One idiom my students usually love to show the knowledge of from the moment they learn it is “to put yourself into somebody else’s shoes”. They find it “cute” and very characteristic of the English language. But the importance of this idiom goes much further than my lessons. I’d dare say the skill involved in it is key for survival these days.

Much has been discussed about emotional intelligence and soft skills in the work market, but do people really know what is involved in holding a high E.Q.? To start with, it is necessary to tell one thing from the other in order to understand to what extent these two terms are entangled and what difference they make to each other.

It is hard to say which one comes first or which one is the pillar for which; as much as it is hard to say whether soft skills and emotional intelligence are born characteristics or whether they can be trained and developed. Trainers and employers usually feel more comfortable dealing with technical skills, also called hard skills, which can be broken down into a tangible set of competencies and then more easily gauged.

Soft skills are qualities people have, such as positive attitude, good communication, critical thinking, organizational skills and interpersonal skills. These qualities characterize a good student, employee or team player. The dilemma é to define whether or not these are real competencies that could then be identified, learned or taught. Some educators think soft skills are better learned in the real world and not in a training room. Well, the good news is that yes, soft skills do have a set of core competencies that can be assessed and taught or trained, according to recent research.

Many of the soft skills competencies are grounded on emotional intelligence skills. These form the pillars for soft skills development and are considered in the educational environment as social/emotional learning. E.Q., or emotional quotient, is a learned ability to identify, explain, understand and express human emotions – own and others’ as well – in healthy and productive ways. They are the building blocks soft skills are constructed upon and without which one has a poor understanding and command of soft skills.

Let us take as an example one of the most important of soft skills, a positive attitude. Although some people think that a bad attitude is difficult to change, research has shown that if the person knows how to change, it can actually happen. But first, social/emotional competencies are needed for a better understanding of the competencies involved in a positive attitude; only then these can be taught and gauged.

In order to develop interpersonal skills, the soft skills translated into socializing at work, controlling emotions, networking, responding to conflict, helping customers, the E.Q. foundation skills needed are self-esteem, intrapersonal/interpersonal awareness, environment support and empathy, the key competence for emotional intelligence. No high E.Q. rate is possible without a considerable dose of empathy. It regards how to sense, understand and accept another person’s thoughts, feelings and behaviours, which is the basis of all interpersonal skills.

Emotionally intelligent people can observe themselves, observe their mental processes and observe their own feelings. Therefore, they can identify what they are feeling, they know how to interpret their own emotions, they can regulate their emotions, they know how their emotions can impact others and they have the ability to manage other people’s emotions.

Some people are born with a higher E.Q. than others, but that is no rule; the good news is that E.Q. can be developed and practiced throughout life. Thanks to brain plasticity emotionally intelligent behaviours can be practiced and eventually incorporated into a new brain habit, becoming automatic and replacing less helpful behaviours.

As a final note, as redundant as it may sound in all my articles, we come back to the first step no one involved in a self-improvement process can skip: self-knowledge. Before any change, any effort, any path taken, we have to look inside on a self-discovery journey to know ourselves. Then, the sky is the limit or, as Plato said, we will know the universe and the gods.

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