6 Steps to Improve Your Emotional Intelligence

Avatar by Chelsea Olson Published Feb 26, 2019 Last updated Apr 23, 2019

Everybody’s talking about emotional intelligence. Traditionally, emotion and intelligence were seen as being in opposition to one another. How could you make intelligent decisions about emotional matters when emotions tend to de-rail us? Today, emotional intelligence is considered a nonverbal process that influences your thinking and also how you connect with others. It is a skill that we use daily in both our personal and professional lives.

What is emotional intelligence?

The concept of emotional intelligence became well-known with the publication of Daniel Goleman’s 1995 book Emotional Intelligence: Why it can Matter More Than IQ. Goldman argued for a broader view of human intelligence, maintaining that emotional intelligence played a critical role in predicting success in life.

Psychologists Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer, define emotional intelligence as the ability to recognize and understand our own emotions, as well as the emotions of others. This ability helps us communicate, solve problems and make decisions.

Why is emotional intelligence important?

We all have emotions, and our emotions affect every aspect of our lives. Emotional intelligence means that we are aware of our emotions and able to manage them. You may think that this is only important for those who frequently communicate with other people. In fact, emotional intelligence is key to a healthy, balanced life. It affects how well we manage stress, our mental health, our relationships with others and helps us resolve conflicts.

How can you improve your emotional intelligence?

Here are six steps to help you improve your emotional intelligence.

1.  Manage and reduce your negative emotions

Negative emotions often overwhelm us and affect our judgment. If someone or something upsets you, rather than jump to conclusions, try to change the way you think about the situation. You can do this by managing your fear of rejection. Try to have multiple options available, so that if one plan does not work out, you have other viable plans waiting. You can also avoid negative personalization by considering multiple ways of viewing a situation before reacting. If your project team rejects your proposed plan of action, don’t just assume it is because of you. Widen your perspective and consider other possible reasons for the action.

When talking or thinking about a difficult situation, it also helps to be aware of your vocabulary. Use specific words to describe a problem. Then you will be better able to pinpoint what caused the problem and how you can address it next time.

 2.  Express your difficult emotions

Despite your best efforts, difficult emotions will arise. When it comes to important emotional issues, you must be able to talk openly about the issues. Where do you stand on the issue? What are your reasonable and acceptable boundaries? If you are treading on difficult ground, avoid sentences beginning with the word “you,” especially statements that accuse or judge someone. Telling someone what they “should” do or say will put the listener on the defensive. Instead, if you are expressing difficult emotions, try forming your statements using the XYZ technique. It goes like this: I feel X when you do Y in situation Z.

3.  Stay calm and manage your stress level

Seventy-five percent to ninety percent of doctor’s office visits are caused by stress-related ailments and complaints. Unfortunately, stress is just part of life. It is important to understand how you handle stressful situations. If you know what causes stress in your life, you can do your best to reduce or eliminate it. If checking your email at bedtime leads to anxiety or insomnia, learn to wait until working hours when you can respond to the issue. When faced with a difficult situation, remind yourself to stay calm. There are many ways you can manage your stress level, from meditation, deep breathing, and exercise, to avoiding caffeinated beverages or other stress triggers.  

4.  React to a negative person in a positive way

We all encounter unreasonable people in the course of daily life. It may be someone we live with, a co-worker, or a friend. Even people who are usually reasonable have contrary or irrational moments. Before you react negatively, try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Pay close attention to both verbal and non-verbal cues to determine why the person feels that way. You may wish to try making an empathetic statement such as “It must not be easy…” Seeing the problem from the other person’s point of view may not excuse his or her negative behavior, but it may help you remember that everyone has problems.

5.  Emotional intelligence in close, personal relationships

Our close personal relationships are vital to our health and well-being. Understanding and responding to the emotions of those closest to us is an essential part of sustaining ongoing relationships with family, friends, and partners. In many cases, a successful intrapersonal relationship is based upon the compatibility of the levels of emotional intelligence of those in the relationship. We express our loving, caring emotions in many ways. These include effective, positive, verbal sharing; body language such as touch or maintaining eye contact; or behaviors, such as providing food, empathetic listening or other emotional support.

6.  Bouncing back from adversity

We all confront adversity from time to time. It is impossible to avoid all challenging situations. However, we can manage the way we respond. Rather than avoiding adversity, try asking yourself constructive questions. These may include, “how can I learn from this experience?” “What is the best way to move forward?”  These questions will help you gain perspective and move from pessimism to optimism. No matter what the situation, positive thinking will help you move forward.

Improving your level of emotional intelligence will benefit you in all areas of your life. It is possible to increase your emotional intelligence. Each new challenge is a learning opportunity. Each situation offers a chance for growth and change. Improving your emotional intelligence starts with you. It may take time and patience but learning to better manage your own emotions can change your life.