As we explained in a recent blog post, emotional intelligence is a crucial new concept that all teams should learn about. Emotional intelligence underlines the importance of understanding emotions–both our own and others’–when it comes to success, productivity, and overall happiness.
Of course that’s great, but what can we do if we want to improve our emotional intelligence? Or, how can we guide other people in our lives (like family members or fellow team members) to improve their emotional intelligence if we see that it may be lacking? It’s certainly not as easy as just saying: “Become more emotionally aware!”
There’s also a lot of vulnerability and sensitiveness when it comes to feelings and emotions. Recognizing that we need to be more aware of emotions takes a lot of courage, patience and understanding with ourselves, let alone with someone else.
However, despite the seemingly endless variety of human emotions and reactions to those emotions, there are some steps that all of us can take in our daily lives (both at home and at work) to improve our emotional intelligence.
Review: The Components of Emotional Intelligence
First, let’s quickly review the four main components that make up emotional intelligence:
- Self-Awareness: Your ability to understand your own emotions and reactions.
- Self-Management: Your ability to control these emotions and harness them towards healthy and productive ends.
- Social Awareness: Your ability to read, understand and empathize with the emotions of other people around you.
- Relationship Management: Your ability to manage conflict, influence relationships and organize teams through guiding others’ emotions.
Again, it’s important to notice how emotional intelligence begins with yourself. Once you are aware of your emotions, you can control them, and once you can regulate your own self, you can better understand others and influence your relationships positively.
Steps to improve emotional intelligence
Now that we’ve reviewed a little about how emotional intelligence functions, and involves understanding our own emotions as well as others’, we can distill a number of ways to improve emotional intelligence.
Remember that the main actions of emotional intelligence are awareness and management. You want to be aware of what emotions and reactions are occurring, and find ways of controlling and using them. So everything in the list below really flows from these two overarching actions.
The key to being more aware is observing what’s going on inside and around you. The more you observe the more you notice details and small things that you might not have otherwise. This is the basis for a lot of meditation practices, which are geared towards helping you “observe” your body or your mind in an almost neutral or unattached way.
This type of observation can help make you aware of what’s going on. In order to improve emotional intelligence, the important thing is to observe your emotions and reactions in different situations, almost as if you were watching yourself from above. Likewise, practicing observing other people and how they show their feelings helpy you become more aware of what that person is going through and how to be more empathetic generally.
2. Be aware of your reactions
One of the most obvious central things to pay attention to when it comes to emotional intelligence is your reactions–how you feel when certain things happen or when people say certain things. When something unexpected happens in your life, how do you feel? When you face disappointment or a bad day, how do you react? And when someone criticizes you, how do you respond?
Noticing our reactions can tell us a lot about our emotional foundations. When we overreact we know that something may be bothering us or that something isn’t right. On the other hand, ignoring issues or not reacting at all can also show us that we may be getting apathetic, or losing interest in our emotions because we’re depressed about something.
Our reactions show us how we interact with others as well, and what kind of person we are in social settings. Understanding reactions is therefore the key to seeing how we can improve our emotional intelligence.
3. Be aware of your actions
Another thing you should be careful to observe is your actions, specifically how they are affecting other people. This is the social awareness aspect of emotional intelligence, when we understand other people’s emotions and what causes them.
We’re often busy though, and a million things can happen in a day, so sometimes we don’t really observe how our actions affect people. We’re in a hurry, or we need that document or that order now, so we don’t take the time to realize that the other person has emotions, and is reacting to everything that you are doing.
Acknowledging the people you interact with–all of them–and practicing presence during social interactions can help you see what affects your actions have on others’ emotions, which can eventually help you improve your own emotional intelligence and get better at relationship management.
The other side of observing is listening. Listening helps you absorb necessary information and focus on what’s going on in front of you and inside you. You can’t always tell how a person is really feeling, and so listening allows you to get a better understanding of what’s going on. Listening also connects you to another person on a more emotional level, rather than simply talking to them.
Similarly, listening to yourself can improve your emotional intelligence. We all have an inner voice that expresses how we truly feel. Sometimes though, we distract ourselves and drown out this voice, or ignore or bury it completely. Really listening to yourself and your feelings is the most fundamental part of understanding your emotions and how they function.
5. Remain present
Both observing and listening can work to help you stay present– a critical skill that will improve emotional intelligence. Presence means that you are focused on the moment and situation at hand, not thinking about the past or future or getting distracted by other events.
As a way to help you think about presence more consciously, try to notice the times that you aren’t present and what you tend to distract yourself with. Oftentimes, we tend to think about other things or distract ourselves (usually with our phones) when things get hard or we feel intense emotions. Try to not distract yourself or think about the past or future next time you feel this way, and instead focus on what you’re feeling and why, even if it’s only for a few minutes.
Presence is not only about yourself though, it’s also important to be present with other people. When you spend time with someone, spend quality time with them by not looking at your phone or thinking about other worries or concerns. Listening to them and concentrating your attention on them will help build better relationships.
6. Reflect and self-evaluate
With anything that you want to improve, reflection is crucial. Reflection is when you really absorb the lessons from doing or learning something new. But with emotional intelligence, reflection is even more important because that’s one of the only ways you can really think over your observations about your emotions and reactions.
Reflection can take lots of forms, including talking to someone, meditation, journaling, writing, drawing, or other creative hobbies. Creative pursuits are really great ways to reflect since they channel your observations and emotions into making something new.
Any type of reflection though, is essential in order to improve emotional intelligence and continue to grow through understanding your own emotions.
7. Take responsibility
Finally, the last way to improve emotional intelligence is to take responsibility for your emotions, your actions, and your reactions. When you take responsibility, you are really taking control of yourself and accepting yourself for who you are, down to the deepest part of your core.
Taking responsibility also affects your relationship to others. It communicated that you understand your actions and how they affect others, which builds greater trust and foments stronger relationships.
This iist of ways to improve emotional intelligence is definitely not exhaustive, and there are probably many more that we could add that would be helpful. However, these are the most central to the main aspects of emotional intelligence and their core actions: awareness and management.
One extra thing that can definitely help improve emotional intelligence is team building, which gets team members to spend quality time with each other and really focus on being together in the same moment, without distractions. We’ll be talking about emotional intelligence on teams specifically in the coming weeks, but for now, keep that in the back of your minds.