Ten Ways to Improve Your Emotional Intelligence - dummies

By Steven J. Stein

The best way to improve your emotional skills is through practice in the real world. Through practice and getting feedback on your performance, preferably by an experienced coach, you can adjust your behavior and become more effective in recognizing and managing your own emotions as well as the emotions of others.

Everyone has aspects of their lives that they can improve. Here are some ways that you can work on your emotional intelligence so that you can begin to make a difference in your situation. Although each of the skills can help you in some way, you may find some skills more important than others, depending on your current situation.


Become more self-aware

One of the core areas of emotional intelligence is self-awareness. In many ways, this area is the cornerstone of all the other areas. In order to be aware of others’ emotions, for example, you need to be aware of your own emotions.

You can become more aware of your emotions through various forms of meditation or mindfulness. By enrolling in a course, joining a group, or hiring an instructor, you can use these techniques to become more aware of your body, your feelings, and your thoughts.

You can also become more self-aware by using your notebook to record your feelings at various preset intervals. By increasing your emotional vocabulary and using it to describe your full range of feelings throughout various parts of the day, you can figure out how to pay more attention to your emotions.

In addition to describing your emotions, pay attention to their intensity. Rate your emotions from 1 to 10. The better you gauge your emotions, the more easily you can monitor and change them.

Express your thoughts, feelings, and beliefs

Knowing how to express your emotions can often help you in managing those emotions. You can, of course, bottle everything up and not share your real thoughts, feelings, or beliefs with anyone. But, not only is this approach hard to do, it makes for a very lonely life. Nobody really gets to know you, and you don’t get to know others very well, either. All humans share the desire to have intimate relationships with a few trusted people.

On the other hand, you can choose to blather out your innermost thoughts, feelings, and beliefs to everyone. This approach can also be a mistake. First of all, some people don’t really care about your thoughts and feelings. Second, others might be offended by your disclosures or find them rude.

Aim for a middle ground, called assertiveness. Assertiveness is the appropriate sharing of thoughts, feelings, and beliefs. Basically, you need to let the right people, at the right time, know where you stand.

Discover your inner passions

Everyone tends to go about their work from day to day doing what they have to do. But how many people are really excited about the work that they do? Many people feel that they’re stuck in a rut at their jobs. But someone didn’t magically pluck them up and place them where they are. Usually, by following opportunities or money, people end up doing the kind of work that they do.

Few people strive to do the kind of work that really excites them. Most people have a passion for some kind of work, activity, or interest deep inside, but you can’t always easily find it. You may know some starving artists who shun regular jobs in hopes of making their dreams come true. You may not be able to easily find work that you’re passionate about, but with the right amount of planning, you can do it.

Know your strengths and weaknesses

Some people seem to think that they’re good at everything. Others constantly underestimate their strengths. The ideal situation, of course, is to accurately know your strengths and weaknesses. Knowing yourself helps you make choices in life. For example, by focusing on your strengths you can get more of what you want out of life.

Pursuing the things you’re good at and have a passion for — such as science, music, art, writing, public speaking, woodworking, or gardening — enables you to live a richer and fuller life. By over-focusing on areas of weakness, unless they interfere with your life, you tend to hold yourself back from getting the most out of life.

When you have to make decisions, you may get messages that seem to come from your gut. Certain choices feel good, and others may give you a queasy feeling. You may think of these feelings as messages from your heart, as opposed to your head. People are often guided by their emotional knowledge, which they may not be fully aware of.

Walk in the other person’s moccasins

Empathy is an extremely powerful emotion. Most successful politicians (such as Bill Clinton), philanthropists (such as Princess Diana), media personalities (such as Oprah), and leaders in the community and business are high in empathy.

Increasing your ability to empathize can help you get closer to others, win their support when you need it, and defuse potentially high-charged situations. By showing another person that you really understand where he’s coming from, you gain a certain level of respect. You demonstrate, for example, that you’re not self-centered.

Start being more empathic by paying more attention to other people. Listen carefully when communicating with someone. Listen to both what she tells you and what she wants you to hear. By getting better at picking up and paying attention to what people are really trying to say, you become more empathic.

Manage another person’s emotions

If you can manage the emotions of people around you, you have an impressive skill. You’ve probably seen leaders who can calm down or reassure an angry crowd. On the other hand, you’ve probably also seen how some people can mismanage the emotions of others. Think of the number of times a poorly prepared CEO of a company had to face the media in a time of crisis. By giving off the wrong body language, using the wrong tone of voice, or evading answers to questions, these leaders made people who were watching feel more annoyed or upset.

Managing other people’s emotions is a two-step process. Just follow these steps:

  1. Increase your empathy.

    You need to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and feel his pain, joy, hopes, or fears. One way is by asking questions of people. Learn what you can by asking and observing. Does he like sports or exercise? What are his favorite teams and activities? What foods does she chose to eat? What makes her feel happy or sad?

  2. Respond to him in the way that you would want someone to respond to you to relieve that pain.

    Managing someone else’s emotions requires a certain amount of skill. First, you need to know where you want to lead the other person. Do you want to make someone happy, calm, vigilant, or aware, for example? After you decide how you want her to feel, then you have to know how to guide her there.

    Think of the last time that you heard an inspirational speaker or saw a film that really moved you. Impactful experiences usually involve a build-up in which the speaker or movie director sets the stage for where he or she wants you to go emotionally. You can create this build-up yourself by setting a goal or letting the person know where you want to go.

    Some examples are

    • We have to look at this situation calmly.

    • As a family we need to be aware of what’s going on.

    • Some bad things have happened, and we have to be on our toes.

Then, you can build your case through stories or examples. You need to convey to the other person that you’re both on the same side — and it’s in both of your best interests to be on the same page. By being consistent in your body posture, your voice, and your message, you can deliver a potent message that can move the other person’s emotions closer to where you want them.

Be socially responsible

Social responsibility is one of the highest levels of emotional experience. It demonstrates that you really care about others, especially those less fortunate. Being socially responsible isn’t about personal gain — it’s about what you can contribute to help other people.

Social responsibility has several layers:

  • At the most basic level, you can donate money to charity or a worthy cause. Although you want to make donations as a part of any socially responsible plan, donations are only a first step in the process.

  • At the next level you might help a worthy organization collect money. You can solicit from friends, relatives, neighbors, or people you work with. You can get involved in events that raise money — charitable runs, car washes, danceathons, walkathons, pie bakes, or biking events.

  • The most effective components of social responsibility involve you personally contributing to a worthwhile cause. Think of some ways that you can help others who may need it. You might want to start by identifying the causes that you see as most important to you. You may feel passionate about spousal abuse, homelessness, food shelters, elderly care, hospitalized people, specific diseases, specific causes, and so on.

After you identify a cause that you want to support, think of how you can best contribute. You can serve on a board, be a volunteer worker, or participate in any of a number of ways. Contact the agency or organization associated with that cause and ask how you can help.

Manage your own impulses

Managing your own emotions, especially impulsiveness, provides another pillar of emotional intelligence (in addition to being aware of your emotions and managing other people’s emotions). By becoming more emotionally self-aware, you better prepare yourself for emotional self-management. You can manage your impulses in three basic ways:

  • Distraction: When you sense a problem in impulse control coming on, you can most quickly deal with it by distracting yourself. Shift your thinking by counting to ten or focusing on prepared distracting thoughts. You can train yourself to quickly change your thoughts, or the subject if in a conversation, to something such as the weather, what you ate for breakfast, where you plan to travel next, a project you’re working on, or any other event.

  • Analytic: An analytic approach involves stopping and analyzing your thoughts when you feel impulsive. You can ask yourself questions such as

    • Why am I thinking about this stressful problem or event?

    • How can thinking about this stressful problem or event help me?

    • Could I be thinking about something else?

    • What’s a better alternative thought?

  • Coping: A coping strategy involves a number of specific coping thoughts that you practice in advance. These thoughts include statements such as

    • I know I can control my thoughts.

    • I can just slow down a bit.

    • Let me think this through.

    • I don’t have to rush with a response.

    • I can think of alternatives.

Strategies such as the ones in the preceding list can help you successfully deal with stressful problems or events when you practice them in advance. You can’t effectively try out these strategies on the fly. With planning and practice, you can go a long way in dealing with impulsive thoughts, words, and actions.

These techniques can work for normal levels of impulsiveness. If your impulsiveness is part of a problem with ADHD or ADD, then you need a more intense intervention. If you suspect you or someone close to you has a serious problem with attention, then you should consult a psychologist or psychiatrist who specializes in this area. To learn more about ADHD, visit CHADD (Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder), a nonprofit informational organization.

Be more flexible

Everyone has routines and set ways of doing things. For a society to run efficiently, it needs a certain amount of rules and regulations. However, you can experience problems when you get stuck in a rut and become inflexible to change. By being too rigid you miss out on opportunities, fall behind in learning new techniques and approaches, and tend to deal with personal and work problems in the same, sometimes unproductive, ways.

Being emotionally intelligent involves knowing when to stick to and when to switch your emotional attachments. When it’s time to move on, people high in emotional intelligence can make that adjustment.

If you find change difficult, look at the possible consequences. What might happen if you stay with the status quo? On the other hand, where might you be if you go with the flow? Change is part of growth. Throughout life, new experiences and new opportunities can provide you with personal and professional fulfillment, and you need to be open to these changes. Although you might find it uncomfortable to try new things, most people find the short-term pain worth the long-term gain. Part of growing as a person involves learning new skills and approaches and experiencing new relationships and places.

Be happy

How happy are you? No, really, how happy are you, on a scale of 1 to 10? Are you a 5 or a 7? How about a 9?

People high in emotional intelligence are happy people. And they’re not just happy because good things happen to them.

Happiness (real happiness, which feels like a warm, steady glow inside your body), comes from the inside out. A person who manages this emotion well wakes up happy in the morning. And when he encounters challenges throughout the day, he can maintain a certain level of his happiness. In fact, his happiness buoys his spirits when encountering the trials and tribulations of daily living, and it keeps his mind clear, preventing him from getting caught up in unproductive self-pity or other non-helpful emotions. Happy people come up with more solutions to problems than sad or depressed people do.

Although sad people generally pay more attention to details than happy people, happy people accomplish more than sad people. Of course, because happiness and sadness are emotions, they do fluctuate. So, you can control your mood to serve your own purpose. Being emotionally intelligent involves knowing when to be happy, sad, excited, anxious, or even vigilant.

People prefer being around other people who are happy. Happy leaders have followers who are very engaged. You can find many advantages to being happy. People will appreciate you more, you can get through tough times easier, you’ll feel better, and you’ll be more helpful to others. Research even shows that happy people live longer (or miserable people die sooner).

Very few people really know how to manage their happiness. People all too often associate happiness with material goods or with getting things from others. The really happy people are the givers. The people who spread happiness tend to be happier themselves.

Hopefully, while you develop your emotional intelligence, you remember that it costs you nothing to spread happiness, and what you receive in return is priceless.