21 Strategies to Improve Emotional Intelligence
Here is a conspiracy theory for you – some very intelligent people are here amongst us. Their IQ is described as “Artificial Intelligence” and like “walking Wikipedias” they always have an answer ready for everything. And from the look on their face you know that they are probably right. “How can they retain so much information?” you ask yourself.
Have they spent their teenage years locked up in their rooms reading? Do they flip over a few pages from scientific research papers before going to bed as a past time? Could it be that they have a direct connection to some unknown source of Universal knowledge?
I do not know about you, but in the past an encounter with such highly intelligent people would always leave me feeling two contradictory emotions: excitement, because I have learned something new and a slight sense of inadequacy, because I have never felt an urge to read the “Wall Street Journal” or wrap my mind around “Schrödinger's cat” paradox.
It turns out that the latter emotion was unjustified, as recent studies in psychology confirm that our IQ has very little to do with accomplishing success in life.
What makes a big difference is our Emotional Intelligence, the concept that has been described by Daniel Goleman. Not only do qualities associated with high EQ (such as self-awareness, inner motivation, empathy and ability to recognize and manage our own feelings and those of others) account for about 90% of our professional effectiveness, they also enhance our intellectual performance – i.e. we work smarter, not harder!
Really great news is that, unlike IQ, which is set and almost unchangeable from childhood on, emotional intelligence can be developed and improved!
21 Strategies to Improve Emotional Intelligence
1. Learn to trust your intuition
Do you know how sometimes you “have a feeling” about something or someone? Well, do not rush to dismiss it, because it may help you to avoid a few costly mistakes.
For a long time intuition and rational thinking were considered two mutually exclusive concepts. Only now have scientists started to realize that our intuitive emotions serve as an efficient mechanism that improves our ability to make better, sounder decisions. So learn to trust your intuition and start relying on it more often!
2. Quickly un-wind your mind
When we are under stress, we quickly lose the ability to accurately “read” a situation, hear what someone else is saying, think rationally and communicate clearly. The first skill that can greatly improve our emotional intelligence is to quickly and efficiently manage stress when we are feeling overwhelmed.
3. Realize that you are not your emotions
A trap many people fall into is feeling that they “ought” to feel a certain way. Usually we are brought up to believe that it is wrong to express and even feel certain emotions, as if it somehow makes us a “bad person”. But in reality it is not the feeling that matters, but how you choose to act on it.
4. Talk about your feelings
Letting our feelings show has always been associated with weakness. While we were learning to smile politely and keep our thoughts and feelings to ourselves, we should have been practicing to express those feelings. This is what people with high EQ do. They are not afraid to expose their feelings, vulnerabilities and thoughts. And guess what? No one perceives them as weak.
5. Practice “learned optimism”
Notice how you explain events to yourself, both good and bad. Do you take credit for your achievements or do you dismiss them as pure luck? Do you take responsibility for your missteps or does it seem more natural for you to shift the blame on something or someone else?
6. Start with your ego
Ego plays a huge role in how we perceive and react to different situations. You can not feel unappreciated, offended or hurt unless you let yourself feel that way. And the fact that you are feeling that way almost always means that your ego has been rubbed the wrong way. But you are not your ego. You are a spiritual human being and your natural state is happiness, not anger, resentment, envy.
7. Acknowledge your emotions
Another way to improve emotional intelligence lies in developing understanding that denying, ignoring or numbing our feelings will not make them go away. Acknowledging our emotions, both good and bad, allows us to get in touch with our own motivations and needs, and to communicate effectively with others.
8. Think about how you think
You may not always choose the situation or people you work with, but you CAN always choose the way you frame it in your mind.
9. Choose your words carefully
The words we use carry emotional baggage with them and evoke certain associations in your mind. One way of changing your thoughts and getting negative emotions under control is to choose positively-charged words like “solution”, “help”, “please”, “appreciate”, “understand”, “together”, “great”, “Thank you”. Words like this enhance people’s desire to listen and cooperate, versus fight, insist and get negativity back.
10. Step into their shoes
Being able to see a situation or a point of view from another person’s perspective is a skill that most of us develop at the age of 5. Too bad that when we are overcome by negative emotions we start acting like we are 4, by acknowledging only our thoughts, emotions and arguments. I know that it is hard, but next time you are in the middle of a heated argument, try to put yourself into the other person’s shoes really understand where they are coming from. You might discover that they have a valid point!
11. Think Law of Attraction
If you believe that “What goes around comes around” think of what may come back to you every time you send negative emotions and thoughts into the Universe. The Universe does not care if “this moron has really upset you” or “this stupid idiot has cut in front of you almost causing a car incident”. Other people’s deeds are their karma. Take care of yours!
12. Breathe anger out
Anger is a powerful emotion, but it has equally powerful ‘side-effects’. After it dies down we are left feeling exhausted, drained and often foolish. A great way to keep anger at bay is to put some distance between you and the object of your irritation. Take a few deep breaths, imagining your breath shooting the anger and tension away and cool air calming your mind and slowing your heart rate down. Do not tackle the problem that pushed you off your balance until you will feel completely calm and composed.
Mahatma Gandhi used to say, “Speak only if it improves upon the silence”. I would add, speak only if it objectively improves the conversation. Otherwise, listen!
14. Give yourself some love
If you do something well – celebrate. If you fail – learn the lesson and improve. There is no sense in dragging yourself down for every little mistake. Judging and criticizing yourself will not make you a better person. Self-awareness, understanding and compassion will.
15. Give positive feedback to others
Train your mind to see actions that are worth complimenting on, rather than focusing on cherry-picking little things that can be criticized or improved. When you learn to compliment with ease and refrain from judging, your EQ will sky-rocket and your relationships will flourish. Guaranteed!
16. Choose your arguments carefully
Arguments take time and energy, especially if you want to resolve them in a positive way. Before getting yourself into one, consider what is worth arguing about and what is best left alone.
People with high EQ have less emotional ‘baggage', while people with low EQ tend to have more unresolved personal issues which often act as triggers for conflicts and emotional strain. The best way of dealing with these issues is to forgive those who have wronged you in the past. Not so much for their sake, but for your own.
18. Know your hot buttons
Pay attention to the times when you let other people push your buttons. What are they? What are the specific conditions where you are likely to let your guard down? Try to avoid putting yourself in these situations where you aren’t able to choose a graceful response.
19. Look out for the sarcasm alert
Sarcasm is usually an indication that someone is being defensive. When you hear sarcasm or are the one using it, ask yourself why? What is the underlying emotion behind it? Why are you or the other person being defensive?
20. Pay attention to people’s non-verbal communication cues
Often the key to successful relationships at work and harmony in your family lies in your ability to understand non-verbal cues that are communicated through gestures, body language of the eyes and slightest micro-expressions.
21. Practice empathy
You have the power not only to improve your emotional intelligence, but to become a good influence on others, improving their creativity and intellectual performance. Robert Rosenthal, a Harvard expert on empathy, has demonstrated that when people administering IQ tests treated their subjects warmly, the test scores were higher.
Here is a simple test that will help you to determine you current EQ.
How did you score?
Want more info to improve your Emotional Intelligence? These 3 books are must reads:
- Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ by Daniel Goleman
- Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves
- Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships by Daniel Goleman