.


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