How to Improve Your Emotional Intelligence

Since it was coined in 1990 by psychology professors John. D. Mayer and Peter Salovey, the concept of emotional intelligence (EI) has been lauded as a key facet of successful leaders and a critical workplace component. Projected to be a top 10 job skill by 2020 in the World Economic Forum’s The Future of Jobs report, EI is defined as the ability to understand and manage your own and others’ emotions.

Emotional intelligence is an in-demand workplace competency, related to factors including teamwork, interpersonal skills, promotion potential, job performance and entrepreneurship.
For those who may not be naturally inclined to emotional intelligence, there’s promising news: A 2012 study in the Journal of Learning and Individual Differences found that “some aspects of emotional intelligence ability” could be increased in college students through a teaching intervention.

By targeting each component of EI, along with related factors, emotional intelligence can be improved overall.

Increase Awareness through Feedback

Self-awareness – the ability to recognize your emotions and behaviors – is a critical piece of emotional intelligence, so feedback on how you behave, especially at work, can help. As noted in a Harvard Business Review article, quantitative tools such as personality tests and 360-degree reviews can reveal blind spots and highlight the gap between your reputation and identity.

Increase Self-Reflection through Mindfulness

By examining how your emotions affect your communication, productivity and behavior, you can become more mindful and start exerting greater self-control. Self-reflective activities such as mindful breathing, meditation and journaling can help you tune into your emotions and manage them more effectively.

Increase Empathy by Considering Other Viewpoints

Monitor the emotions of those around you and consider their individual beliefs, weaknesses and strengths. Engaging in frequent discussions can foster understanding and collaboration. Explore why someone feels a certain way and how they are dealing with issues you may not see. A 2014 article in Psychology Today suggested using the XYZ technique, a fill-in-the-blank method of delivering challenging messages. Follow this outline: “I feel X when you do Y in situation Z.”

Manage Your Negative Emotions

Preventing negativity from affecting your judgment is a key part of emotional intelligence. Avoid jumping to conclusions about someone’s behavior; by not taking it personally, you can perceive situations more objectively.

Try splashing cold water on your face, getting fresh air or exercising to reduce anxiety levels in the moment.

Make Criticism a Learning Opportunity

Capitalize on criticism by reframing it. In an article on, Justin Bariso, founder of the emotional intelligence web guide EQ Applied, offered two alternatives to taking offense: What can I learn? How can I use this to improve?

Engage with what otherwise could have been a negative experience and generate personal and team momentum instead.

Make Interactions Rewarding for Others

The Harvard Business Review notes successful people are often seen as “rewarding to interact with.” Establish that reputation by actively listening, being generous with recognition and thriving under pressure.

This may mean curbing an aggressive or emotional response to pressure with a controlled, calm reaction. It may also include being less guarded, critical, argumentative, pessimistic and confrontational. Instead, share knowledge with others and support their ideas.

You Can Do It

Disciplining your behavior to bolster emotional intelligence requires persistence, but, with time, it can increase your awareness and expand your engagement to drive performance and build relationships.

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