How to Improve Emotional Intelligence (With 10 Steps)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published June 17, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Emotional intelligence combines skills that help you relate to people around you and creates stronger relationships in your work and personal life. Focusing on your emotions and managing them in a constructive way allows you to support others in your life with empathy and understanding. Learning ways to improve your emotional intelligence skills can help you have better work relationships, enhance your communication, and increase your compassion for others. In this article, we discuss the definition of emotional intelligence and identify steps on how you can improve this skill.

What is emotional intelligence?

Emotional intelligence, also known as the acronym EI, is a set of skills and qualities that help you recognize, understand, and manage your emotions and the emotions of those around you. By using the skill set of EI, you can identify your feelings and express them in constructive, helpful ways. It also allows you to understand the emotions of others and positively influence their emotional state through empathy and active listening. There are several characteristics of emotional intelligence, including self-awareness, self-regulation, empathy for others, and healthy interpersonal skills:

  • Self-awareness is recognizing and identifying your emotions and understanding how they affect your behaviour.

  • Self-regulation, also known as self-control, is the ability to manage your emotional responses through various complementary skills, such as open communication, time management, problem solving, and stress management.

  • Empathy for others is the ability to put yourself in another's place and understand their emotions and why they're experiencing them.

  • Interpersonal skills are the ability to maintain healthy relationships through open communication, integrity, and trust.

Related: What Is Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace? (With Helpful Tips)

How to improve emotional intelligence

You can learn how to improve your emotional intelligence by following these steps:

1. Become more self-aware by identifying your emotions

Becoming self-aware of your emotions is one of the fundamental components of emotional intelligence. Self-awareness is the ability to recognize your feelings, thoughts, and actions and understand how they affect your performance. Emotional intelligence encourages you to become more aware of your emotions and emotional responses. One way you can do this is to identify your feelings at the moment and name the emotion. For example, maybe you're feeling anxious, disappointed, angry, or frustrated. By recognizing the emotion you're experiencing, you become more self-aware and can process how to communicate those feelings constructively.

For example, suppose you receive news at work that you didn't get the promotion for which you had hoped. Instead of immediately expressing your feelings through an emotional outburst, take a few minutes to gather your thoughts and process what has happened. You can recognize that you feel disappointed or frustrated. Once you spend more time in contemplation, you identify that disappointment is the most powerful emotion you're feeling. After understanding this, you can constructively process your disappointment while still congratulating the candidate who accepted the promotion.

2. Recognize your emotional triggers and coping mechanisms

Next, try to recognize your emotional triggers and primary coping mechanisms. It's natural for situations and events to cause emotional reactions throughout your day. Learning how to manage those triggers is emotional intelligence in action. You often develop coping mechanisms early in childhood to protect yourself from pain or negative emotions. Noticing what triggers you and how you react is a vital part of self-awareness and emotional intelligence. Once you identify your triggers and coping mechanisms, you can determine if you want to change your strategy.

For example, suppose you recognize that you regularly become defensive when you receive constructive feedback from a colleague or supervisor. To manage your feelings, you withdraw and become quiet and introverted. When you recognize that this is your regular coping pattern, you can determine if it helps or hinders your growth. Identifying your emotional triggers and coping mechanisms can help you better manage how you react in stressful situations.

Related: How to Cope With Feeling Unappreciated at Work (With Helpful Tips)

3. Practise active listening

Active listening allows the listener to focus all their attention on the speaker. When you actively listen to someone, you ask clarifying questions, encourage them to continue talking, and prompt them to share their thoughts. Using open body language, you support the conversation by creating a comfortable environment where the speaker feels heard and understood. When practising active listening, try to avoid looking at your cellphone or around the room. Instead, make eye contact with the speaker. You can smile to create a connection with them and nod your head to show that you understand their message.

Related: Active Listening Skills: A Key to Effective Communication In The Workplace

4. Communicate clearly

Clear communication is critical to becoming proficient with emotional intelligence. When communicating clearly with others, you want to use vocabulary that reflects your audience. For example, when speaking with other professionals in your field, using industry terms and common phrases can help ensure your message is concise and thoughtful. In addition, you can find various ways to express complex ideas by using visuals or diagrams to clarify your ideas. Learning how to express your emotions, thoughts, and ideas to others helps ensure they understand the meaning of your message.

For example, if you supervise others in the workplace, outlining clear expectations can minimize misunderstandings. Written communication is equally important as verbal conversation. When writing e-mails, text messages, or documents, use vocabulary that's easy to understand and concise. Avoid using highly technical words and phrases unless you know the audience understands the meaning and context.

5. Learn to be empathetic

Empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else's position and understand what they're feeling and experiencing. Learning to be empathetic allows you to know how your words and actions affect those around you. It also improves your awareness of the challenges others have in their life. When you show empathy, you want to understand the other person's experience better. Asking questions and clarifying their emotions can help you learn what they're going through. Responding in respectful and supportive ways to others' emotions is empathetic.

6. Take responsibility for your actions

Taking responsibility for your actions means acknowledging that what you do and say affects others around you. If you recognize you hurt someone's feelings, apologize directly instead of avoiding the person or pretending it didn't happen. When you realize and acknowledge your mistakes, people are likely to forgive the situation and move forward. Accepting responsibility shows emotional maturity and professionalism. It also shows you're willing to grow as an individual and learn from your mistakes. This also helps promote a sense of trust and integrity with the surrounding people.

7. Ask for feedback

Asking for feedback allows you to learn what areas of emotional intelligence you can improve. Gathering input from friends, colleagues, supervisors, and individuals you manage can help clarify areas to work on, such as communication skills, active listening, relationship management, or coping mechanisms. When you ask for feedback, you're also showing others you're committed to improvement, are aware of how your actions and emotions affect others, and are accountable for them. Collecting feedback also shows others you value their opinion.

8. Be adaptable and positive

Adaptability means adjusting your actions according to the situation without panic or undue stress. It also shows you can learn new strategies, skills, and behaviours in response to changing circumstances. Showing adaptability when working with others can boost others' confidence and trust in you to provide leadership during stressful events.

Remaining calm and expressing an optimistic attitude can help support others struggling. Showing positivity to others is contagious and can be as simple as a kind word, an encouraging e-mail, or a supportive gesture. In addition, remaining positive during stressful or challenging times can help others stay calm while encouraging teamwork, problem solving, and conflict resolution.

Related: Nine Skills That Support Adaptability In The Workplace

9. Conduct an emotional intelligence self-evaluation

Besides asking for feedback, conducting an emotional intelligence self-evaluation can identify areas of improvement. Self-evaluations may use various forms, including quizzes, surveys, or gamified tests. Through the process of self-evaluation, you examine your feelings, emotional triggers, coping mechanisms, habits, and past actions to identify your emotional intelligence level. Based on the results, you can determine areas you're strong and the other regions you want to improve. For example, you may have strong empathetic abilities but require additional work in self-regulation.

10. Surround yourself with like-minded people

When improving your emotional intelligence, you can significantly help your growth by surrounding yourself with like-minded people. For example, find other colleagues or friends working on their emotional intelligence skills. You can support each other by sharing ideas, books, resources, and other topics that relate to improving specific skills. You can practise skills, such as active listening, and then ask for valuable feedback from others on the same self-improvement path. Having others in your work or personal life can support your growth, and development can help you stay motivated and committed.

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