Previously, we discussed the importance of emotional intelligence (EI) and its characteristics. To recap, EI is the ability to recognise and manage one’s own and others’ emotions, to motivate oneself and restrain impulses, and to handle interpersonal relationships effectively.

Emotionally intelligent people go about their daily life guided by a framework comprising two key qualities — personal competence and social competence.

This article will focus on personal competence and how you can achieve or enhance it.

There is an interesting story regarding Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi that illustrates the actions of someone with high levels of personal competence.

A woman and her young son came to see Gandhi. She wanted him to advise her son not to eat too many sweets. Gandhi instantly refused to do this and told the woman and her son to come back and see him in two weeks. The woman was initially taken aback by this response, but, nevertheless, did as Gandhi asked.

The leader spoke to the boy lovingly and told him that it was not good to eat too many sweets because of the effect it would have on him.  The boy listened and promised Gandhi and his mother that he would refrain from eating sweets. The woman then asked Gandhi: “Sir! Why didn’t you give this advice to my son when I came to see you two weeks ago?”

Gandhi looked at her sheepishly and said: “My good woman, two weeks ago I had a sweet tooth myself and I wondered how I was supposed to advise your son. For the last two weeks I have stopped eating sweets to see how it feels so that I am better able to advise him.”

This story illustrates that someone with a high level of personal competence knows his limitations and strengths is able to self-regulate or address his weaknesses and has the motivation to meet his goals. He is not interested in lecturing others but tries to influence them from a position of experience.

Personal competence has three characteristics: Self-awareness, self-regulation and motivation.


This quality comprises three elements:

* Emotional awareness: recognising your emotions and their effect

* Self-assessment: knowing your strengths and limits, and

* Self-confidence: having a strong sense of your self-worth and capabilities.

Emotionally aware people get angry or feel frustrated like the rest of us but are more adept at dealing with these emotions. Instead of lashing out at other people or blaming situations, they label their emotions, for example, “I am angry”, rather than exclaim: “Mr A is a stupid idiot who has no idea what he is talking about!”

We all make mistakes but what is important is how we recognise those mistakes, correct them and move on. Greek philosopher Plato said: “If one has made a mistake, and fails to correct it, one has made a greater mistake”.


This quality involves having self-control, trustworthiness, conscientiousness, adaptability and innovation. 

Being able to keep disruptive emotions and impulses in check in your personal life and at work is key to happiness and success. You recognise that certain actions affect you and other people negatively and so avoid doing them.

Consider this example: You love rich desserts. But your doctor has warned you that your blood sugar and cholesterol levels are borderline high.

So what do you do? The answer is obvious. You exercise self-regulation by cutting down on rich desserts, because if you don’t, you could run the risk of medical problems like diabetes. Many of us are still grappling with translating what we know into what we ought to do.


Emotionally intelligent people strive to improve or meet a standard of excellence, they show commitment, initiative and persist in pursuing goals despite obstacles and setbacks.

To become personally competent, you need to develop inner motivation. This is the drive to do better and the ability to face adversities with your head held high. As motivation guru Zig Ziglar puts it: “You are the only one who can make the best use of your ability.” 

With strong motivation, self-regulation and self-awareness, you exude self-confidence and have strong self-esteem. You are in a perfect position to understand and influence others as you tap into your store of personal competence.

Next: How to demonstrate social competence