When it comes to talking about intelligence, someone’s intelligence quotient (IQ) is usually what comes to mind; however, there is another type of intelligence that’s often overlooked but equally important: your emotional intelligence (EQ).
Your EQ is a key component of building any professional or personal relationship. Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand and manage your emotions and other people’s. It is important for navigating your relationships with your boss, colleagues, friends, family, and your significant other.
According to Dr. Sanam Hafeez, a neuropsychologist and faculty member at Columbia University, there are three primary pillars of emotional intelligence: self-awareness, motivation to rationally look at a problem and find a solution, and the ability to develop social skills. Luckily, you can constantly work on these three pillars to boost your emotional intelligence so you can develop a stronger self-awareness, which will impact your ability to interpret and respond to other people’s emotions and your own.
Here are seven expert tips to help you boost your emotional intelligence.
1. Interact Often
Dr. Julie Gurner, a business consultant with a doctorate in psychology, suggests that you incorporate more social interactions into your day. She recommends adding more small talk to your routine. For example, instead of listening to music, texting, and checking your email while walking to work, seek out genuine interactions with the barista at the coffee shop or the person you see as you walk by the dog park every morning. According to Dr. Gurner, “Small, brief social interactions outside our office helps us to connect better with others inside our office.”
2. Keep a Journal
Dr. Danielle Harlan, the founder and CEO of the Center for Advancing Leadership and Human Potential with a doctorate in political science and a masters degree in education, emphasizes the importance of journaling regularly in order to identify our emotions. “Part of being emotionally intelligent involves knowing what you are feeling at any particular point in time,” she says. Harlan explains that, “Journaling (especially after emotionally charged interactions) helps people to better understand what they were feeling and to recognize patterns of behavior in themselves and others.”
3. Help Others
“Doing something completely out of kindness and for a cause you believe in puts you in touch with others with similar perspectives, but likely others outside of your normal social sphere,” says Gurner. And connecting with people outside your industry or social circle can expand your EQ as well. Similarly, Dr. Melanie Ross Mills, a speaker, counselor, and author with a doctorate in temperament therapy, emphasizes the importance of demonstrating empathy and consideration throughout the day. “Get outside of yourself to think about others. From the smallest gesture to one that stretches you. Be available.”
4. Be Present
When you are truly present, you are able to recognize and understand other people’s emotions. Harlan recommends observing people’s body language and changes in mood or energy. She gives the example of a colleague who is always energetic and engaged, but seems unusually withdrawn or slouched over. This behavior may signal a mood change that could be a result of a recent incident or circumstance. As a sensitive colleague, your communication with her should change as well, she says.
5. Take a Breather
Have you ever written an email or text message when you were angry and sent it without really thinking about the implications? According to Mills, you should not avoid your emotions but you need not always act on them. “It’s easy to let things go that are difficult to address,” she says. Part of maturing in our emotional development is found in allowing ourselves to feel what we truly feel. It’s also developed as we learn to contain our emotions. Self-awareness breeds self-control.” So it may be a good idea to wait twenty-four hours before firing off a response to your boss’ all-caps email. In the meantime, practice what she calls emotional reframing. “Restart, refocus, refresh, and re-engage. When you sense that your stress levels are heightening and your negative emotions are taking over, take a pause and reset.” Go for a walk, take three deep breaths, journal your emotions, or find another way to reset until you feel ready to re-engage in a sensitive and balanced way.
If you feel you may lose control, Harlan suggests calming yourself down by focusing on a task that requires the logical-analytical part of your brain, such as reading a business article or thinking of 10 things you like that begin with the letter P. “These seemingly random activities will actually force your immediate focus out of the ‘emotional’ reptilian area of your brain and back into the executive and logical area that makes good decisions,” says Harlan.
Mills recommends taking a break to pay attention to your thought processes before jumping to conclusions. She advises against making assumptions before gathering all the facts and urges us not to take other people’s responses personally because, for the most part, “it’s not about you.” Instead, “Strive to keep your mind clear and clean from the clutter of worries and angst that don’t have to be present and aren’t productive.”
7. Listen Carefully
Instead of providing solutions when others are struggling, Harlan favors being a good listener which will enable others to “work through their problem entirely on their own and come up with the exact right solution.” When someone arrives at a solution on her own, she’ll “tend to be more motivated to pursue it and more engaged in the long run than if you tried to come up with a solution for them.”
Of course, one of the simplest suggestions Harlan has is to ask people how they’re feeling if you’re unsure. “No matter how high you are in EQ, sometimes it’s just really hard to read how someone is feeling. In these cases, it’s okay to just ask them how they’re feeling and let them know that you’re there to support them if they need it,” she says.