How to Improve Your Emotional Intelligence: 7 Steps
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Think back to the last time you received criticism.
What was your response?
Did you have a quick verbal reaction of defending yourself and trying to prove the criticizer wrong?
Or were you able to pause and take a moment to listen to the negative feedback, process it, and recognize a possible area for improvement in your work?
If your answer is the latter, there is a good chance that you have a high level of emotional intelligence.
While emotional intelligence may seem like a buzzword lately in business, it certainly is not a trend to be soon forgotten in our evolving world. Rather, this seemingly intangible key to success continues to gain accolades as studies have found that emotional and social skills are 4 times more important than intelligence when it comes to prestige and success in the workplace.
With that said, it’s clear why you would want to boost your emotional intelligence, even if you feel like you already have a firm grasp on this element of success.
In this article, we will look more into what emotional intelligence means and the qualities that someone with this type of intelligence holds. Then we will look at 7 steps you can take to improve your emotional intelligence.
Let’s start first by looking back at the origin of this term and how the idea of emotional intelligence has grown over the past few decades.
What You Will Learn
- What is Emotional Intelligence (or EQ)?
- 10 Qualities of Someone with High Emotional Intelligence
- How to Improve Your Emotional Intelligence: 7 Steps
- Final Thoughts on How to Improve Your Emotional Intelligence
What is Emotional Intelligence (or EQ)?
Unlike your IQ, which measures your ability to process information and make reasonable conclusions, your emotional intelligence (EQ) refers to your capacity to process your emotions – and the emotions of other people – and make reasonable conclusions. Your EQ determines your ability to recognize, manage, and express your own feelings, as well as recognize, understand, and influence the feelings of people around you.
Your IQ and EQ are not connected. This is probably evident to you when thinking about someone you have met who is especially intelligent but doesn’t do very well in social situations. Likewise, you probably know someone who is great to talk to and interact with…but wouldn’t necessarily be the first person you would go to if you were faced with a complicated tax issue. And while some people can have high IQs and high EQs (or vice versa), they’re not linked.
The concept of emotional intelligence demonstrates how the measurement of one’s IQ to predict their ability to be successful is too narrow. Instead, there is a much wider area of emotional intelligence that is a more effective indicator of how successful a person may become.
Daniel Goleman, who brought the idea of emotional intelligence to light for everyday people, argued that out of the eight forms of human intelligence, including:
In 1995, when Daniel Goleman published his bestseller, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, few people had considered this concept. Goleman, an author and behavioral science journalist, wrote his book based on a theory previously put together by John D. Mayer and Peter Salovey, a pair of Yale psychologists who published the monumental article, “Emotional Intelligence,” in the journal Imagination, Cognition, and Personality.
Mayer, Salovey, and ultimately Daniel Goleman, argued that just like everyone falls on a spectrum of intellectual abilities, there is also a wide range of emotional skills that strongly impacts people’s thinking and behavior.
Goleman studied the idea of EQ further after the original journal article was published, and, through his research, found a direct link between the emotional intelligence of an organization’s staff and it’s success. Specifically, he found that:
According to Goleman, people who have high emotional intelligence are able to make their emotions work for them instead of against them. By knowing how to manage your emotions in positive ways to reduce stress, communicate well with others, be empathetic, and overcome obstacles, you can build strong relationships, succeed in your profession, and make sound decisions about the things that matter the most to you.
This set of skills can come naturally to some, but can also be learned and developed through intentional practice. So make use of your growth mindset and be open to improving your emotional intelligence.
Let’s take a look at what having a high EQ could look like on an everyday basis.
10 Qualities of Someone with High Emotional Intelligence
The four principal elements of EQ are self-awareness, self-regulation, social awareness, and social skills. However, there are some additional qualities that people with high emotional intelligence hold.
Most people believe they’re self-aware. In fact, one study found that 90% of participants rated themselves as having very good self-awareness. However, after testing, only 10-15% of them actually were self-aware. Your self-awareness dictates your ability to understand your own feelings and the potential impact your emotions and behaviors have on other people.
Self-awareness is the foundation of EQ upon which all of the other components rely. After all, if you’re aware of the impact your emotions have on your behaviors, you can start to manage your emotions in a way that benefits you.
Your ability to monitor your emotions is a key part to understanding yourself and being able to proactively manage your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. People who are self-aware act consciously and intentionally instead of passively reacting to things that come their way. They’re also generally psychologically healthy and have a positive perception of the future.
Part of being self-aware when it comes to having emotional intelligence is knowing the importance of maintaining a healthy work-life balance. People with this quality value their health, so they eat well, make sure to get enough rest, and indulge in hobbies or interests outside of their professional life.
With a good sense of self-awareness, you can also have self-regulation, which refers to your ability to manage your emotions and behaviors. Once you’re aware of your emotions, you can manage them and reduce any potential damage that disruptive emotions or impulses can cause. When you have strong self-regulation, you’re able to pause in the middle of a stressful situation and remain calm while you think before you speak.
Without the ability to contain your negative emotions or have impulse control, you can start a domino effect of negative feelings in other people.
Here is an example of having self-regulation: Your boss has just given you yet another “urgent” project on top of everything else that has seemed to pile on you lately at work. While you may be frustrated, if you have a good sense of self-regulation, you wouldn’t start yelling at your boss or making passive aggressive comments. You would control your initial reaction and handle the situation after thinking it through. Self-regulation can also keep you from engaging in less severe – but still socially unacceptable – behaviors such as sleeping under your desk or taking other people’s food from the break room.
People with high self-regulation skills are better equipped to navigate the workplace, making it easier for them to land and maintain jobs and ultimately outperform their less self-regulated colleagues.
3. Social Awareness
This quality of people with high EQs encompasses the ability to recognize other people’s emotions and be empathetic. Social awareness helps you be able to determine what other people are feeling, adopting that emotion yourself, and then aiming to improve their situation.
People with strong social awareness can put themselves in other people’s shoes to help them feel understood and heard. A large part of developing social awareness is having enough life experience to be able to relate to a wide variety of situations and emotions, even if it’s just a small amount.
4. Social Skills
Your social skills, which include your ability to influence others, be a good leader, manage conflict, and motivate other people, open the door to being able to build and maintain healthy relationships, both personally and professionally. People with strong social skills can understand other people and use this knowledge to encourage people to work toward a common goal.
5. They Embrace Change
People are naturally resistant to change. We like to know what to expect and we love a sense of stability. So when any kind of uncertainty is on the horizon, our brains go into fight, flight, or freeze mode.
However, people who have high emotional intelligence are able to embrace change by managing their emotional reactions to it. In fact, they’re able to appreciate and understand the need for change, progress, and shifts in processes. Being able to identify the emotion you feel when change is occuring–be it fear of the unknown, frustration, or anger–helps you manage your emotional reaction by dealing with the root cause.
For example, if you company is switching operating systems and you’re all facing the daunting task of learning an entirely new computer program, having emotional intelligence could help mitigate this stress. If you’re nervous that you don’t have the necessary skills to figure out the new system, research some additional training options. If you’re frustrated that the decision was out of your control, set up a meeting with the decision-makers and inquire how you could become involved in the process.
6. They’re Empathetic
A big part of having a high EQ is being able to sense and understand other people’s emotions. This means you can put yourself in someone else’s shoes to gain a better understanding of what they’re feeling. Emotional intelligence and empathy have a lot of factors in common, including:
Empathy and EQ can look like a lot of things, but consider this: You’ve just asked your intern to work late for the third time this month. While she complies, you can tell she’s frustrated. If you have empathy and a high EQ, you would respond by addressing those feelings and letting your intern know you appreciate her willingness to work extra hours, and you’re also irritated about staying late. If you can, try to find a way for late nights to be less of an issue in the future.
People with high EQs are motivated. They tend to have a personal drive to improve themselves, are committed to their goals, and are optimistic about the future. Furthermore, having emotional intelligence helps boost your sense of resilience, so if you hit a roadblock along the way, you’re able to navigate it and not let it slow you down.
Along with having a sense of self-motivation, those with high EQs are also good at managing their time. They know their limits and know when to say “no” to other people’s requests.
That said, they’re not perfectionists. Because people with high EQs are able to learn from their mistakes and “roll with the punches”, they don’t expect perfection.
8. They’re Curious
Those with a high EQ have an innate sense of wonder. They’re constantly exploring new possibilities, asking questions, and willing to listen to potential new solutions to old problems. This sense of curiosity is the product of having empathy. People with high EQs are willing to listen to ideas without passing judgement and see things from other people’s perspectives.
9. They Have a Large Emotional Vocabulary
While everyone has emotions, only a fraction of people can precisely identify them as they’re happening. The majority of the population may say they’re feeling mad, but people with high emotional intelligence can narrow that down to feeling frustrated, scared, anxious, etc. This becomes a problem because emotions that go unlabeled are usually misunderstood and not handled correctly.
People who have high EQs are able to master their emotions by understanding them and knowing the subtle differences between various feelings. Because of this, they have a large vocabulary to describe what’s going on in their mind. The more specific you can get about how you’re feeling, the more insight you have into the root cause and what you can do to remedy it.
10. They’re Not Impacted by Toxic People
Handling difficult people is usually exhausting. People who have a high EQ are able to control their interactions with toxic people by isolating their emotions from the situation. When it’s necessary to confront a toxic person, those with a high EQ can rationally approach the situation and prevent their own frustration from adding fuel to the fire.
People with high EQs are also more willing to try to find a common ground with the difficult person. Even if things get tense, emotionally intelligent people can avoid taking the toxic person too seriously and certainly not let their own mood be affected.
How many of these qualities can you identify with? You may feel like you’ve already mastered the art of emotional intelligence, but just in case, let’s look at ways that you can improve upon where you are now.
How to Improve Your Emotional Intelligence: 7 Steps
1. Take an Emotional Intelligence Test
First thing’s first. Let’s see where you stand on the spectrum of emotional intelligence. There are a lot of emotional intelligence tests online that you can take to help you understand your own EQ.
This test from the Global Leadership Foundation is a short, 40 question test that takes about 10 minutes. You only need to pick one out of two options given for each question that best describes you. For example:
“I always set myself challenging goals.”
“I always complete the goals that are set for me.”
Here is another test, provided by the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley. This option is only 25 questions, but each multiple choice has four answers to choose from.
Finally, this test from PsychTests will take about an hour to complete and involves more reading and analyzing scenarios. It has a total of 341 questions, so while it will take more time and effort than the others, it may give you a more precise insight into your EQ.
2. Observe Your Feelings
So often in the chaos of the day, we lose touch with how we’re feeling. To improve your EQ, you have to reconnect with your emotions and purposefully notice your mental state at various points of the day.
Set a timer to indicate when you need to take a minute to do this exercise so you aren’t only doing it during your “down” times or rest periods. When you identify your emotion, look at your behavior as well. How are you acting when you experience this emotion, and how does that behavior impact your daily life? Being able to manage your emotions will become more natural once you recognize how you react to them. Also, the more you practice this trick of “catching” yourself throughout the day, the more you will become naturally mindful of your emotional state and its impact on your behavior.
Action Step: Set a timer on your phone or a reminder on your computer that will prompt you about 3-5 times throughout the day to stop what you’re doing and be mindful of your current emotion. Acknowledge how that emotion is impacting your behavior at that time and accept full responsibility for both your feelings and your actions.
3. Question Your Opinions
Of course this isn’t something that people naturally do, because if you have an opinion or belief about something, it’s likely you have accepted it as the truth. What’s more, your opinions are often reinforced by the people around you who have similar viewpoints. But part of having a high EQ is having a willingness to see things from other people’s perspectives. Don’t become so set in your ways that you write off anyone else who may have a different opinion than you do about something.
Action Step: Be proactive in reading or looking into the “other side” of an issue. Allow your views to be challenged. Even if you still don’t agree with another person’s opinion on an issue, taking the time to hear an explanation will help you understand people who may think differently than you and ultimately make you more accepting of new ideas.
4. Find a Way to Pause
It’s easy and immediately satisfying and rewarding in the moment to make a quick rude remark back to someone who said something that rubbed you the wrong way. But where does that ultimately get you? So often, we are reactive to stress or threats of harm, but these knee-jerk reactions never uncover a solution to the problem.
To control your emotions and avoid behavioral outbursts, take a minute to breathe. Walk outside to get some air, excuse yourself to get a drink of water, or simply tell the person you need to finish the discussion later. Figure out what works for you to help you maintain composure during stressful interactions so you can better absorb the situation and decide how to respond.
Let’s look at an example. You just got a department-wide email about an issue at work and it seemed like the sender threw you under the bus. Your initial reaction may be to hit “reply all” with a strong defense (plus a diatribe) and hit “send” without even proofreading it.
But reacting in this careless manner would probably make the situation worse than it had to be and you could even do irreversible damage to your career, your professional relationships, and your reputation at work.
However, if you give yourself some time to breathe and reflect, chances are you will think very differently about the situation and how you should handle it.
Action Step: When faced with a stressful situation, don’t respond to anything in the heat of the moment. Figure out what your coping mechanism is for self-soothing and practice it. Only then should you formulate a response because your mind will be clear and your emotions will be calm.
5. Take an Objective Look at Yourself
Because it’s rather difficult to see yourself from an outsider’s view, ask a few people who know you really well to tell you what they believe your strengths and weaknesses are. Don’t argue if you disagree with what they say, just look for patterns in people’s answers.
If you keep hearing from people that you have a habit of interrupting others while they’re speaking or turning any conversation back to yourself, take that to heart. Being able to effectively listen to other people is a big part of having emotional intelligence, so this sort of feedback would suggest you have a big area for potential improvement.
Action Step: A good way to get an objective look at yourself is to keep a journal. At the end of each day, write down anything significant that happened, how it made you feel, and what actions you took in response. Documenting these details will help increase your awareness of your behaviors and potentially highlight where any issues could be coming from. Read back through your journal every once in a while and highlight any trends you see.
6. Know Your Emotional Triggers
Part of having self-awareness is being able to recognize your emotions and adapt them to any given situation. Most people have some sort of trigger – or “hot button” – that can initiate feelings of intense anger, hostility, or irritation.
Almost anything could be a potential trigger for someone depending upon their values, beliefs, and life experiences – from a particular viewpoint to simply a tone of voice. Being able to identify your emotional triggers is critical because without knowing what evokes an extreme response from you, you can easily let your emotions get the best of you.
Action Step: Whenever possible, if you feel as if you could face one of your triggers in an upcoming situation, think through the interaction and predict how you’ll feel. Specify those feelings as best as you can and practice accepting them, which will help you regain control. Decide on an appropriate reaction to the feeling you identified and follow through with that plan if the situation arises.
7. Remember That It’s a Process
Don’t forget that developing emotional intelligence is a process that you have to work on for your entire life. EQ is something you develop, and it requires continuous improvement. This is not something you can learn in a week or a month.
Action Step: As you’re taking the steps listed above to improve your emotional intelligence, take note of your progress. It may seem like you don’t see any tangible changes in your life right away, but with your daily practice, you will be able to see a big difference between your former self and your future self.
Final Thoughts on How to Improve Your Emotional Intelligence
In this article, we reviewed the qualities of people who have a high level of emotional intelligence and looked at some specific techniques you can use to improve yourself in this area.
Be proactive in applying these techniques to your life. While it will take some conscious effort at first to pay attention to your feelings and behaviors, it will soon become more natural…which means your emotional intelligence is improving. This will put you on the right track to success no matter what your goals are.
Connie Stemmle is a professional editor, freelance writer and ghostwriter. She holds a BS in Marketing and a Master’s Degree in Social Work. When she is not writing, Connie is either spending time with her 4-year-old daughter, running, or making efforts in her community to promote social justice.