In 1995, science journalist Daniel Goleman published a book introducing most of the world to the nascent concept of emotional intelligence: the ability to identify emotions (in both yourself and others), to recognize the powerful effects of those emotions, and to use that information to inform and guide behavior. The idea, which was primarily based on the research of psychologists John Mayer and Peter Salovey, quickly took off–and went on to greatly influence the way we think about emotions and human behavior.
In conducting research for my own book, EQ, Applied: The Real World Guide to Emotional Intelligence, I realized just how dramatically the world has changed in the (over) 20 years since Goleman’s book burst on to the scene.
And it’s become obvious that the need for emotional intelligence has only intensified.
Here’s the proof
Take a look at the following examples, and see if they look familiar:
A fractured political climate takes center stage, where candidates use emotions like fear and anger as “weapons of mass persuasion.” Passionate followers–quick to judge the other side as stupid or incorrigible–then pursue heated discourse and hurl ad hominem attacks, making calm and rational discussion all but impossible.
War, globalization, and other factors continue to push persons of different races, cultures and backgrounds into closer proximity. But unfamiliarity breeds fear, and these differences fuel suspicion and worry.
A rising wave of sexual harassment allegations has revealed a pandemic in which influencers use power and position to inspire panic and shame in their victims. But as the curtain continues to be pulled back, those victims have proved that there is strength in numbers–and in gaining control over their emotions.
Then, there’s the rapid development of technology.
The internet has put an immense amount of information at our fingertips. But as stories and news travel at lightning speed, it’s more difficult than ever to tell fact from fiction.
An era of post-truth, where appeals to emotion and personal belief have become more influential than objective facts.
The proliferation of smartphones and mobile devices has also affected us in unexpected ways. For many, brief moments of observation or self-reflection have been replaced by constant reading and responding to messages, checking of social media feeds or simply browsing the internet–actions spurred on by feelings of anxiety and fear of missing out.
As this Pavlovian addiction to our devices slowly destroys our self-control, it simultaneously diminishes our ability to think for ourselves. The websites we frequent play a major role in shaping our emotions; the stories we read, the news we consume, the videos we watch all shape our moods and thoughts, slowly molding our opinions and ideologies.
Most often, we don’t even realize it.
Additionally, as the world has evolved, so has our understanding of emotional intelligence.
Gone are the days of considering emotional intelligence inherently virtuous. Rather, it’s become evident that like traditional intelligence, this tool can be used for both ethical and unethical purposes. For example, researchers have demonstrated how some with high emotional intelligence use their skills to selfishly influence or manipulate others.
These are just some of the reasons we need emotional intelligence today more than ever.
Don’t just be emotional. Be emotionally intelligent.
Emotions are a basic part of us; they make us human.
The key is not to remove emotions from our decision-making process or to pursue some robotic form of existence. Instead, you must learn to deal with those emotions in a productive way.
Identify how your feelings affect your thinking. Rage and fear can move you to take action against an unacceptable set of circumstances, and that’s good. But let on the loose, and those feelings can cause major damage to you and those you care about.
By learning to acknowledge your feelings, and even embrace them, you begin to build awareness of them. Take time to see how those feelings change and how this influences your actions.
Once you understand how emotions affect you and your thought process, you can begin learning how others’ emotions affect them. As you gain ability to see things from their perspective, you’ll also gain ability to communicate in a way they understand.
Those abilities can help increase the quality of your interactions with others and help you build stronger relationships.
In time, you’ll also see the dark side of emotional intelligence: how some individual’s master this ability for selfish gain, how they use your own emotions to manipulate or harm. But as you gain knowledge of the methods others use to exploit your emotions, you’ll also learn how to protect yourself.
In the end, the goal is simple:
Enjoy this post? Check out my book, EQ Applied, which uses fascinating research and compelling stories to illustrate what emotional intelligence looks like in real life.
A version of this article originally appeared on Inc.com.