What Is Emotional Intelligence, Really?

Photo: Mitch Haaseth/ABC.
On last night's The Bachelor, "Women Tell All," Corinne and Taylor reignited their debate about what emotional intelligence means. A few episodes ago, when Fantasy Suites were still a fever dream, Taylor told Corinne she "lacked emotional intelligence," and Corinne snapped back that she "runs a multi-million dollar business" and "doesn't appreciate being treated like an idiot." We need to settle this once and for all, or at least before Bachelor In Paradise: What is emotional intelligence, really?
"Emotional intelligence can be a lot of things, but means you're in tune with your own emotions and other people's emotions," says Lena Aburdene Derhally, MS, LPC, a licensed psychotherapist in Washington, D.C. "At the heart of it, it's somebody who has positive relationships and good relationship skills." Emotional intelligence is high on empathy, and requires you to be able to put yourself in someone else's shoes, Dr. Derhally says.
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Last night, Taylor tried to explain her argument about Corinne further: "I was talking about her ability to regulate her emotions, and to empathize, and pick up on emotions of women in the house," she says. "I'm talking about how you're not fully aware of the impacts your words have on other people." Neither of these women are "idiots," like Corinne says, but we should point out that Taylor is a licensed mental health counselor associate with a master's in mental health counseling. She might have been using counselor jargon to explain why she was upset with Corinne's actions, but Corinne just heard that she didn't have intelligence, which would hurt anyone's feelings. (Though we can't imagine it's easy to hear that you lack emotional intelligence, either.)
You can also be really intellectually smart, and horrible at relationships, Dr. Derhally says. "A lot of the time, you don't find people that are super high on both ends — they're different parts of your brain as well," she says. So you could go to a prestigious school and run a multi-million dollar business, but still have poor emotional intelligence.
Someone who's not emotionally intelligent is usually lacking in empathy and unable to connect with other people on a deeper level, Dr. Derhally says. (Not picking sides here, but that is kind of what Taylor said, too.) "You can also look at the company someone keeps and the quality of their relationships," she says. "People who lack emotional intelligence are narcissistic and selfish, so again, that's characteristic of their inability to empathize and see another person's point of view."
At their core, emotionally intelligent people can empathize, be honest, and engage with what someone else is saying, Dr. Derhally says. "Assertiveness and boundaries have to coexist with empathy, because you can be empathetic and have someone walk all over you," she says. Taylor touched on this a little bit last night, and got teary-eyed as she stood up for herself. "People in helping professions should be encouraged to continue their passion of helping people and not shamed for it," Taylor said. "I don't think you fully realize the impact of the things you said — had a direct impact on my life and my career, and you can't show empathy," she said.
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It might seem like this is just another topic to kill time on a three-hour reunion episode, but Dr. Derhally says emotional intelligence is the key to any healthy relationship. "Everything about happiness comes down to the quality — not quantity — of our relationships," she says. "Emotionally intelligent people are happier people and have quality relationships; there's research that shows this." In a show where relationships come by the dozen and are tried and tested, maybe it's a good thing Taylor brought it up — sorry, Corinne.
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