For decades many people were fixated by intelligence which was generally measured by IQ tests. Another aspect that was valued was technical proficiency. While these concepts are important indicators they do not paint the full picture.
It is only in recent years that the concept of emotional intelligence has been realized and the value and importance appreciated.
Before we look at how to improve your emotional intelligence, let's be clear about what it is and why it is important.
What is emotional intelligence?
The concept of emotional intelligence or EI refers to a person’s ability to understand and appreciate their emotions and feelings as well as those of others. This concept might sound simple but it is a bit more involved than most people realize.
The idea of EI is not entirely new and was first publicized in 1964. Since then it has taken some time to come into importance in mainstream thinking but is now often considered to be more important than IQ and other measurements. The idea of EI has been studied and analyzed in depth.
It encompasses a number of important factors. The leading concepts are:
- Identifying, interoperating and understanding your own feelings and emotions
- Being aware of the effect of your emotions on others
- Controlling your emotions
- Managing the emotions of other people
It is perfectly possible that people with a high IQ have a low EI.
Why emotional intelligence is important
There are numerous reasons a strong emotional intelligence is important:
- Being self-aware helps us understand other people and appreciate the impact we have on them this will improve communication and relationships.
- Self-regulation gives you the power to control and manage your emotions and reactions in a range of circumstances and environments. You will be able to respond with greater rationality which will make you more effective.
- Understanding and relating to other people will give you empathy. This will show others that you care and will improve relationships.
- We are all social creatures by nature and EI will give you better social skills. This is important in most aspects of life.
- Good EI will result in better motivation. Life can be challenging but this quality will help to drive you towards success and happiness.
These attributes will improve relationships at home as well as at work. They will improve your mental as well as physical health and reduce conflict in your life. They will also give your greater leadership skills and ultimately result in more success.
The bottom line is that emotional intelligence helps you relate to others and makes you a better person. We do not live in isolation and relationships and interactions are a necessary and important aspect of life. The better you are able to deal with these the better your life will be.
How do you improve your emotional intelligence?
EI is not something we are born with. Sure, our upbringing and life experiences help to develop it but one can take proactive steps to grow and improve emotional intelligence. Developing and improving your emotional intelligence will not happen overnight. It is a process but it is something that anyone can achieve with a bit of effort.
Here are 13 tips to become more emotionally intelligent:
Read and understand your own emotional state
Before you can hope to improve your EI it is important to be aware of your own emotional behavior. You cannot begin to understand and empathize with others before you understand yourself. That is not to say this is easy and you might not get it right at first but self-awareness is essential.
Before you try to manage your own emotions you need to recognize and understand them. This comes naturally to some people but others will have to work at it. Make a conscious effort to take note of your feelings. Be aware of when they change and try to determine the reasons for this. Note when they are dramatically different from normal.
Try to see the link between your feelings and your behavior or actions. How do your emotions affect your behavior? Don’t necessarily change anything initially. Just pay attention to it. It might help to keep a journal and make notes throughout the day.
Give yourself a break
Becoming more aware of your feelings and emotions may cause you to judge yourself harshly. Try to avoid this as it will be counterproductive. The first important step is to be self-aware and to seek to understand your feelings and the impact they have on your behavior. Change will develop over time but don’t beat yourself up over negative or unpleasant feelings.
Judging too harshly might cause you to mask your feelings or deny the reality. To start with, simply be aware of them and notice how they affect you.
Try to manage your emotions
Now that you are aware of your feelings you can start to manage them. Managing your own emotions is an important part of emotional intelligence and will help you in many aspects of your life and relationships with others.
Obviously, some emotions are more important to manage than others. Negative emotions are generally harmful and need to be addressed as they arise. They will have a negative impact on others and will impact your behavior in an undesirable way. They will influence your decision making and make problems appear more challenging than they are. They also make communication more difficult.
Adapt your behavior
Once you are able to recognize your emotions and understand them to some extent it is important to start changing the way you respond to them. You do not want to be a person that is governed by their emotions. That is low EI behavior.
You will still experience similar emotions but the key is to respond in a more positive way. Our behavior is a choice and you want to strive to make the right choices. Take responsibility for your actions and behavior and strive to respond in a way that improves the situation not worsens it.
Don’t stress if you don’t get it right every time
As we said, improving your EI is a process. You might still overreact or take less than perfect actions. This is the result of years of habit. If this happens, take note of it and try to understand why you responded the way you did. Strive to improve next time you are in a similar situation.
Stop and think before responding
An old trick that actually works is to stop and take a few breaths before responding to a negative situation. This will give you time to digest it and think, allowing you to respond with less emotion. You can even try mentally counting for a few seconds. It might feel a bit foolish at first but it is better than a negative knee-jerk reaction that could have unpleasant repercussions
Learn to show emotion where appropriate
The idea of EI intelligence is not to become a robot and express no emotion. This too will be counterproductive. Emotion is a critical element of our own happiness as well as good relationships with others. The trick is to show the right emotions at the right times.
Some emotions are easier to express. The key is to express even difficult emotions in an appropriate way. You need to understand what to share, how to share and when to share it. This might not come easy and will require thought and patience.
You will need to be honest with yourself before you can do this successfully. This will lead to better honesty with others and help you to forge better interactions and relationships. Timing is a key part of this process. This is an important skill to learn and will boost your emotional intelligence. You want to be able to communicate and interact with others without hurting or offending them.
You cannot be all things to all people. If your aim is always to please you will never be true to yourself or others. This will impede your ability to form moments and relationships with others. As much of a noble goal as it might appear, it simply does not work.
It is important to set boundaries and stick to them as much as possible. This will help others to know where they stand with you and lead to less self-regret. Setting boundaries means that you do not have to agree with everything or try to make all parties happy. Pleasing people will only lead to regret and negative outcomes.
You have to be clear on your principles and standards and make a commitment and stick to it. Consistency is an important emotional intelligence skill. People do not expect you to change from day to day and it is not good for your own feelings and emotions.
Listen and engage with others
It is important to genuinely listen to what others have to say. You might not always agree or even be interested but take the effort to consciously engage with others and hear what they say. Try to practice empathy by putting yourselves in their shoes. What is insignificant to you might be life-changing for them.
This skill will allow you to relate to others better. They will trust you more and share more. This will lead to improved communication and better relationships.
Listening is a skill that needs to be practiced and developed. Many of us are not good at this initially but it can be learned with effort. Active listening should lead to empathy which is the precise skill needed to form meaningful moments and interactions with others.
Ask and listen
The easiest way to establish a quality conversation or relationship with others is to ask them questions. By nature, people like to talk about themselves. It shows that you are taking an interest and care about them as a person.
Some people will resist talking about personal details, especially early in the relationship, Good EI will help you read the signs and understand when to back down or to push further. Try to ask open-ended questions that are not too personal in order to establish trust and confidence. From there, if appropriate, you can dig a bit more. Be sincere and never try to dig too deep and make the person uncomfortable.
Seek to interoperate and appreciate what others are saying
Communication is at the core of emotional intelligence and reading and understanding others is critical. Not all clues are verbal and words will only give part of the story. Listen to inflections and pauses as well as other audible clues.
Observe and read body language
A large part of these clues are conveyed through body language and it is important to be able to read them. This will give you a greater understanding of their feelings and allow you to relate and empathize better. Again, this is an important element of EI.
The same concept applies to your own body language. While you try to mask or control your emotions your body language might betray you. Learning to control your body language is a necessary part of good EI.
You cannot achieve emotional intelligence with a narrow view. Forget all of your preconceived ideas and misconceptions. Open your mind up to the potential good in people as well as yourself. This will help you achieve better EI.
This list is by no means exhaustive. There are many more skills and practices necessary to master emotional intelligence. One can never truly achieve complete EI but striving towards it is a goal that will improve your life as well as your relationships.
As you improve your emotional intelligence you will realize and appreciate the many benefits it offers. It is a worthy pursuit that will change your life for the better. Become aware of your own feelings and actions. Take note of how they make you and others feel and make an effort to improve these situations. You won’t regret it.