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Emotional intelligence

Why is emotional intelligence important for students?

Study tips
Published 9 Jun, 2023  ·  7-minute read

Some skills aren’t taught in school, but that doesn’t stop them from being important. Emotional intelligence (EI) can give you an edge in your academics now and set you up for success in your future career.

But why is emotional intelligence important for students specifically? And what even is emotional intelligence anyway? We explore all this and more (including some tips for improving your EI) below.

What is emotional intelligence?

Simply put, emotional intelligence is your ability to manoeuvre and interact with your own emotions as well as those of other people. EI is commonly divided into four key abilities:

  • perceiving and identifying emotions
  • thinking and reasoning using emotions
  • understanding emotions and how they change
  • regulating and managing emotions (both yours and other people’s).

But emotional intelligence isn’t confined to these abilities. It’s a complex and fluid concept that’s sometimes hard to pin down.

You might not grasp what it’s all about until you see it in action. A teacher who explains a difficult theory with patience and helpful examples is displaying a high EI. A clever friend who falls apart in a group assignment because they can’t cooperate with the team is potentially struggling with a low EI.

Some other terms you might recognise that relate to EI include:

  • emotional literacy and vocab (your ability to recognise and name emotions)
  • empathy (your ability to relate to someone else’s emotions or step into their shoes)
  • intrinsic motivation (your drive to achieve your goals – even when nobody else is pushing you).

Why is emotional intelligence important for you?

Emotional intelligence can influence many parts of your life, from academic grades to job performance. Here’s a look at why emotional intelligence is important in school, university and the workplace.

Why is emotional intelligence important for students in high school?

A group of boys in school uniforms stand talking to one another

When you can understand and manage your emotions, you’re more likely to get good grades and ace tests. In fact, when it comes to academic performance, research has revealed emotional intelligence is almost as important as your cognitive intelligence and having a conscientious attitude.

This is because emotionally intelligent students are better equipped to deal with negative emotions that might disrupt learning.

For example, if you’ve got a high EI:

  • you can quickly overcome exam stress and get on with answering the questions
  • you can overcome boredom and maintain your concentration during dull topics (looking at you, trigonometry)
  • you can avoid obsessing over a disappointing grade and instead focus on improving next time
  • you can recognise if you’re experiencing anxiety about an assignment and seek help (rather than falling into the dreaded procrastination/panic spiral).

“It is not enough to be smart and hardworking. To have the added edge for success, students must also be able to understand and manage emotions.”

- Carolyn MacCann, Yixin Jiang and Luke E. R. Brown in Emotional Intelligence Predicts Academic Performance: A Meta-Analysis

Emotional intelligence is super helpful for subjects like English, history, drama and creative arts where you need to understand or even manipulate human emotions. Interpreting a novel or playing a role is much easier when you can quickly recognise a character’s motivations and feelings.

These aren’t the only ways a high EI can improve your grades though. Emotional intelligence can also help you build strong relationships with your teachers and classmates. From seeking extra help on a project to forming a study group, these connections can make a real difference to your academic results.

Why is emotional intelligence important for students in university?

Three university students listen intently

Obviously, good grades are still relevant once you get to uni. But this is also when the other benefits of having a high EI will start to pop up.

Research suggests going to university with a strong EI can lead to better mental, social and even physical health. Developing your emotional intelligence while you’re in school means you’ll be better prepared for the challenges of uni life.

For example, university students with a high EI are:

  • likely to have lower levels of anxiety and depression
  • more likely to be socially active and involved
  • more likely to be in good shape and feel healthy.

As with high school, you’ll also have a better chance of building bonds with your professors and peers.

Why is emotional intelligence important in the workplace?

A woman sits at an office desk, in front of her computer screens and open notebook

No surprises here – emotional intelligence continues to influence your success once you enter the workforce. This is especially true for jobs that involve emotional encounters (like working with clients, leading a team or dealing with conflicts).

And this doesn’t just apply to your early jobs. Even senior business leaders benefit from EI, and this is clearer than ever during a crisis. Using emotional intelligence is a critical skill for managing a team, especially when times are tough.

According to several studies, people with high EI:

From growing your social skills as a teenager to getting your dream job as an adult, emotional intelligence can give you an edge throughout life. This is why developing your EI now is so worthwhile – not just for your school grades, but for your future success.

So, the question is: Can you improve your emotional intelligence? (And how do you do it?)

How to develop emotional intelligence

Good news: the fact you’re actively thinking about your emotional intelligence and how you might raise it is actually a great signal that you’re already on your way. But EI is a spectrum, and there’s always room to improve.

The first step is to self-assess where your emotional intelligence is at already.

How to know if you have emotional intelligence

Have an honest think about yourself and your behaviour. It might help to restrict your thinking to the past month, fortnight or week.

Look at these key signs of high EI highlighted by Business Insider. See how many you can relate to or recognise in yourself.

  • You’re curious about people and care about what they’re going through.
  • You don’t get offended easily (you can poke fun at yourself).
  • You can take criticism on board without making excuses or blaming others.
  • You’re quick to forgive and you don’t hold grudges.
  • You’re quick to apologise when you’ve made a mistake or wronged someone.
  • You know when to disconnect and how to do so (like going offline and taking a hike).
  • You’re a good listener.
  • You’re open-minded and slow to judge.
  • You can deal with toxic people without getting frustrated.
  • You don’t sugar-coat the truth or shy away from tough conversations.

An online quiz (like this one from Mind Tools) can help you measure your EI too.

How to raise your emotional intelligence

The attributes listed above are a great place to start. If there are any you realised don’t apply to you at all, work on these abilities.

Here are some other tips for how to develop emotional intelligence from Inc. and RocheMartin.

How to improve emotional intelligence: notice your feelings, predict your emotions, keep a diary, channel emotions into creativity, see failures as opportunities, practise active listening, maintain a positive attitude, respond well to conflicts
  • Practise noticing how you feel and how you act in different situations.
  • Start predicting how certain things will make you feel. Accept those emotions in advance.
  • Keep a diary to improve your self-awareness. Focus your entries on how events made you feel and how you dealt with those emotions.
  • When you’re overwhelmed by an emotion like anger or sadness, channel it into something creative or productive. The burst of energy might help you finish that big history project or write an inspired short story for English.
  • Try to see failures as opportunities to learn rather than disappointments. Think about what you’ll do differently next time rather than dwelling on what you did wrong this time.
  • Practise active-listening techniques until they become second nature to you. These include eye contact, asking specific questions, verbal affirmations, engaged body language and paraphrasing.
  • Find ways to maintain a positive attitude throughout the day. This differs from person to person. It might mean starting the day with a 10-minute meditation or packing a particularly yummy lunch to look forward to.
  • Respond constructively to conflicts rather than reacting emotionally. Try to see the problem and solution that lie beyond the anger or frustration.

Emotional intelligence isn’t something you switch on overnight. It’s an evolving skill that takes time and conscious effort to develop over the years. By thinking about it now, you’re giving yourself a great head-start on the journey to having a high EI.

Developing your EI doesn’t have to be a solo mission. Once you start at uni, you’ll have access to plenty of opportunities to work on your emotional capabilities. At UQ, for example, our Student Enrichment and Employability Development programs equip you with everything you need for a fulfilling career. This includes key components of emotional intelligence such as the ability to reflect on your experiences and learn from them.

Emotional intelligence is also a key attribute managers across all industries look for – discover what else employers want.

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