Emotional intelligence, also known as EI or EQ (for Emotional Intelligence Quotient), describes a person’s ability to recognize emotions, to understand their powerful effect, and to use that information to guide thinking and behavior. Since EI helps you to better understand yourself–and others–a high EQ increases your chances for successfully achieving goals.
But is there a way to increase your emotional intelligence?
In their seminal research and publication, The Emotionally Intelligent Manager, professors David R. Caruso and Peter Salovey broke down four of the core skills involved in developing emotional intelligence:
1. Identifying your feelings and those of others
2. Using feelings to guide your own thinking and reasoning, along with others
3. Understanding how feelings might change and develop as events unfold
4. Managing to stay open to the data of feelings and integrate this into decisions and actions
In the book I’m currently writing, The Practical Guide to Emotional Intelligence (to be published this summer), I share my personal journey of emotional discovery, as well as a series of practical steps that can help you develop these core skills, thereby increasing your EQ.
Here are seven of the steps I explore:
1. Reflect on your own emotions.
Take some time to sit down and reflect on your own use of emotions. For example, think about how you typically respond when:
- You read an email that implies you dropped the ball
- Your significant other blames you for something you feel is unfair
- Another driver cuts you off on the highway
- A close friend or associate begins to cry unexpectedly
By first identifying your own emotions and reactions, you become more mindful and start the process of building control.
2. Ask others for perspective.
Often, we don’t realize that other people view us much differently than we view ourselves, and vice versa. It’s not about right or wrong; it’s simply understanding how perceptions differ, and the consequences those differences create.
By asking those close to us–like a significant other or close friend or workmate–about our interactions with them, we can learn from their perspective. For example, we could think about a specific time when we were in a highly emotional state. Ask the other person: Did I act out of the ordinary during that time? Could you describe how?
Then, ask them to relate experiences regarding when they were going through an emotional situation.
You can ask:
- How did I deal with you at that time?
- Would you say I was sensitive to your feelings and emotions?
Getting the answers to these questions will help us to see ourselves more like others see us–and help us to understand others better, too. You can then use that knowledge to adjust your dealings with others. (Here’s a little more on learning from others to build your own EQ.)
3. Be observant.
Armed with this newly acquired knowledge, you can now be more observant of your current emotions. Your self-reflection and what others have shared will help you to be more in tune with what you’re feeling.
If you make any new discoveries, make sure to repeat step one. You can even write down your experience; doing so will help clarify your thinking and keep you in “learning mode”.
4. Use “the pause”.
“The pause” may be as simple as taking a moment to stop and think before we act or speak. If everyone made that a practice, imagine how much shorter emails could be, how much time would be saved in meetings, and how many incendiary comments on social media would be eliminated.
But remember: The pause is easy in theory, difficult to practice.
Even if we’re generally good at managing our emotions, factors like added stress or a bad day can inhibit our ability to do so at any given time. And we’re not just talking about upsetting situations; we are often tempted to jump on opportunities that look really good at the time but that we haven’t really thought through.
When you work on pausing before speaking or acting, you create a habit of thinking first.
5. Explore the “why”.
Most of us would agree that qualities like empathy and compassion are valuable ingredients to healthy relationships. So, why do we often neglect to show those qualities when it matters most–like when we fail to show understanding to a close friend or partner when they’re going through a difficult time?
Scientists have studied what psychologist and fellow author Adam Grant calls, “the perspective gap”. In short, this term describes the fact that it’s extremely challenging to put ourselves in another person’s shoes. We often forget how specific situations feel, even if we’ve experienced very similar circumstances. (If we’ve never experienced something similar, you can imagine how that limits our perspective.)
So, how do we bridge the gap?
Demonstrating qualities such as empathy and compassion means that we try our best to see a situation through another person’s eyes. But we have to go further than drawing on our own experiences; showing true empathy means exploring the “why”:
- Why does this person feel the way (s)he does?
- What is he or she dealing with that I don’t see?
- Why do I feel differently than (s)he does?
If you can’t effectively answer those questions, consider working alongside the person for a period of time to truly understand what’s going on, as viewed from that person’s perspective. Doing so will help you see your team and family members, not as complainers, but more accurately for who they really are:
Struggling individuals that need help.
6. When criticized, don’t take offense. Instead, ask: What can I learn?
Whether a successful entrepreneur or a loyal employee, criticism is never easy to take. You’ve invested blood, sweat, and sometimes tears in your work; it can be extremely difficult when someone else comes in and tears down what you’ve built.
But the truth is, criticism is often rooted in truth–even when it’s not delivered in an ideal manner. When you receive negative feedback, there are two choices: You can put your feelings aside and try to learn from the situation, or you can get angry and let emotion get the best of you.
When we are on the receiving end of criticism, whether it’s delivered ideally or not, it’s invaluable to consider the following:
- Putting my personal feelings aside, what can I learn from this alternate perspective?
- Instead of focusing on the delivery, how can I use this feedback to help me or my team improve?
There are times when you shouldn’t listen to criticism–for example, when it’s based on falsehood or given in a way that’s meant to destroy your sense of self-worth. But in reality, that’s not usually the case.
If your goal is to truly get better, don’t let emotion close your mind to negative feedback. Instead, learn from it.
7. Practice, practice, practice.
Like any other skill or ability, practice makes…
Better. Of course, it’s impossible to have perfect control over your emotions. And learning to improve your emotional intelligence isn’t a process that happens overnight.
However, consistently practicing these steps will allow you to begin harnessing the power of emotions–and use that power to work for you, instead of against you.