How to improve your emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence and how to improve it

Improving Emotional Intelligence
Improving Emotional Intelligence — Image by Pixabay

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

Managing Emotional Intelligence ---
Heart & mind managing Emotional Intelligence — Image by Pixabay

The concept of Emotional intelligence is attributed to Professors Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer (1990). In this American Psychology article published in 2008, they wrote of EI

“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

  • relieve stress
  • communicate effectively
  • empathise with others
  • overcome challenges and
  • defuse conflict.

What Emotional Intelligence isn’t

Happiness and motivation are not Emotional Intelligence
Happiness and motivation are not Emotional Intelligence – Photo by Pexels

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

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

  1. perceive emotions in oneself and others accurately.
  2. use emotions to facilitate thinking.
  3. understand emotions, emotional language, and the signals conveyed by emotions.
  4. manage emotions so as to attain specific goals.

Key features of Emotional Intelligence:

The ability to sense others' emotions
The ability to sense others’ emotions — Image by Free Images

According to Daniel Goleman, an American psychologist who helped to popularize EI, there are five key elements to it:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.”
  5. 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:

Feeling jealous on the tennis court – image from Pixabay
  • 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

Nurse team leader with high EI
Nurse team leader with high EI – image from Pixabay

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

Managing emotions - active listening and making others feel heard
Managing emotions – active listening and making others feel heard

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

Practicing Emotional Intelligence can help retrain your brain
Practicing Emotional Intelligence can help retrain your brain

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Practice staying calm by learning some breathing techniques or other strategies that you’ll be able to use quickly and easily during stressful situations.
  7. 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.

Last thoughts

Emotional Intelligence can be learned — Image from Unsplash

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

Image from Clipart

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?


Mum to two amazing sons. Following recovery from a lengthy psychotic episode, depression, anxiety and anorexia, I decided to train as a Mental Health Nurse and worked successfully in various settings before becoming a Ward Manager. I am a Mental Health First Aid Instructor and a Mental Health Awareness Trainer, Mental Health First Aid Youth and Mental Health Armed Forces Instructor. Just started my mental health from the other side blog.

24 thoughts on “How to improve your emotional intelligence”

  1. Wow, a lot of great content there! Yeah, I took an online test once that was really involved. It had all these photographs of people in situations and asked questions like, “What is the person on the right feeling?” The results told me I have very, very poor EI. Like, it’s abysmal. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I have no clue how accurately (apparently not accurately at all!) I perceive other people’s issues/emotions. Whereas empaths pick up on others’ emotions, as a paranoiac, I pick up on other people’s energy, which could best be described as “essence of them”. I.e., it’s more permanent than a passing emotion. So I think I’m skilled at feeling who people are, but as far as feeling their emotions, I draw blanks all the time. Fortunately, I think I’ve gotten good at communication and trying to get the person to explain to me what they’re experiencing.

    1. From what I’ve read Meg, you appear to have strong EI; you do empathise and you’re obviously very self-aware 🙂 However, I get that the paranoia can impact on both your own emotions and your ability to ‘detect’ them in others.

      I think it’s always good to clarify with people like paraphrasing and saying “what I’m hearing is…………….”

      All too often, some are quick to jump to the wrong conclusion, rather than confirming the accuracy of their understanding 🙁 I don’t believe you’re in this category my lovely : ) ❤️

  2. Emotional intelligence is so important! Thanks for the tips on how to develop it. Would you say that being able to accurately identify the source of emotions is more self-awareness or self-regulation? Too often I’ve gotten worked up and only later realized that the true root of my emotions was not the excuse my mind cooked up but something deeper. That seems like an issue of awareness, but it also can lead to taking things out on someone who played no role in the build-up of emotion, so I could see it as regulation.

    1. Thoughtful and insightful question my lovely. And yes, it’s about both self-awareness and self-regulation. I understand how hard self-regulation is when ‘you’re in a moment’, and that’s sometimes where the work is needed. Take a really deep breath, follow by a few smaller ones before you speak. It gives your pulse/heartrate a chance to return nearer to normal (self-regulation). After which you’ll be able to respond more appropriately.

      Your self-awareness obviously told you how something deeper was bothering you, and perhaps that’s what you could have spoken about rather than the ‘cooked up excuse’. And yes, the build-up of emotion was self-regulation (as above).

      You’re doing well here Ceridwen, at least you’re thinking about it all and I think you just need a few tweaks and there — from then on, it’s practice and breathing for self-regulation 🙂

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Verified by MonsterInsights