Emotional intelligence and how to improve it
In How to talk to angry people, we looked at how to knock the wind out of an angry person’s sails and how to diffuse angry situations. While the techniques discussed were emotional intelligence (EI)-based, the post didn’t explain what EI is and isn’t, or how to improve your emotional intelligence. So today, this post will do just that.
We’ll explore what it is and isn’t, together with its key features, and the management of EI at work and elsewhere. We’ll also discover whether it’s beneficial and if so, how to improve your emotional intelligence.
What emotional intelligence is
“Emotional Intelligence includes the ability to engage in sophisticated information processing about one’s own and others’ emotions and the ability to use this information as a guide to thinking and behavior. That is, individuals high in emotional intelligence pay attention to, use, understand, and manage emotions, and these skills serve adaptive functions that potentially beneﬁt themselves and others”.John D Mayer, Peter Salovey, & David R Caruso
So EI is being able to understand, use, and manage your own emotions in positive ways to
What Emotional Intelligence isn’t
It’s not friendliness or pleasantness, calmness, optimism or happiness, and it’s not motivation. John D Mayer says that “while these qualities are important, they have little to do with intelligence, little to do with emotions, and nearly nothing to do with actual emotional intelligence.” He continues “It’s especially unfortunate that even some trained psychologists have confused emotional intelligence with such personal qualities.”
That’s not to say you can’t be super pleasant or friendly, ecstatically happy and optimistic, calm or motivated. Of course, these are all great attributes and will work fantastically alongside EI. But let’s not confuse the two.
Why it’s important to improve your emotional intelligence
Strong EI helps us to build stronger relationships, succeed at university or work, and achieve our career and personal goals. It can also help us to connect with our feelings, turn goals into action, and make informed decisions about what matters most to us. EI is having the ability to
- perceive emotions in oneself and others accurately.
- use emotions to facilitate thinking.
- understand emotions, emotional language, and the signals conveyed by emotions.
- manage emotions so as to attain specific goals.
Key features of Emotional Intelligence:
- Self-awareness — the ability to recognise and understand personal moods, emotions and drives and the effect of them on both self and others. Imagine being angry with hubby but you hide it from the kids because you don’t want to upset them.
- Self-regulation — being able to manage your thoughts and actions. Managing our thoughts isn’t always easy as we often have Negative Automatic thoughts (NATs), which can be difficult to control. Self-regulations means having the ability to control impulsive feelings and behaviors, and adapt to changing circumstances. And while some of us can control our actions, others might smash a plate or slap someone in the face.
- Internal motivation — the force that leads you to achieve a goal because of personal satisfaction or desire. Examples might be running a marathon or starting your own business.
- Empathy — the ability to sense other people’s emotions, along with the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling. Remember that old saying “Before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes.”
- Social skills — are the skills we use everyday to interact and communicate with others. They include verbal and non-verbal communication, such as speech, facial expression, gesture, and body language. Some people appear to ooze these skills, charming and engaging everyone they come across. Others might be less skilled, they feel shy, get tongue-tied or stand out as a wallflower at parties.
Emotionally intelligent people are able to:
- identify what they’re feeling i.e. anger, fear, jealousy, rejected
- know how to interpret their own and others’ emotions, despite some of their differences like age, office hierarchy or social standing
- recognize how their emotions can affect others, such as the hope and optimism contagion we often see in leaders at work
- regulate their own emotions so that they ‘don’t blow a gasket’ when that same disruptive colleague disagrees with yet another perfectly viable suggestion
- manage other people’s emotions so that the above colleague might feel less argumentative or disagreeable. They understand that, when happy and relaxed, someone will be more likely to agree to taking on a task than when angry or stressed.
Put more simply: EI is the ability to make emotions work for us, instead of against us.
Emotional Intelligence in the workplace
People with high EI appear more able to deal with colleagues or customers’ complaints, or to mediate conflict between others. They often also excel at making strong and positive personal connections with seniors, colleagues and customers.
Staff teams with high EI are far better at working together. They use appropriate and effective communication skills, tend to trust each other, and value input from others. They’re able to understand and empathise with the feelings of others, and generally respond positively to their suggestions.
The best team leaders understand people; they know how they work, and how to influence them. They know how to inspire them, and lead them in the right direction. Effective leaders tend to have a solid understanding of how their own emotions and actions affect the people around them.
The better the leader relates to and works with colleagues, the more success they’ll garner. EI is an essential people skill and, to succeed in a competitive workplace, developing it is vital.
Not many of us like change, but EI gives us the tools we need to deal with any changes that might come our way. At work, I’ve seen people face change with crossed arms, rolling eyes and negative attitudes. But I’ve also seen staff with EI responding in much more positive ways, and inspiring other team members to feel the same way.
Using EI in other situations
Most of us know someone who’s a really good listener. Whatever the situation we’re in, they always seem to know just how we feel, know what to say and how to say it so we don’t feel upset or offended.
They’re always considerate and compassionate, and able to instil positivity and hope in others. Even if we can’t come up with an immediate solution to our problem, we’re often feeling less distressed and more optimistic.
Even changes at home, with our families and children can be managed with EI, by using empathy and acknowledging any fears, ensuring everyone feels listened to and heard.
Whether it’s with an angry partner or a moody teenager, we’ll no doubt have to face difficult conversations in our personal lives. These tough talks will no doubt stir up all sorts of emotions, but having the right skills will ensure you’re able to handle them effectively. You’ll be able to emotionally connect with the other person before finding an effective solution.
How to develop and improve your Emotional Intelligence
While some people naturally have high EI, it’s still a skill that can be practiced and developed. Practicing EI behaviors can help your brain adapt to making these behaviors become automatic, and replace less helpful behaviors. So practice:
- Honing effective listening skills. People with EI listen to understand before responding, rather than just waiting for their turn to speak. This allows them to respond appropriately and shows their respect for the person speaking who, in turn, feels listened to and heard.
- Practice using effective communication skills and assertive communication, and learn how to say ‘NO’, and mean it. Ask someone close, or a mentor maybe, how you come across during conversations, particularly in times of stress and conflict.
- Try to remain open to feedback from others. You don’t have to agree with or believe them but just listen, take a breath and become aware of the emotions this evokes. Think about how you might have responded had you’d done so impulsively.
- Practice maintaining self-motivation and a positive attitude, as they’re contagious. Remember, self-motivation in the emotionally intelligent person promotes motivation and positivity in others. They’re motivated to set and attain their goals, and are resilient in the face of the challenges in reaching them. Try to be aware of the self-motivation, or lack of, in others and observe their moods. Use your self-motivation and positive attitude accordingly to affect an appropriate shift in the negativity of said others.
- Seek ways to become more self-aware. Be aware of your own many and various emotions, and how they affect people around you. See if you can determine the emotions of someone close, asking them if you’ve got it right. Watch other people when they’re communicating, paying attention to their body language, any facial clues or gestures and see how this affect you or others.
- Practice staying calm by learning some breathing techniques or other strategies that you’ll be able to use quickly and easily during stressful situations.
- Become more aware of the people around you, at work or in social situations. Observe how they behave and relate to others, and if you like what you see, ‘steal’ it, and practice it.
The above are only some of the skills mastered by high emotionally intelligent people, but they’re enough to start with. However, I can’t repeat enough how practice is vital — you wouldn’t drive down the motorway after just one driving lesson, would you? Nor would you beat a Grandmaster at chess, having just played the game once or twice.
Remember that building and maintaining effective relationships is key to engaging effectively with others. Someone with high EI doesn’t take the negative emotional reactions or responses of others personally. Rather, they’ll try to understand the source of those emotions and the values that are meaningful to others. This allows them to engage appropriately rather than avoiding the person who often ‘blows a gasket’ either at home, socially or at work.
Improving EI can help us feel more confident in our dealings with others, particularly during times of stress or conflict. EI is beneficial and if mastered, it enables us to maintain strong relationships and attain a happier and more fulfilled life.
Over to you
Do you recognise the emotions you feel and are you able to manage them without allowing them to overwhelm you? Can you motivate yourself to do things, like exercise or relaxation, and in turn motivate others, perhaps to join you? Are you able to sense the emotions of others and respond effectively?