Improve your emotional intelligence

A high emotional IQ can enhance all aspects of your life 
by Bethan Rees

Some people seem to be universally liked and sail through life having favours done for them, while others … not so much. While this may seem like a natural gift bestowed on a privileged few, there are certainly a few tips that can be learnt to improve interactions with others.

Emotional intelligence (also referred to as EQ) is a term created by two researchers, Peter Salavey and John Mayer, and popularised by Dan Goleman in his 1996 book of the same name. It doesn’t mean just being nice to everyone at all times, and saying “please” and “thank you”. It means having the ability to identify, assess and manage one’s own emotions and the emotions of others. 

EQ can be extremely useful in business circumstances and, as research shows, can have a positive effect on your professional performance. 

In a later book by Goleman, Leadership that gets results (2017), he cites the late noted Harvard University psychologist David McClelland's findings that people who have strong emotional intelligence are more effective as leaders. In his research, he analysed division heads at a global food and beverage company, finding that 87% of those with the highest emotional intelligence were in the top third for annual salary bonuses. 

With a bit of focus and preparation, everyone can improve his or her EQ. Not only will this help in business, it’s generally good practice for everyday life. Here are three pointers to expand your EQ.
Practice self-awareness Before you can begin to try to manage the emotions of others, it’s best to do some self-reflection on how your emotions change through the day and what factors might affect this. Pay attention to your feelings. How do the words and actions of others, and certain tasks at work, make you feel? More distracted? More productive? Does being challenged help or hinder you? 

It sounds simple, but being able to acknowledge your emotions changing is the first step to mastering empathy, which The Review has previously explored as being part of successful leadership.
Work on self-regulationBy being curious as to why something makes you feel a certain way, you can begin to address how to change this. For example, if you feel yourself getting frustrated in a meeting where everyone is speaking over each other, you might realise this is because it’s unstructured and time-wasting. Therefore, using this knowledge, you could suggest setting an agenda for each meeting, so this doesn’t happen and you feel as if you are being heard. Being able to control your reactions to situations is a crucial part of emotional intelligence. 

In 2014, psychologist Guy Winch hosted a TED talk titled ‘Why we all need to practice emotional first aid’. He addresses how we can adjust thought patterns towards greater emotional health, which in turn affects our relationships with people we interact with on a daily basis. Winch asks: “Why is it our physical health is so much more important to us than our psychological health? We sustain psychological injuries more than physical ones, like failure or rejection.” He makes a case for knowing how your mind, and body, reacts to negative feelings in order to better yourself and handle situations more effectively. If everyone did this, he says, “the world would be a better place to live in”. 
Watch your team Observing your colleagues can be eye opening. What makes them tick? How do they behave when they are stressed? If someone is under pressure, do they like to be left alone, encouraged, or helped with support from the team? 

Observe colleagues’ body language too, which can speak a thousand words – as previously reported on The Review. Learning to read a person’s body language can reveal how they feel about a situation. For example, in a brainstorming meeting, if you see a colleague with their arms crossed and looking down, this might indicate that they’re in a bad mood, uncomfortable with speaking up in a team environment, or even just cold and tired. Whatever the reason may be, acknowledge it and see if they wish to share ideas in a one-on-one setting, or at another time. This is a particularly important tool if you’re the leader of a team.

Think of emotional intelligence as a muscle that you need to be flexing a little bit more each day, and watch your performance at work improve. 

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Published: 13 Apr 2018
  • Career Development
  • The Review
  • Career advice

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