Emotional intelligence is a measure of how good we are at managing our own emotions and being empathetic with others. It is hugely important in both our work and personal lives. Luckily, improving emotional intelligence is possible through effort and application.

Summary by The World of Work Project


Improving Emotional Intelligence

The five domains of emotional intelligence are:

  • Recognizing and understanding your own emotions,
  • Managing them,
  • Managing your own motivation,
  • Recognizing emotions in others, and
  • Effectively managing others’ emotions.

Different people clearly have different levels of ability in every one of these domains. Some individuals may have great self awareness, but poor other awareness. Others may be good at all five domains and still others may be bad at all of them.

Some of these differences are innate. But some are the result of experiences, education and practice over the course of an individual’s life time.

Though we all have different levels of emotional intelligence today, the good news is that though it may be difficult, we can all learn to become better at each of the five domains and to become more emotionally intelligent overall.

Helping Others Improve their Emotional Intelligence

This post primarily focuses on how we as individuals can improve our own emotional intelligence. However, it’s worth noting that as leaders we can play a huge role in helping those in our team develop their emotional intelligence.

The best ways to do this is through creating cultures that are open and inclusive and which provide space for people to talk about this type of subject. Another thing you can do is to have regular and considered coaching conversations with them.

Understanding your own Emotions

A smiling monkey - perhaps they've been improving their emotional intelligence
Everyone has emotions, but not everyone recognizes and understands them.

Improving your understanding your own emotions is a great starting point for improving your overall emotional intelligence. Learning to recognize, predict and name your emotions makes it easier for you to discuss them. This, in turn, makes it easier for you to work on managing them.

Some things you can do to help improve your own emotional awareness include:

  1. Speaking to others about your emotions,
  2. Understanding your base emotional state / what “normal” is for you,
  3. Learning the types of events that lead you to feel new emotions (these can be thought of as your emotional triggers),
  4. Learning the mental and physical signs you experience with different emotions,
  5. Monitoring yourself for changes in emotion,
  6. Practicing noticing new emotions and feelings as they occur, and
  7. Understanding how your behavior is prone to change under different emotional states.

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Managing your own Emotions

Once you’ve learned to recognize and understand your own emotions, it’s easier to work on managing them. This is a key part of improving emotional intelligence. It may take time time and focus, but it’s a great step forward. It can help make a real difference to your experiences in your work and personal life. Things that you can do to help improve your emotional self-management include:

A person running - exercise can help with improving emotional intelligence
Exercising and spending time in nature both help increase emotional resilience.

  • Developing strategies to manage yourself through different emotional states. These can include things like counting to 10, asking for a break, ensuring you have an ally in tough times or practicing breathing techniques.
  • Developing strategies that help you return (or bounce back) to your normal emotional state when you experience negative emotions . These can include things like going for a walk, having someone to speak to when you’re not feeling like yourself, having a list of successes in your pocket to read and be proud of and practicing self coaching techniques such as the ETC model.
  • Building up your core emotional strength through improved well-being, so that you’re less likely to be knocked off-kilter. This can be done through activities that increase your well-being and resilience such as changing your diet, sleep or exercise patterns, meditating, building your support network or simply giving yourself space to do more things that you enjoy.

Managing your Motivation

Managing your own motivation is a key skill both at work and in your personal life. It’s a specific form of emotional self management. And it’s a key step in improving your emotional intelligence.

There is a huge amount of work on motivation that may be of interest, but in the shorter term some things you can do to improve your motivation include:

  • Celebrating your successes
  • Setting SMART goals for yourself
  • Committing publicly to your goals
  • Getting some coaching to support you
  • Using your support network to help you stay on track

A post it saying
Effective goal setting can greatly increase motivation.

Recognizing Emotions in Others

Being able to interpret how others are feeling and what they are thinking through non-verbal signs is an important skill. The better able you are you recognize and understand your own emotions, the easier you may find it to recognize the emotions of others. To improve your recognition of emotions in others consider:

  • Practicing being mindful of the behaviors and emotions of others,
  • Speaking to others about their emotions and how they are feeling,
  • Understanding what “normal” is for those around you in your personal life / at work,
  • Empathizing with others and learning the “types” of things that can lead them to experience new emotions (their emotional triggers), and
  • Learning to recognize behavioral and physical signs of emotions in others.

Managing Others’ Emotions

Being able to respond appropriately to the emotional state of others is a very important and helpful skill that can only really be learned once you know how to recognize emotions in others. This skill is all about adjusting your own behaviors so that they are congruent with the emotional wants and needs of the people you are interacting with. Things you can do to improve this skill include:

  • Speaking to others about their emotions and how they like to be interacted with in different emotional states,
  • Practicing “holding the space” (a coaching term) for others by mindfully adjusting your tone, volume, body language and attentiveness depending on what the person you are communicating with needs,
  • Reflecting on how your interactions with others have gone: what’s worked well, and what hasn’t?
  • Focusing on building good relationships with others (especially before you need them),
  • Practicing how to respond to different people in their different emotional states, and
  • Developing ways of helping others get back to being in a good emotional state, if they are knocked off kilter.

Learning More

Learning about Metamood, Metacognition, your emotions and other factors can also really help us develop our emotional intelligence. This in turn helps inform our self-awareness and can improve our wellbeing and our working and life experiences.

We mention the importance of goal setting above. You might be interested in Locke and Latham’s Goal Setting Theory. You can learn more about goal setting in our podcast on the topic:

The World of Work Project View

In our view, emotional intelligence is one of the most important skills that individuals can have in both their work and personal lives. Luckily improving emotional intelligence is possible.

From an individual perspective, it’s worth investing time and energy in improving it and from a leadership perspective it’s hugely worth spending time helping others develop it.

That said, we know that there are people who dispute the concept of emotional intelligence. There are also people who dispute that it can be learned. That’s an ok view too. We just find the concept helpful for many people, so recommend it.

Our Podcast

Our Podcast is a great way to learn more about hundreds of fascinating topics from around the world of work.

In this post we’ve mainly been talking about work from Daniel Goleman’s book: “Emotional Intelligence”.

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