Mastering emotional intelligence: 5 best strategies for successful relationships at home and at work

how to improve emotional intelligence
Bollywood actors Shah Rukh Khan (R) and Deepika Padukone speak during an event to celebrate the success of their Indian Hindi-language action thriller film ‘Jawan’ in Mumbai on September 15, 2023. (Photo by Sujit JAISWAL / AFP)

Knowing how to improve emotional intelligence is now seen as important, and sometimes even more important, than many other abilities today.

Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognise, understand and manage both your own emotions and those of the people around you in constructive and considerate ways.

It involves expressing emotions in a way that is respectful and supportive.

This is something many companies now recognise as equally important to technical ability, employing emotional quotient (EQ) testing in their hiring processes.

Companies see this as a crucial step in interviews as without this emotional acumen, your performance may suffer, and opportunities for career advancement could be limited. 

The repercussions could not only affect you professionally but physically and mentally as well. 

Uncontrolled stress, often a result of inadequate emotional management, has been linked to elevated blood pressure, compromised immune function, increased risk of cardiovascular issues, infertility and accelerated ageing.

Your mental well-being is at stake, as unmanaged emotions can make you susceptible to anxiety and depression.

how to improve emotional intelligence

How to improve your emotional intelligence? Practise reacting to challenges. Source: ETX

Why is emotional intelligence important?

Emotional intelligence is important for fostering positive and productive relationships in different aspects of life.

Research indicates that those with higher emotional intelligence are more likely to succeed in the workplace by collaborating with coworkers or supervisors. 

Understanding and navigating social dynamics is needed when faced with complex situations requiring an understanding of different perspectives and feelings.

With emotional intelligence, you will be able to manage emotions adeptly, recognise patterns and develop strategies to avoid the impact of negative feelings.

While a high IQ may open doors, your emotional quotient allows you to handle stress and emotions effectively. The correlation between IQ and EQ is essential to achieve personal growth and success.

It has been found that those with well-balanced emotional intelligence tend to excel academically, socially and professionally. 

For those in leadership positions, emotional intelligence is needed for effective leadership, which brings about empathetic communication, conflict management and leadership prowess. 

how to improve emotional intelligence

Yoga allows you to better understand your body’s needs, limitations, and strengths. Source: AFP

Who came up with the phrase emotional intelligence?

The phrase “emotional intelligence” was created from the collaborative efforts of Peter Salavoy and John Mayer, who introduced the term in their 1990 article “Emotional Intelligence” published in the journal “Imagination, Cognition and Personality.” 

This concept was created to capture a set of skills distinct from traditional measures of intelligence, emphasising a person’s ability to perceive, understand and manage emotions in oneself and others.

Salavoy and Mayer’s work laid the foundation for a new dimension in psychology, recognising the significance of emotional competence in navigating interpersonal relationships and coping with life’s challenges.

Dan Goleman later popularised the concept with his influential book, “Emotional Intelligence,” which brought this perspective on intelligence into mainstream discourse.

This sparked interest and applications in many different fields, including education, leadership and personal development.

5 best ways on how to improve emotional intelligence

1. Self-awareness

Understanding yourself is a cornerstone of enhancing emotional intelligence.

When you recognise your own emotions and understand how they influence your thoughts and actions, you possess a crucial aspect of self-awareness. 

It’s not just about being aware of your feelings; it’s about understanding your strengths, weaknesses, beliefs and motivations. 

Leaders who are proficient in understanding and handling their emotions are not only better at perceiving the feelings of others but also excel in motivating their team. 

Not having self-awareness can affect your day-to-day tasks.

According to Harvard Business Review, teams with members lacking self-awareness make poorer decisions and struggle with conflict management.

By acknowledging your weaknesses, you create trust and transparency within your team and take charge of your professional development, identifying areas for improvement.

Scenario: You’ve been invited to a party on a weeknight, but you have an important exam the next morning.

Sentence to say: “I appreciate the invitation, but I have an important exam tomorrow, and I need to prioritise my study time. How about we plan something fun over the weekend instead?”

Sentence to avoid: “Who cares about the exam? I’ll just cram in the morning. Let’s party tonight, and I’ll figure it out later.”

how to improve emotional intelligence

Active listening is one of the ways on how to improve emotional intelligence. Source: AFP

2. Self-regulation

Self-regulation is important to improve your emotional intelligence as you work on personal growth.

It involves the ability to control impulsive feelings and behaviours, manage emotions in a healthy way, and adapt to changing circumstances. 

According to Goleman, the psychologist who popularised emotional intelligence, the tendency toward radical outbursts is not indicative of strong leadership.

Statistics show that those with effective self-regulation skills are more likely to follow through on commitments and demonstrate adaptability.

Developing self-regulation can lead to better decision-making, increased resilience and improved overall well-being.

Adopting this can make a significant difference in your daily life. For example, pausing before responding allows you to separate your initial emotional reaction from thoughtful consideration.

Those who implement this experience improved conflict resolution and more positive interpersonal relationships. 

If you feel stressed or anxious, taking a step back from the situation, whether by leaving the room or taking a break, has been linked to reduced stress levels and will allow you to respond to the situation better.

Scenario: You have a group project due in two weeks, and you’ve been assigned a specific task that requires collaboration with your team members.

Sentence to say: “Hey team, I’ve started working on my part of the project and wanted to check in with you all. How about we meet to discuss our progress and ensure we’re on the same page?”

Sentence to avoid: “I’ll just wait until the last minute to do my part. They’ll have to deal with it. I don’t need to coordinate with them.”

how to improve emotional intelligence

How to improve emotional intelligence often starts with embracing empathy. Source: AFP

3. Empathy

How to improve emotional intelligence often starts with this.

Embracing empathy is an important step you must master. Empathy involves the capacity to comprehend another person’s experiences and emotions.

Imagine being in a group project where one team member struggles to keep up due to personal challenges.

By expressing empathy, you actively listen to their concerns, understand their situation, and provide support. 

According to DDI, leaders who excel at empathy perform over 40% better in coaching, planning and decision-making.

This skill is essential to enhance teamwork and collaboration, especially since 96% of employees consider empathy important.

Companies prioritising empathy witness increased revenue, retention and productivity. 

As a student, practising empathy means understanding the wants and needs of your peers, creating a more inclusive and harmonious learning environment. 

Scenario: A friend is struggling with personal issues and has opened up to you about their struggles.

Sentence to say: “I’m really sorry to hear that you’re going through a difficult time. I’m here for you, and if you ever want to talk or need support, don’t hesitate to reach out. We can grab a coffee or just spend some time together.”

Sentence to avoid: “Well, everyone has problems. Deal with it. I don’t have time for your drama.”

how to improve emotional intelligence

Improving your emotional intelligence will help you to become a better leader and team member. Source: AFP

4. Self-motivation

Motivation is one of the lesser-known, but just as crucial a step, in how to improve emotional intelligence.

It involves the ability to inspire yourself and those around you to act.

As a university student facing a challenging semester with many assignments and exams, your motivation becomes the driving force that pushes you to set clear goals, take initiative in your studies, and tackle challenges with optimism. 

Getting through these academic hurdles enhances your emotional intelligence and creates a positive atmosphere.

According to recent studies, students who show high levels of motivation are more likely to achieve academic success and report higher levels of overall well-being.

This positive mindset benefits you individually and has a ripple effect on your peers.

As a motivated team member on a group project, you could motivate your team by setting goals and approaching challenges with a can-do attitude.

Teams with motivated individuals are not only more likely to excel academically but also experience increased cohesion and satisfaction within the group.

Scenario: You have a personal project you’re passionate about and are working on during your free time.

Sentence to say: “I’m really excited about this project I’m working on. It’s challenging, but I’m learning a lot and making progress.”

Sentence to avoid: “I am not going to bother with these side projects. It’s not like it’s going to lead to anything. I will just stick to what I am supposed to do.”

verbal and non-verbal communication

Michelle Obama’s speeches often touch upon her strong self-motivation since childhood. Source: AFP

5. Social awareness

Social awareness is an essential component in anyone’s how to improve emotional intelligence journey. It focuses on how you perceive and navigate emotion while interacting with others.

Leaders with great social skills recognise that achieving goals and reaching milestones hinges on collaboration, communication and a shared vision.

According to research by the Centre for Creative Leadership, leaders who excel in social awareness are more likely to be viewed as effective by their team members.

By honing your social awareness, you enhance your ability to build and maintain relationships and contribute to a more harmonious and productive work environment. 

Scenario: You’re part of a study group, and one of your peers struggles to keep up with the material.

Sentence to say: “I’ve noticed that the material seems challenging for you. How about we go over it together sometime? I’m sure we can work through it, and I’m here to help.”

Sentence to avoid: “If you can’t keep up, that’s your problem. I’m not slowing down for anyone. Just figure it out on your own.”

how to improve emotional intelligence

Oprah Winfrey’s real secret to success? High emotional intelligence. Source: AFP

How to develop emotional intelligence skills 

If you feel you have much to do to improve your emotional intelligence, here are some actions you can take to boost it: 

  1. Journalling: Take some time at the end of the day to reflect on your work, projects and interactions. Write down your thoughts and behavioural patterns.
  2. Practise active listening: Focus on what the speaker is saying and stay engaged
  3. Pay attention to your emotions: Consider what you are feeling and jot down why you are feeling a certain way or what might have triggered your emotions
  4. Take an online course or training: Harvard Business School Online’s Leadership Principles course provides a 360-degree assessment to help you better understand who you are as a leader and how others perceive you