Bringhurst: Prioritize Emotional Intelligence


Claire Peterson

(Graphic by Claire Peterson | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Maggie Bringhurst, Opinion Writer


Editor’s Note: This piece is from the Openings print issue, published summer 2022.


Prevalence of depression and anxiety increased 25% globally the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the World Health Organization. This year, over one in four Americans made New Year’s resolutions to improve their mental health, reports the American Psychiatric Association.

While Americans’ mental health may be suffering, the conversations surrounding it are steering the topic away from being taboo. But as we work to prioritize mental health, we must also recognize the vital role emotional intelligence plays in overall well-being.

Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify and regulate your own emotions and the emotions of others. Emotional health is a key factor for mental health. Fostering emotional intelligence results in higher academic and professional performance. To adequately prepare students for life in school and beyond, universities should require courses that practice social and emotional learning.

Responsibility of Schools

Most agree schools should prepare students for life, as parents and educators want schools to foster children’s ability to act as responsible members of the community. But according to Jonathan Cohen, president of the National School Climate Center, “we have not substantially integrated these values into our schools or into the training we give teachers.”

Kids are often expected to learn coping mechanisms, empathy and communication without being explicitly taught them. According to a study by Fortune Journals, children learn emotional intelligence from their parents’ behaviors, meaning if a parent has a low emotional quotient, the child is likely to as well. Leaving these essential skills to be taught solely by parents allows some children to fall behind in learning emotional intelligence. A lack of sensitive parenting can result in low frustration tolerance and less resilience, overall decreasing one’s capacity for EQ.

By the time students reach college, a lack of emotional intelligence can hinder their education.

“In Utah, there’s a lot of polarization,” said Kylie Rochford, an assistant professor at the University of Utah who studies interpersonal relationships. “We want to learn how to have difficult conversations in a productive way. But without those basic skills, it’s actually not constructive to have those conversations.”

According to Rochford, emotional intelligence also impacts students’ emotional health, general well-being and ability to make sense of their feelings.

Schools, including colleges and universities, should prioritize social and emotional learning. Explicitly training emotional competencies leads to lasting improvements in emotional intelligence. It is the school’s responsibility to adequately prepare students for life, and emotional intelligence is an important component in life success.

Emotional Intelligence Predicts Life Success

Students with higher EQ scores tend to perform better academically than those with lower EQ scores, regardless of age, states the American Psychiatric Association. Emotional intelligence carries the same significance in the workplace.

One of Rochford’s studies focused on workplace dynamics in engineering.

“A huge percentage of job performance by engineers was actually due to their emotional intelligence,” she said.

This includes the ability to communicate, collaborate and coordinate effectively. And according to a CareerBuilder survey of hiring managers, almost 75% claimed to value an employee’s EQ more than their IQ. If emotional intelligence has a greater impact on employment prospects than reasoning ability, then schools need to increase focus on fostering emotional intelligence.

Implementation in Action

Kids benefit from social and emotional learning at a young age, but even college students could stand to benefit from implementing EQ in their curricula.

The U requires all Eccles School of Business students to take an introductory emotional intelligence course, taught by Rochford. It teaches strategies to navigate strong emotional responses and how to identify personal EQ. The department also offers higher level courses on the subject — additional progress is necessary and feasible.

Students and staff at the U could establish a culture that fosters emotional intelligence in a number of ways. Organizing student clubs, integrating EQ training into Housing and Residential Education and adding mandatory introductory-level courses to all curricula are methods already implemented nationwide. But we need more to foster an emotionally intelligent community. A student body well equipped with EQ tools could lead to more social integration between students in different programs, something our campus desperately needs.

An Empathetic Future

“Social disconnection right now is at an all time high,” Rochford said. “Regardless of which workplace you go into, there’s a really good chance that you’re going to have to interact with people who are quite different from you. Learning how to do that now is important.”

Coping with the stress of politics, the pandemic and inflation can be challenging. I find it increasingly hard to empathize with strangers as my perception of innate human goodness alters with every striking negative headline. Still, empathy and communication are vital to cooperation and functionality. Perhaps America’s current mental health crisis is the product of a generation’s neglect for emotional well-being, and maybe deliberately fostering emotional intelligence is the solution.


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