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GuidesEmployee experienceHow to improve your emotional intelligence in life and at work

How to improve your emotional intelligence in life and at work

Last updated

27 November 2023

Author

Dovetail Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Warren Jonas ACC

Your ability to develop strong relationships significantly impacts your collaboration, leadership, and decision-making skills.

Emotional intelligence (sometimes called emotional quotient, or EQ) plays a key role in how you interact with others on a personal or professional level.

You can gain insight into how your emotions guide your actions and gain improved control over your behavior by learning more about EQ and how to cultivate it. This will help you make informed professional decisions that align with your goals.

What is emotional intelligence?

Emotional intelligence is your ability to recognize and identify your own emotions and the emotions of others. It can be measured through assessments, and studies show that it’s a primary factor in the success of top performers.

For example, TalentSmart EQ conducted a test that scored EQ alongside 33 other important workplace skills. They found EQ to be the top predictor of performance, resulting in 58% of success in all job types.

But EQ isn’t simply derived from your knowledge of emotions. It’s a combination of two things: the way you understand how your emotions impact your actions and how you recognize and empathize with the emotions of others.

Increasing your EQ can help you communicate more effectively, diffuse conflicts, and build stronger relationships.

What are the signs of emotional intelligence?

As you familiarize yourself with emotional intelligence, you’ll learn distinct signs of high and low EQ that you can recognize in yourself and others. These signs of high and low intelligence can help you identify areas where you may be able to improve.

Signs of high emotional intelligence

  • The ability to identify links between emotions and behaviors

  • Actions that influence others toward a common goal

  • Composure during stressful situations

  • Showing tact when dealing with difficult people

  • Building your perspective by taking on other perceptions of a situation

Signs of low emotional intelligence

  • Getting upset easily

  • Lack of assertion

  • Feelings of being misunderstood

  • Becoming overwhelmed by emotions

  • Missing non-verbal signals in social interactions

  • Inability to express emotions appropriately

What are the components of emotional intelligence?

Here are the four central components that define emotional intelligence:

  • Self-awareness: your ability to recognize your moods, emotions, and feelings and how they impact others

  • Social awareness: identifying and empathizing with other people’s emotions

  • Self-regulation: managing your emotions and how they impact your actions

  • Social skills: soft skills like communication, empathy, patience, and sincerity that allow you to interact well with others

Why is emotional intelligence important?

Emotions influence all actions, communications, and relationships, but few people are fully aware of the emotions that guide them.

Intellectual intelligence alone isn’t enough to help you navigate personal and professional relationships. It also fails to account for the way your emotions impact how you handle stress or success.

EQ, on the other hand, enables you to better understand which feelings influence your actions and why. As you become more aware of your own emotional triggers and practice related skills like active listening, you’ll better understand the actions of those around you. Gaining this understanding can help you sustain collaborative relationships, make informed decisions, and deal with stress.

Why is EQ important in the workplace?

Your relationships in the workplace require empathy, communication, and effort—just like in your personal life.

Emotional intelligence in the workplace is the ability to understand how your emotions and the emotions of others impact your professional relationships and job performance. Your relationships with coworkers, superiors, and subordinates can potentially impact your career success. Developing EQ can help you manage stress, improve interactions with colleagues, and navigate conflict.

High EQ overlaps with many of the interpersonal skills found in high-performing employees and strong leaders. Individuals with high levels of emotional intelligence consider how their words and actions affect others and rarely make impulsive decisions. They generally work well with others and are aware of their strengths and weaknesses.

Stronger collaborative relationships can be built and sustained when team members and company leaders strive to increase emotional intelligence. Self-awareness and empathy improve communication, decrease workplace tension, and influence similar behavior in others.

Emotional intelligence has been connected to multiple skills that are useful in the workplace, including the following:

  • Communication: increased self-awareness and sensitivity to other people’s feelings reduce tension and improve relationships and collaboration in the workplace.

  • Decision-making: understanding how your emotions guide your thoughts can keep you from making impulsive professional decisions due to underlying emotions and objective judgments.

  • Tolerance to change: successful workplaces are always growing and changing, but emotional reactions can make people resistant to change. A high EQ can help you reflect on possible misconceptions and adopt a more positive outlook.

  • Stress management: the ability to recognize how specific situations trigger stress can help you control your reactions and develop strong coping mechanisms for workplace stressors.

  • Motivation: high EQ can help you align your actions with your career goals and feel more motivated in your current role.

Can EQ improve job performance?

High performers in the workplace can recognize factors in their environment that act as barriers to success. When you know how to understand and manage your emotions, you can better recognize how external factors affect your performance. For instance, when you know how a sleepless night will affect your behavior, you can make adjustments to improve your interactions and avoid conflicts.

Apply what you have learned about emotional intelligence to the actions of others to better understand how to communicate with colleagues. Enhanced collaboration leads to efficient teamwork that drives high performance levels within an organization.

Your efforts will also boost the performance of those around you by encouraging similar behaviors and improving the overall workplace environment.

What happens when there is low EQ in the workplace?

People with low EQ often feel misunderstood, leading to a culture of distrust and poor communication. With only a limited understanding of how your emotions guide your actions, it’s easy to feel you’re being unfairly blamed. You might then be less likely to take responsibility for your actions.

A sense of victimhood can lead you to avoid teamwork and become overly critical of coworkers. A toxic workplace environment can develop without emotional intelligence among team members, leading to poor performance and low morale.

How to improve emotional intelligence

Like intellectual intelligence, you can learn and improve EQ. It’s derived from a set of characteristics and skills that you can develop through education and behavioral adjustments.

Below are some common ways you can boost your EQ for improved personal and professional relationships.

Helpful ways to upgrade your emotional intelligence

Pay attention to your emotions

To develop self-awareness, be mindful of how your emotions affect your actions. Pay attention to how you’re feeling during different situations and how your emotions influence your responses.

Learn your stress triggers and take stock of your emotional strengths and weaknesses. Recognizing the reasons you experience negative emotions like impatience or anger enables you to develop ways to deal with these feelings effectively.

Consider journaling

If you’re not used to examining your feelings, trying to discover all the ways you’re led by them can be a bit overwhelming.

Journaling can help you recognize patterns in your emotions and understand how certain emotions present barriers to developing strong relationships.

Undergo a 360-degree assessment

A full assessment requires self-introspection combined with feedback from your manager, colleagues, and peers. Take the time to inspect your behavior and determine whether your perception is aligned with the people you interact with in the workplace.

Practice active listening

Understanding and empathizing with others is a vital part of high EQ. Listen with the intent of gaining understanding. This allows you to develop a deeper insight into how specific situations and your behaviors impact those around you. Give your undivided attention to the speaker and offer a thoughtful and honest response to let them know you’ve taken what they say on board.

Seek education

Like other skills, you need to learn the components of emotional intelligence before you can put them into practice. Consider taking an online course or seeking training to help you fully understand how to improve EQ.

Get feedback

It’s often easier for others to recognize weaknesses in your communication methods and interactions.

A study of over 3,600 leaders across different industries found that 19 out of 20 leaders significantly overvalued their level of self-awareness, accurate self-assessment, and empathy. Fewer people provide senior leaders with feedback, so they can become overconfident about how well they know themselves.

Ask for feedback to get a well-rounded view of how you respond to different situations.

Can emotional intelligence be taught?

Emotional intelligence is derived from understanding and the development of a specific set of skills. It can be taught in a classroom environment or through personal training sessions.

Some people may naturally be more predisposed to the components of high EQ, but the concepts can be learned and developed over time.

Does emotional intelligence improve with age?

Emotional intelligence is a concept and skill set that you can develop over time, so it makes sense that it can improve with age. Many people wonder if their EQ will naturally improve as they grow older.

While there’s no way to reach a conclusive answer for every individual, evidence suggests that emotional intelligence increases until it peaks around age 60.

A study investigated how individuals across all age groups responded to video clips with different emotional content. Those in their 60s did better than those in their 20s and 40s at seeing the positive side of situations and empathizing with people who were less fortunate.

How to establish a culture of emotional intelligence at work

It’s not just essential for business leaders to develop their own emotional intelligence; they should also establish a culture of emotional intelligence in the workplace. However, encouraging others to have a different mindset surrounding emotions and empathy can be challenging.

Here are some suggestions for developing a specific culture:

  • Create an environment that cultivates the behavior you want to promote.

  • Try a top-down approach to set the expectation for positive behavior.

  • Enable and encourage all managers and supervisors to model emotionally intelligent behavior.

  • Create policies to encourage positive communication along with respectful practices for dealing with disagreements.

  • Harness the value of recognition by celebrating actions that exhibit EQ and providing encouragement.

Encouraging emotional intelligence in others

Leading by example is an excellent way to encourage others to explore and increase their emotional intelligence. However, you can also do things to naturally enhance EQ in those you interact with.

Try the tips below to help others improve their EQ.

Create opportunities to share

Engage workers in conversations about major company decisions and the workplace environment. Gathering information before making big decisions provides an opportunity to use employee input to improve outcomes.

Create more opportunities for input by developing transparent communication about the best and most disappointing aspects of the workplace. Find out what motivates your employees.

Evaluate explicit emotions

It’s common for employees to offer an auto-response like “fine” or “good” when asked how they feel about workplace situations.

Instead of vague questions, define a particular emotion and ask employees at what exact level they feel it. For example, “How nervous are you on a scale of 1–10 about implementing our new software system next week?”

Share your perspective

Your colleagues will find it difficult to evaluate their behaviors during a heated exchange. If you feel an employee has behaved inappropriately (or outstandingly), provide specific feedback to help them recognize their behavior.Promote a collaborative group culture

Teamwork places people in an environment that helps create a sense of belonging.  When part of a team, workers are more likely to make an effort to build relationships with colleagues and champion other people’s successes.

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