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How to Improve Your Emotional Intelligence

Social and emotional intelligence is crucial for success at work: a learnable skill that enables us to work effectively in teams, remain calm amid conflict, establish healthy long-term relationships, and make sound decisions.

The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report 2020 lists emotional intelligence (EI) among the ten skills most frequently requested by organizations surveyed. And the need for social and emotional intelligence is among the 12 factors for success that Eric Shepherd and Joan Phaup highlight in their book, Talent Transformation: Develop Today’s Team for Tomorrow’s World of Work. They describe IE as “the capacity to be aware of, control, and express emotions and to handle relationships effectively.”

Exponential changes in technology and business models, together with the additional stresses of living through a global pandemic, reinforce people’s tremendous need to value EI. They can use EI to help them adjust readily to changing work practices and work effectively in remote teams.

Powerful technologies enable us to communicate with each other, but people feel isolated – a combination that makes them more impatient and volatile. These impacts of stress are making it harder to solve our individual and collective problems, and they impact everyone around the world, at work, and home.

The distance we must maintain for safety can obscure the natural cues that tell us how other people feel. We may be less apt to empathize with someone and connect with them constructively when we are not in the same room. Long periods of social isolation are testing our limits, making it more critical than ever to understand our own and other peoples’ feelings.

According to the American Psychological Association’s Stress in America 2020 report, two out of every three adults in the United States have experienced increased stress since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Among the younger generation, nearly 8 out of every 10 Gen Z adults in the US consider concerns about the nation’s future as a significant source of stress.

Developing emotional intelligence will help all of us find constructive solutions to these problems. It doesn’t only help us get along better with coworkers. It makes us more agile and adaptable. As technology takes on more and more tasks, emotional intelligence will help us embrace change, reason clearly, and make smart decisions. By accepting the importance of EI, we move closer to achieving it.

So how do we improve our EI?

Tune in To Emotions

Emotions relate to our biology. Our neurotransmitters are designed to help us cope with various levels of stress. Serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin, and other endorphins help regulate essential bodily functions: digestion, temperature, heart rate, and so on. They also play a role in how — and what — we feel.

It’s typical for people who ignore their emotions to experience a physical manifestation of how they feel: perhaps tightness in the jaw, sore muscles, or furrowed eyebrows. Taking hints from our bodies can help us tune in to our feelings. But how can we do that? Answering these questions is an excellent way to start:

  • How do I feel physically? (tight muscles, tight jaw, frown, etc.)

  • What emotions am I feeling? (happy, sad, anxious, calm, excited, bored, etc.)

  • How would I describe my mindset right now? (distracted, focused, observant, etc.)

We can also discern another person’s emotions by paying attention to their tone of voice, watching their facial expressions, and noting their body language.

Strike a Balance