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How to become a master of emotional intelligence: 5 ways you can improve your emotional intelligence

Updated: Dec 31, 2021

What is emotional intelligence?

Emotional intelligence (EQ or EI for short) has become an increasingly popular term in today’s world. It was first coined and explored by psychologists Peter Salovey and John Mayer back in the early 1990s who defined emotional intelligence as:

“Emotional intelligence is a type of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ emotions, to discriminate among them, and to use the information to guide one’s thinking and actions.”

Simply put, emotional intelligence is the ability to perceive, control and evaluate your own emotions and those of the people around you. It’s important to understand the two sides of the coin of emotional intelligence:

  • Firstly is the ability to recognise and understand emotions (both your own and those of others).

  • Secondly is the ability to manage and use these emotions to make good decisions and to influence people and situations.

Emotional intelligence is so much more than just being able to control your anger. It’s about being able to easily grasp how you’d feel and react in a number of situations while also having a deep understanding of others emotions and reactions. It’s about understanding that we all have different personalities, different wants and needs and different ways of expressing ourselves. Being able to navigate through all this takes a certain level of tact and cleverness.

Some believe that emotional intelligence is just an inborn skill and just comes naturally to others. While this may be true for some people, I strongly believe that just like any other skill, emotional intelligence can be learned and improved upon. This should especially be a priority for those of you that are business leaders.

5 habits that can help you build your emotional intelligence

Try practising these five habits to become a master of your own emotional intelligence:

1. Work on your self-awareness

Self-awareness is the biggest key when it comes to unlocking your emotional intelligence. Being able to reflect on your emotions and how they influence your behaviour and reactions is the essence of emotional intelligence. Emotionally intelligent people are intuitive, they are aware of how their own emotions and how they influence the people around them.

If you want to get better at self-awareness, ask yourself these questions:

  • What are your emotional strengths and weaknesses?

  • What areas do you need to improve?

  • Do you tend to react or lose your temper quickly? Or do you avoid confrontation?

  • Do you make important decisions in the spur of the moment?

Practices such as mindfulness and meditation can also be incredibly helpful when it comes to self-awareness. Don’t run away from your thoughts - take time to get to know yourself and how you think and feel about anything and everything. Journaling can also help build your self-awareness by helping detect and correct unhealthy thought patterns and behaviours.

Self-awareness takes a lot of introspection so do your best to be honest with yourself if you want to understand your own emotional habits.

2. Ask for feedback and take it well

Remember that an important aspect of emotional intelligence is understanding that different people will always see things differently and that’s perfectly normal and okay!

“To Make a Difference, Understand Differences.” ― Syed Sharukh

Differences are a good thing as they push us to expand our perspective and sometimes even make us stand firmer in our beliefs. That’s why it’s essential to discover if the people around you see things the way you do. One of the best ways to you can do this is to simply ask them.

Audit your own self-perception by inquiring from family, friends, colleagues or even managers about your emotional intelligence. Sometimes people are able to point out patterns you yourself may fail to recognise. You can ask:

  • How do you respond to difficult situations?

  • How empathetic or adaptable are you?

  • How do you handle yourself in conflict?

Some of the feedback you get may not always be what you want to hear but what you may need to hear. The reality is that most people don’t know how to deliver criticism well - so don’t focus on the delivery, focus on the message. Don’t take criticism personally but as an opportunity to learn and grow.

3. Respond don’t react

There’s a very subtle but important difference between reacting and responding to a situation.

Reacting can be seen as an unconscious process where you do or say things without thinking first and fail to consider the implications, you just act. In most cases, you experience an emotional trigger and behave in a way that expresses or relieves that emotion. For example, feeling agitated by someones who keeps interrupting you and snapping at them. There’s no filtering process when you’re reacting in a situation, you’re essentially running on auto-pilot.

On the other hand, responding is a much more conscious process where you first notice how you feel before deciding how you want to behave. In our example, rather than snapping at the person who keeps interrupting you, you first explain how you feel, why it isn’t okay to be interrupting you at that time and at what point they can give their input.

Responding is much more thoughtful - you get to explore the various outcomes your response might get even before saying a word. You can assess the pros and cons of your response and choose the best outcome for both yourself and the others in the situation. If you want to become a master of your emotional intelligence, learn to respond rather than react.

4. Practice empathy

Empathy is the ability to be able to step into someone’s shoes with the goal of understanding their feelings and perspective and using that understanding to guide our actions. It can apply to both ourselves and others and is a big sign of emotionally intelligent people.