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How to improve your emotional intelligence to improve your life

July 8, 2022 - 12 min read

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What is emotional intelligence?

What are the 5 characteristics of emotional intelligence?

How can you improve your emotional intelligence?

How can emotional intelligence improve your life?

Why is emotional intelligence so important?

Moving forward

Emotions are as complex as we are. That’s why developing our emotional intelligence (EI) is important: we need to have clarity about ourselves and others. 

Our feelings constantly interact and influence us, regardless of our age. If we don’t know how to understand and manage these emotions, it can hold us back from performing our best at work and in life. If you want to feel better about your feelings, learning how to improve your emotional intelligence is key.

While some people naturally have higher emotional intelligence than others and some types of neurodiversity may make it more challenging, improving your emotional intelligence is possible. 

What is emotional intelligence?

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Your EI, also called your emotional quotient (EQ), refers to your ability to recognize, understand, and regulate emotions. Some people think it is just about your own emotions. But EI also refers to your ability to perceive and work with the emotions of others. 

Our EI directly relates to our mental wellness since it impacts our mindset and dictates how we cope. It’s easy to overlook our emotional health, but it’s a facet of our well-being that’s just as important as our physical, social, and spiritual health. 

The aspect of emotional intelligence that is about others affects the quality of our relationships. It also affects success at work, particularly as a manager or leader, because understanding others is key for motivating, guiding, and inspiring them.

Some experts argue that EI is more significant than one's regular intelligence quotient (IQ) since emotions are universal across cultures and transcend language.

EI is considered a soft skill, which can help you succeed across many environments. As a skill, EI helps you accept criticism and move on after a mistake. In addition, it can help you say no, share your feelings, and interpret the feelings of others. 

At BetterUp, we believe that lasting, positive change is a product of the Whole Person. Becoming more attuned to your own emotional landscape and learning to be less reactive is step 1 of making the types of behavior changes that will help you thrive, personally and professionally. With the right support, you can get the perspective and accountability you need to keep going. 

If you’re willing to put in the effort, we’ll support you every step of the way as you become your best self. 

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What are the 5 characteristics of emotional intelligence?

American psychologist Daniel Goleman wrote a book in 1995 called Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ where he discussed the five primary aspects of EI.

1. Self-awareness.

Being self-aware means you can make sense of your own emotions. People with high emotional or social awareness don’t allow their feelings to get the best of them and trust their intuition.

2. Self-regulation.

Self-regulation refers to your management of your emotions, especially your impulses. It means you think before acting and don’t get overwhelmed easily in stressful situations. 

3. Motivation.

Motivation jumpstarts your productivity and efficacy. When you have a higher EI, you will feel more empathetic towards others. You can then prioritize helping others over your own immediate success. Altruism is a powerful motivator.

4. Empathy.

Empathy is the ability to genuinely relate to others’ feelings and viewpoints. Empathy, in particular, helps you avoid making snap judgments or giving into stereotypes. You can put yourself in another person’s shoes because you’ve been in a similar situation.

Sympathy, on the other hand, is when you care or feel sorry for someone else’s trouble or misfortune from your own perspective. With a higher EI, you can anticipate others’ emotional needs and emotional reactions in difficult situations. Empathy is a highly valuable skill, and developing your EI can help you grow in that area. 

5. Social skills.

Everyone wants someone with good social intelligence on their team, whether they’re the smartest or not. Why? Because emotionally intelligent people consider everyone’s strengths and weaknesses. They’re great at working through conflicts and truly enrich a team. 

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How can you improve your emotional intelligence?

Developing your EI can help you have better job satisfaction and career clarity. When you’re in tune with your emotions, you can be more in tune with your needs. Plus, EI can make you more productive at work. To gain these benefits and more, here are some tips to can help you improve your EI skills: 

1. Pay attention to nonverbal cues

Body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions play a significant role in communication. These cues often convey how we’re truly feeling. Practice “reading the room” and interpreting others’ emotions whenever you can. For example, you can try it when watching a TV show on silent or observing shoppers at the mall.

2. Reflect

Think back to when you felt angry, happy, frustrated, or surprised. How did you react? What did your body do? Did you tense up? Clench your jaw? Knowing how your body and mind respond to emotion will improve how you react. 

Take time to reflect on how your words and actions impact those around you, too. We grow more when we are open to different opinions. Try listening a little more than you talk.  

3. Take responsibility for your actions

Don’t avoid confronting your problems and always apologize if you hurt someone’s feelings. Be honest and willing to work through things. It shows maturity, and people will forgive and forget much quicker. And if you’re a leader, taking responsibility for your actions is especially important. 

4. Self-evaluate

Do you blame others for your mistakes? Can you stay calm under pressure or are you easily overwhelmed? Can you give and receive critical feedback? If you don’t know your weaknesses, you can’t fix them.

You may want to consider taking an EI test. Multiple online platforms offer this for free, and it'll provide you with a good understanding of how to start improving your EI.

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5. Ask for feedback

Introspection is great, but we can’t see ourselves objectively. This is where feedback from others is an asset. They pick up on things about us we can't see, whether they’re positive or negative. We can learn from both.

6. Read

Reading can calm you down, and studies have shown that it enhances our empathy. Diving into the characters’ minds allows us to comprehend their decision-making and motivations. Plus, it might inform how we approach conflict in our own lives.

How can emotional intelligence improve your life?

No one is perfect at reading behaviors. Although it’s challenging, EI is a huge asset in your personal and professional life. 

Having a high EI creates a domino effect. You’ll have more self-confidence and be more vulnerable with others. In turn, they’ll feel respected and willing to share their ideas. A warm and safe environment for vulnerability will then form. Positive emotions are contagious. 

When you can read people well, you know if you’re pushing them too far or not enough. Analyzing a particular situation and nurturing individuals however best suits them leads to trust, an essential component of any lasting bond. 

Why is emotional intelligence so important?

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Humans are emotional creatures. We make many decisions based on our emotions, and they help us establish and maintain relationships. 

Increasing your interpersonal skills by learning to control your negative emotions will help your mental health. This will also likely set you up for professional success. According to an article by the Harvard Business Review, 90% of people receive promotions and improve their skills due to EI. 

Knowing how to navigate social settings will help you identify problems, develop solutions, and enhance your problem-solving and communication skills. 

Moving forward

Academic intelligence is crucial to making progress within your chosen career field, but EI helps you gain lasting respect and turn your goals into reality. Achieving our dreams requires cooperation from others. 

EI aids you in navigating the social world. It also helps you better understand yourself, and practice more self-compassion in the process.  

Emotions are dynamic. They touch every area of our lives, including our work environment, our mental fitness, and how we make social connections. Give these tips for developing your emotional intelligence a try. You won’t regret taking the time to invest in your personal growth. 

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Published July 8, 2022

Maggie Wooll

Managing Editor

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