Managing and Responding to Emotions

The notion of emotional intelligence emerged in the early 1990s and has received much attention in academic scholarship, business and education, and the popular press. Emotional intelligence“involves the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them, and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and action.”Peter Salovey, Alison Woolery, and John D. Mayer, “Emotional Intelligence: Conceptualization and Measurement,” in Blackwell Handbook of Social Psychology: Interpersonal Processes, eds. Garth J. O. Fletcher and Margaret S. Clark (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2001), 279–307. As was noted earlier, improving our emotional vocabulary and considering how and when to verbally express our emotions can help us better distinguish between and monitor our emotions. However, as the definition of emotional intelligence states, we must then use the results of that cognitive process to guide our thoughts and actions.

Just as we are likely to engage in emotion sharing following an emotional event, we are likely to be on the receiving end of that sharing. Another part of emotional intelligence is being able to appraise others’ expressions of emotions and communicatively adapt. A key aspect in this process is empathy, which is the ability to comprehend the emotions of others and to elicit those feelings in ourselves. Being empathetic has important social and physical implications. By expressing empathy, we will be more likely to attract and maintain supportive social networks, which has positive physiological effects like lower stress and less anxiety and psychological effects such as overall life satisfaction and optimism.Laura K. Guerrero and Peter A. Andersen, “Emotion in Close Relationships,” in Close Relationships: A Sourcebook, eds. Clyde Hendrick and Susan S. Hendrick (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2000), 171–83.

When people share emotions, they may expect a variety of results such as support, validation, or advice. If someone is venting, they may just want your attention. When people share positive emotions, they may want recognition or shared celebration. Remember too that you are likely to coexperience some of the emotion with the person sharing it and that the intensity of their share may dictate your verbal and nonverbal reaction.Bernard Rime, “Interpersonal Emotion Regulation,” in Handbook of Emotion Regulation, ed. James J. Gross (New York: Guilford Press, 2007), 473–78. Research has shown that responses to low-intensity episodes are mostly verbal. For example, if someone describes a situation where they were frustrated with their car shopping experience, you may validate their emotion by saying, “Car shopping can be really annoying. What happened?” Conversely, more intense episodes involve nonverbal reactions such as touching, body contact (scooting close together), or embracing. These reactions may or may not accompany verbal communication. You may have been in a situation where someone shared an intense emotion, such as learning of the death of a close family member, and the only thing you could think to do was hug them. Although being on the receiving end of emotional sharing can be challenging, your efforts will likely result in positive gains in your interpersonal communication competence and increased relational bonds.


  • Emotions result from outside stimuli or physiological changes that influence our behaviors and communication.
  • Emotions developed in modern humans to help us manage complex social life including interpersonal relations.
  • The expression of emotions is influenced by sociocultural norms and display rules.
  • Emotion sharing includes verbal expression, which is made more effective with an enhanced emotional vocabulary, and nonverbal expression, which may or may not be voluntary.
  • Emotional intelligence helps us manage our own emotions and effectively respond to the emotions of others.


  1. In what situations would you be more likely to communicate emotions through electronic means rather than in person? Why?
  2. Can you think of a display rule for emotions that is not mentioned in the chapter? What is it and why do you think this norm developed?
  3. When you are trying to determine someone’s emotional state, what nonverbal communication do you look for and why?
  4. Think of someone in your life who you believe has a high degree of emotional intelligence. What have they done that brought you to this conclusion?

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