It's rough being a human in this game of life. We stress, we have conflict with others, we experience disappointments, and our buttons are often pushed by annoying people at work.

Well, things don't have to get so dramatic when you exercise a good degree of emotional intelligence. Yes, many of us have heard about it, we've read books on it, but for the lay person just getting started on their immersion into emotional intelligence, what is it exactly and how do you know when you're being emotionally intelligent?

Glad you asked. Here are three things that really stand out for me.

1. You choose to respond instead of react. 

In a previous company, I recall an executive marching down the hall spewing expletives on his way to wage war with a middle manager. An ongoing issue boiled over, and this exec just lost it. The commotion left some people very uncomfortable.

As leaders, when we react in such a manner, we are being impulsive, shortsighted, and usually not giving much thought to what we are doing. It usually happens when you don't get something you want, or react on impulse to an unresolved issue. Or maybe out of fear of something. Then, "fight, flight, or freeze" takes over.

But by responding, rather than reacting, we create space to consider the situation and decide the best approach to handle things. We assess a situation, get perspective, listen without judgment, process, and hold back from reacting head on. It's the decision to sit on your decision.

By being patient and thinking it over rationally, you'll eventually arrive at other, more sane conclusions. 

2. You exercise your self-awareness.

One of the key components of emotional intelligence, self awareness happens when we look at the whole picture and both sides of the issue.

This requires tapping into our feelings and those of others to choose a different outcome, like a compassionate response to helping someone overcome an obstacle at work.

Daniel Goleman, the emotional intelligence expert said this: "If you don't have self-awareness, if you are not able to manage your distressing emotions, if you can't have empathy and have effective relationships, then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far."

3. You manage your emotions better than most.

Self-control (or "self-management") is a personal competence developed in every person. The question behind self-control is: Can I manage my emotions and behavior to a positive outcome?

Bringing back Daniel Goleman, he says this about people with self-control:

Reasonable people--the ones who maintain control over their emotions--are the people who can sustain safe, fair environments. In these settings, drama is very low and productivity is very high. Top performers flock to these organizations and are not apt to leave them.

Self-control gives one the capacity to be present, calm, and focused during times of high stress. It's a necessary virtue with long-term payoff.