The World of Work Project

Developing Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence, sometimes known as EQ, 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, through effort and application it’s possible to become more emotionally intelligent.

Summary by World of Work Project

Developing 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 develop their EQ

While this post primarily focuses on how we as individuals can improve our own emotional intelligence, 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 think you can do to help grow the emotional intelligence of your team is to have regular and considered coaching conversations with them.

Understanding your own emotions

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 make it easier for you to discuss them, which 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.

Managing your own emotions

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

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. 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
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.

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. 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.

Sources and further reading

Where possible we always recommend that people read up on the original sources of information and ideas.

In this post we’ve mainly been talking about work from Daniel Goleman’s book “Emotional Intelligence” which builds on considerable earlier work.


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