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How to improve emotional intelligence and your life

November 22, 2023 - 18 min read
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    Imagine you're disagreeing with a coworker. 

    You feel confident about your department’s quarterly report, but this person doesn’t. They want to make some changes to its structure and content, even though you know this is the most effective way to present the information. And you both firmly believe in your perspectives. 

    What you might not know is how their emotional state affects their opinion. This coworker could be going through a big change at home or worried about their job security, making them anxious about mistakes. To see the whole picture, you have to mediate the conversation and ask good questions to discover what their true intentions are and how to find common ground. And with more understanding of where they’re coming from, you can come to an agreement.

    That's the power of emotional intelligence. While a high IQ might help you make quick decisions and solve problems effectively, a high emotional quotient (EQ) makes you adept at navigating the nuances of human interaction. And sometimes, that’s even more valuable.

    Navigating the world is about more than book smarts and hard skills. It's about fostering connections, understanding the full spectrum of emotions, and acknowledging how feelings drive human behavior.

    What is emotional intelligence?

    Your EI, also called your emotional quotient (EQ), refers to your ability to recognize, understand, and regulate emotions. Some people think it is just about your own emotions. But EI also refers to your ability to perceive and work with the emotions of others. 

    Our EI directly relates to our mental wellness since it impacts our mindset and dictates how we cope. It’s easy to overlook our emotional health, but it’s a facet of our well-being that’s just as important as our physical, social, and spiritual health. 

    The aspect of emotional intelligence that is about others affects the quality of our relationships. It also affects success at work, particularly as a manager or leader, because understanding others is key for motivating, guiding, and inspiring them.

    Some experts argue that EI is more significant than one's regular intelligence quotient (IQ) since emotions are universal across cultures and transcend language.

    EI is considered a soft skill, which can help you succeed across many environments. As a skill, EI helps you accept criticism and move on after a mistake. In addition, it can help you say no, share your feelings, and interpret the feelings of others. 

    Becoming more attuned to your own emotional landscape and learning to be less reactive is step one of making the types of behavior changes that will help you thrive, personally and professionally. With the right support, you can get the perspective and accountability you need to keep going. 


    What are the 5 characteristics of emotional intelligence?

    American psychologist Daniel Goleman wrote a book in 1995 called Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ where he discussed the five primary aspects of EI.

    1. Self-awareness

    Being self-aware means you can make sense of your own emotions. People with high emotional or social awareness don’t allow their feelings to get the best of them and trust their intuition.

    2. Self-regulation

    Self-regulation refers to your management of your emotions, especially your impulses. It means you think before acting and don’t get overwhelmed easily in stressful situations. 

    3. Motivation

    Motivation jumpstarts your productivity and efficacy. When you have a higher EI, you will feel more empathetic towards others. You can then prioritize helping others over your own immediate success. Altruism is a powerful motivator.

    4. Empathy

    Empathy is a form of emotional awareness that enables you to relate to others’ feelings and viewpoints genuinely. Empathy, in particular, helps you avoid making snap judgments or giving in to stereotypes. You can put yourself in another person’s shoes.

    Sympathy, on the other hand, is when you care or feel sorry for someone else’s trouble or misfortune from your own perspective. With a higher EI, you can anticipate others’ emotional needs and reactions in difficult situations. Empathy is a highly valuable skill, and developing your EI can help you grow. 

    5. Social skills

    Everyone wants someone with good social intelligence on their team, whether they’re the smartest or not. Why? Because emotionally intelligent people consider everyone’s strengths and weaknesses. They’re great at working through conflicts and truly enrich a team. Here are two examples of social skills associated with high emotional intelligence.

    • Active listening: Someone with high emotional intelligence listens attentively and empathetically to others, making them feel heard and understood.
    • Conflict resolution: They are skilled at resolving conflicts by addressing underlying emotions and finding mutually beneficial solutions.


    3 examples of high emotional intelligence

    High emotional intelligence can manifest in real-world situations, and individuals with strong emotional intelligence tend to excel in these areas. Here are three examples of high emotional intelligence skills in action:

    Example 1: conflict management

    In a team meeting, two co-workers disagree about a project. A team leader with high emotional intelligence steps in to facilitate the discussion. They actively listen to both sides, validate their emotions, and help the individuals identify common goals. By acknowledging the emotional aspects of the conflict and guiding the conversation toward a solution, the team leader helps resolve the issue amicably and maintains a positive working environment.

    Example 2: customer service

    A customer contacts a customer service representative with a complaint. The representative with high emotional intelligence actively listens to the customer's concerns, acknowledges their frustration, and empathizes with their situation. They remain calm and composed, even in a challenging interaction. By demonstrating empathy and a willingness to address the issue, the representative resolves the problem and leaves the customer feeling valued and satisfied.

    Example 3: leadership and team building

    A manager with high emotional intelligence leads a diverse team of employees. They understand the individual strengths and weaknesses of team members and know how to motivate and support each person effectively. By recognizing and appreciating their team's emotions and needs, the manager fosters a collaborative and harmonious work environment, which leads to increased productivity and job satisfaction among team members.

    What does a lack of emotional intelligence look like?

    1 Difficulty recognizing and expressing emotions

    People with low emotional intelligence may struggle to identify and articulate their own emotions. They might not be able to describe how they feel or why they feel a certain way.

    2. Poor impulse control

    Individuals with low emotional intelligence may have difficulty managing their impulses and may react impulsively in emotional situations. This can lead to outbursts, overreacting, or making hasty decisions without considering the consequences.

    3. Insensitivity to others

    People with low EQ may be less attuned to the feelings and needs of others. They may inadvertently disregard or dismiss the emotions of those around them, leading to strained relationships.

    4. Difficulty with empathy

    Lack of empathy means they struggle to understand and connect with others emotionally. They may not be able to put themselves in someone else's shoes or appreciate the perspectives and feelings of others.

    5. Ineffective communication

    Poor emotional intelligence can result in difficulties in conveying thoughts and emotions effectively. This may lead to misunderstandings, conflicts, and breakdowns in communication.

    6. Difficulty with conflict resolution

    Those with low emotional intelligence may struggle to resolve conflicts constructively. They may escalate disagreements, avoid addressing issues, or refuse to acknowledge their own role in conflicts.

    7. Limited social skills

    Low EQ can hinder the development of social skills necessary for building and maintaining healthy relationships. This may include difficulty in establishing rapport, cooperating, and collaborating with others.

    8. Difficulty adapting to change

    People with low emotional intelligence may have a hard time coping with change and may resist it, which can impede personal and professional growth.

    9. Stress and burnout

    A lack of emotional intelligence can make individuals more susceptible to stress, as they may have difficulty managing their own emotions and the demands of challenging situations.

    10. Poor leadership and teamwork

    In leadership roles or team settings, individuals with low emotional intelligence may struggle to inspire and motivate others, resulting in ineffective leadership and decreased team cohesion.


    How to develop emotional intelligence

    Developing your EI can help you have better job satisfaction and career clarity. When you’re in tune with your emotions, you can be more in tune with your needs. Plus, EI can make you more productive at work. To gain these benefits and more, here are some tips to can help you improve your EI skills: 

    1. Pay attention to nonverbal cues

    Body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions play a significant role in communication. These cues often convey how we’re truly feeling. Practice “reading the room” and interpreting others’ emotions whenever you can. For example, you can try it when watching a TV show on silent or observing shoppers at the mall.

    2. Reflect

    Think back to when you felt angry, happy, frustrated, or surprised. How did you react? What did your body do? Did you tense up? Clench your jaw? Knowing how your body and mind respond to emotion will improve how you react. 

    Take time to reflect on how your words and actions impact those around you, too. We grow more when we are open to different opinions. Try listening a little more than you talk.  

    3. Take responsibility for your actions

    Don’t avoid confronting your problems and always apologize if you hurt someone’s feelings. Be honest and willing to work through things. It shows maturity, and people will forgive and forget much quicker. And if you’re a leader, taking responsibility for your actions is especially important. 

    4. Self-evaluate

    Do you blame others for your mistakes? Can you stay calm under pressure or are you easily overwhelmed? Can you give and receive critical feedback? If you don’t know your weaknesses, you can’t fix them.

    You may want to consider taking an EI test. Multiple online platforms offer this for free, and it'll provide you with a good understanding of how to start improving your EI.

    5. Ask for feedback

    Introspection is great, but we can’t see ourselves objectively. This is where feedback from others is an asset. They pick up on things about us we can't see, whether they’re positive or negative. We can learn from both.

    6. Read

    Reading can calm you down, and studies have shown that it enhances our empathy. Diving into the characters’ minds allows us to comprehend their decision-making and motivations. Plus, it might inform how we approach conflict in our own lives.

    7. Cultivate patience

    Practice patience in challenging situations. Taking a moment before responding allows you to choose a more thoughtful and considerate reaction.

    8. Adapt to change

    Embrace change with a positive attitude. Individuals with high emotional intelligence can adapt to new circumstances, navigate uncertainty, and help others transition smoothly.

    9. Express gratitude

    Regularly acknowledge and express gratitude for the positive aspects of your life. This fosters a positive emotional state and strengthens your connections with others.

    10. Set boundaries

    Establishing healthy boundaries is crucial for emotional well-being. Know when to say no and prioritize self-care to prevent burnout and maintain balance.

    11. Practice mindfulness

    Incorporate mindfulness techniques into your daily routine. This can include meditation, deep breathing exercises, or simply taking a moment to focus on the present. Mindfulness enhances self-awareness and emotional regulation.

    12. Practice active listening

    Active listening involves fully focusing, understanding, responding and then remembering what is being said. Being a good listener is crucial for effective communication. You can practice this by trying to paraphrase what others have said to ensure you've understood correctly.

    13. Develop empathy

    Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others, which is an important part of emotional intelligence. Try to put yourself in other people's shoes and see things from their perspective.

    14. Cultivate a positive attitude

    Maintaining a positive attitude, even in difficult situations, can help you manage your emotions more effectively. This doesn't mean ignoring negative emotions, but rather acknowledging them and not letting them control your actions.

    15. Enhance your social skills

    Improving your social skills can help you interact more effectively with others. This includes skills like conflict resolution, teamwork, and cooperation. You can practice this in various social settings, from family gatherings to professional meetings.


    How can emotional intelligence improve your life?

    No one is perfect at reading behaviors. Although it’s challenging, EI is a huge asset in your personal and professional life. 

    Having a high EQ creates a domino effect. You’ll have more self-confidence and be more vulnerable with others. In turn, they’ll feel respected and willing to share their ideas. A warm and safe environment for vulnerability will then form. Positive emotions are contagious. 

    When you can read people well, you know if you’re pushing them too far or not enough. Analyzing a particular situation and nurturing individuals however best suits them leads to trust, an essential component of any lasting bond. 

    Why is emotional intelligence so important?

    Humans are emotional creatures. We make many decisions based on our emotions, which are key components in establishing and maintaining stronger relationships. 

    Increasing your interpersonal skills by learning to control your negative emotions will help your mental health. This will also likely set you up for professional success. According to an article by the Harvard Business Review, 90% of people receive promotions and improve their skills due to EI. 

    Knowing how to navigate social settings will help you identify problems, develop solutions, and enhance your problem-solving and communication skills.

    Harness the power of your emotions

    While academic prowess and technical skills are valuable, developing emotional intelligence helps you approach situations holistically. Whether you’re navigating interpersonal conflict, reflecting on past actions, or engaging in projects at work, remember that your ability to understand yourself and others can greatly impact outcomes.

    Taking steps to learn how to improve your emotional intelligence can lead to a richer personal and professional life. It’s worth it to gain a broader understanding of the diverse emotional landscapes everyone navigates daily. 

    Transform your life

    Make meaningful changes and become the best version of yourself. BetterUp's professional Coaches are here to support your personal growth journey.

    Transform your life

    Make meaningful changes and become the best version of yourself. BetterUp's professional Coaches are here to support your personal growth journey.

    Published November 22, 2023

    Elizabeth Perry, ACC

    Elizabeth Perry is a Coach Community Manager at BetterUp. She uses strategic engagement strategies to cultivate a learning community across a global network of Coaches through in-person and virtual experiences, technology-enabled platforms, and strategic coaching industry partnerships.

    With over 3 years of coaching experience and a certification in transformative leadership and life coaching from Sofia University, Elizabeth leverages transpersonal psychology expertise to help coaches and clients gain awareness of their behavioral and thought patterns, discover their purpose and passions, and elevate their potential. She is a lifelong student of psychology, personal growth, and human potential as well as an ICF-certified ACC transpersonal life and leadership Coach.

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