How to Improve Emotional Intelligence

If you want to know how to improve your skill at shooting hoops or playing the guitar, you practice. If you want to learn more about how to use Microsoft® Excel®, you take a class and complete examples that help you with your tasks.

Can you improve your social, interpersonal or emotional skills?  Are these “soft-skills” inborn and fixed? Can you really become the life of the party if you’re naturally quiet?

The surprising answer is that Emotional Intelligence (EI) is a skill-based characteristic that you can increase with training and practice. While it is unlikely that you’ll change your innate personality, you can improve your emotional control, empathy and listening skills if you make the effort to do so. Good coaching programs have been shown to achieve emotional intelligence improvement of 25% overall, with interpersonal skills such as social etiquette and negotiation showing as high as 50% improvement.[1]

Psychology Today shares these six practices to increase your overall emotional intelligence:

Reduce Negativity

Positive self-talk is a powerful tool that ultimately increases your EI. Make a deliberate effort to interrupt negative talk with positive talk. Assuming that your co-worker didn’t return your call because they don’t respect you is negative thinking. Instead, interrupt that negative narrative with an assumption that your co-worker is very busy or had to tend to another pressing priority.

Keep Your Cool

If staying calm in a stressful situation is difficult for you, it may require deliberate effort to learn how to manage your emotions. In any stressful situation, but especially if you are prone to outbursts of anger, develop a habit of identifying warning signs before you lose control. When you feel yourself tensing up, Mayo Clinic offers these tips for keeping it together[2]:

  • Give yourself a timeout so you can think before you speak.
  • Direct your anger at solutions instead of the circumstances that made you angry or uncomfortable.
  • Use “I” statements to avoid escalating the situation with accusations or criticism. Practice speaking assertively without being confrontational.
  • Use humor to break tension but avoid sarcasm.

Adopting healthy habits such as exercise, meditation/relaxation and healthy eating habits also go a long way towards creating a body and mind that is ready to cope with challenges.

Express Difficult Emotions

Improving your emotional intelligence doesn’t mean avoiding emotions! Instead, a high EI indicates someone who is capable of understanding and using emotion properly. If you are in a situation that requires you to respond to strong or difficult emotions, the XYZ communication technique can offer you a useful tool. Practice using the formula: “I feel X when you do Y in situation Z”. This technique creates a statement that may be hard to hear, but avoids accusatory “you should” statements that puts the listener on the defensive and less likely to listen[3].

Be Proactive, Not Reactive

You know who he/she is: That one person who is simply difficult to get along. Maybe it’s your boss or a co-worker. Maybe it’s your teenager or toddler. The reality is that we all face people who annoy, upset or antagonize us. Faced with this fact, prepare your respond ahead of time to avoid the even messier consequences of speaking hastily and making the situation worse.

The first step to taking a proactive stance is to enter an encounter from a position of empathy. “This co-worker is always so negative. Perhaps she has had many disappointments in her life.” Empathy does not excuse unacceptable behavior, but it can help you distance yourself from it. By making the behavior about them you can respond more objectively. To learn additional techniques for dealing with difficult coworkers, Fred Pryor offers a one-day seminar .

Shake it Off

When things go wrong (and they will) how you handle mistakes and adversity can be the difference between failure and success. Dwelling on adversity leads to fearfulness and avoiding risks. Practice asking yourself questions that lead to growth and the ability to accept bigger challenges: “What could I do better next time?” “What does this mean for my next steps?” “What do I need to learn to avoid this situation?”

Share the Love

All relationships require nurturing. Even in the workplace, gestures such as respectful eye contact, open body language and verbal expressions of praise and pleasure are powerful tools for creating a positive work environment. If you are naturally reserved, you may have to be deliberate about expressing appreciation or enjoyment, but like all of the above skills, this too can be practiced.