In the dynamic landscape of today’s professional world, where collaboration, adaptability, and effective communication reign supreme, emotional intelligence has emerged as a pivotal skill that can greatly influence one’s success in the workplace. According to Psychology Today, Emotional intelligence (or EQ) is “the ability to identify and manage one’s own emotions, as well as the emotions of others” — and it’s an extremely important skill for leaders to master.
According to one Forbes article, EQ is important in a range of business and leadership decisions. Emotional intelligence impacts your ability to make good decisions quickly, shapes the relationships you form with members of your team, gives you insight into potential business issues, improves your conflict management skills, and helps you create a high-productivity culture.
The good news? While emotional intelligence isn’t something that everyone is born with (in fact, those with lower EQ may have a higher IQ), it is a skill you can learn. Here are five ways to begin improving your emotional intelligence.
1. Become More Self-Aware
EQ can be divided into two categories: EQ surrounding your own emotions and EQ surrounding others’ emotions. This means that individuals with high emotional intelligence are cognizant of both their own emotions and the emotions of others.
So how do you become more self-aware and learn to understand your own emotions?
Start by learning to recognize what you’re feeling, when you’re feeling it. As you begin to identify and name your emotions as you experience them, you’ll also learn to pinpoint why you’re feeling the emotions you are, and then learn to recognize patterns in your emotions and the behaviors that result from them (allowing you to then adjust and control your patterns as needed).
Try keeping an emotions journal, wherein you track your emotions, what caused them, and how you responded. Putting these details in writing can make it easier to recognize destructive or productive habits. If you notice destructive habits, decide what you need to do to curb those behaviors. Maybe you need to avoid triggers, learn to use cognitive reframing, or build up emotional tolerance.
2. Practice Mindfulness
In becoming more self-aware, you can also practice mindfulness — the ability to slow down in the moment and understand what’s happening around you and in you, at any given time, rather than allowing your mind to be swept away by your body’s emotional and physical responses. Meditation can help with developing a sense of mindfulness.
Don’t think you can fit mindfulness into your busy work day? Consider taking designated mindfulness breaks throughout the day, during which you step away from your laptop and phone and enjoy a quiet mindfulness moment — take a walk through your neighborhood if you work remotely, brew a cup of tea, or spend 10 minutes with your eyes closed.
Don’t feel like you have enough time for that? Get up, open the blinds, and take a quick look outside. Put on some relaxing background music as you work through emails. Create a peaceful haven in your office by bringing in sunlight and some plants. Think about something kind someone has done for you recently and send a quick “thank you” email.
3. Practice Active Listening
There are many types of listening that you should implement as a leader, depending on the situation at hand, but active listening in particular will help you develop your EQ.
What exactly does “active listening” mean? Active listening involves thoroughly listening to what’s being said by the other person and then actively responding to it. It requires you to thoughtfully engage with them and offer insight and input as needed (instead of simply nodding along or providing limited responses).
Active listening takes practice (especially for those whose minds run rampant with worry or other trains of thought while someone else is speaking). Start by putting away sources of distraction (such as your phone) whenever you’re conversing with others. Focus on what the other person is saying; allow yourself to observe their body language, tone, and words. If your mind starts to wander, gently bring it back to the present moment. You may be surprised at how this one change can positively impact your relationships, both business and personal.
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4. Improve Your Communication and Social Skills
More broadly, work to improve your communication and social skills beyond your verbal abilities. Ask yourself how you communicate without words.
When you’re delivering a rousing speech or giving a presentation, what does your non-verbal communication convey? Do you use your hand gestures wisely to emphasize your words? Do you fidget and draw attention away from your messaging? Work on maintaining a calm, steady presence in all of your interactions to convey confidence that others will see and, more importantly, feel.
5. Practice Accountability and Welcome Feedback
As with any other skill, improving your EQ requires accountability and feedback. You don’t have to take this journey of self-development alone; sometimes you need community support to achieve your goals. Encourage your teams to hold you accountable (or work with a career coach if you’re not comfortable working with your team) and ask for direct feedback.
Accountability is incredibly important for everyone on your team, as it helps to improve relationships and leads to less micromanagement as well as better overall results.
The Bottom Line
Developing a higher EQ requires practice, but the practice is well worth the results. A higher EQ equals enhanced leadership skills and better relationships with your teams. By improving your EQ, you can understand their needs and increase productivity and profits as a result.
Not sure if you need to work on your EQ or if another area of your leadership skills is lacking? Take our free leadership assessment to discover where you might have a little room for improvement.