Emotional intelligence is often a crucial factor differentiating between high-performance individuals and the rest of the crowd. In other words, people with high emotional intelligence (EQ) just stand out more.   


By mastering this important skill, you will be able to enhance your performance in your life and the workplace. By developing your emotional intelligence, you will be able to accomplish your personal goals, build a stronger team and improve your relationships.  


image of person thinking

What is emotional intelligence (also known as emotional quotient or EQ)? 


Before discussing what tools we can use to develop our emotional intelligence, we should clearly understand what emotional intelligence really is.  


According to psychologytoday.com, “emotional intelligence refers to the ability to identify and manage one’s own emotions, as well as the emotions of others”. This means we can identify and name our own emotions, but we can also help others to do the same when needed, by using empathy.  


As individuals, we are not defined by just one of our traits, but we are the sum of all of them, and they have an influence over the way we interact with the world around us. And while personality or IQ (a measure of general intelligence) don’t change much during our adult life, our emotional intelligence is a skill that can be enhanced and grown the entire life.   



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How to manage our emotions and reactions 


When we face difficult situations, the reaction coming as a response to our emotions is usually very fast. The first step to making the best out of this reaction is to become aware of our emotional response process and how this works.  


In his book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman talks about the two different ways (two systems) humans think:   


  • System 1 – Intuition & instinct (95%): Automatic pilot, Fast, Unconscious, Associative  
  • System 2 – Rational thinking (5%): Takes effort, Logical, Slow, Complex decisions, Reliable  


While our fast thinking (system 1) might help us in our day-to-day life to make quick, simple decisions and continue with our day, in a complex and challenging situation, our instinct might kick in, and the response could be less logical. To find the best way to handle the challenge, we need to learn how to disrupt automatic thinking and slow down (system 2) this process.  


By pausing and objectively assessing the situation, you have the opportunity to make changes in the way you react. By any means, this is not easy, and we all know it! It’s hard to step away for a second when you are in a heated debate. But it’s not impossible, and it becomes easier with practice.  


If I piqued your interest in the two types of thinking, you could deep dive into this topic by checking the book or watch the video from Talks at Google with Daniel Kahneman as a guest.


Now, let’s discuss specific actions we can take to grow our EQ and marry the two ways of thinking.  



Key areas to consider for growing your EQ 


There are four areas to consider enhancing for a better EQ: Self-awareness, Self-management, Social Awareness, and Relationship development. While the first two look inwards, at understanding our own internal emotions and managing them, the last two areas look outward at being aware of social situations and handling relationships.  



image of man looking at himself in a mirror




Studies have shown that our current emotional experiences reflect our early life experiences and the way we handle feelings like anger, sadness, fear, and joy. This is related to how our primary caretakers understood and valued our emotions. So, some of us might be better at identifying our emotions or less sensitive to them.  


Imagine you are driving your car, and in a fraction of a second, someone cuts your way and forces you to hit the brake. You are immediately flushed with anger, and you react angrily. Do you think you were angry because of the other driving acting reckless or because of a previous experience? 


We often feel like our behavior results from an action/event happening to us. But what actually happens is different. We witness an event, and our brain will process it through previous experiences with other thoughts and emotions and will trigger a specific behavior.   


The first step to improve your self-awareness is to start recognizing your emotions. They will dictate how you interact with the world. If you miss recognizing these emotions, you will not be able to control your reaction.  


To do so, try reflecting on some challenging situations and analyzing the parts you played in those scenarios and the outcomes.  





Did it ever happen to you to think back and tell yourself: hmm… I think I could have handled that situation better. Since we are not living in an ideal world, we are often exposed to stressful situations, making us react in less effective ways.  


image of a person reacting emotionally


When confronted with a challenging situation, try the following steps 


  1. Identify the emotional reaction. 
  2. Remove yourself from the situation for a short period (if possible) – take deep breaths for 60 seconds or take a short walk.  
  3. Give yourself time to recover – give yourself time to level your emotions.  
  4. Challenge your thoughts – look at the situation from a different angle  
  5. Choose how to respond.  



Social awareness 


Growing your social awareness will enable you to recognize and interpret the nonverbal cues around you and improve how you communicate. While self-awareness is understanding your own emotions, social awareness is the ability to understand other people’s feelings and adequately respond to their needs. Here are three steps to take to improve your social awareness:   


  1. Show interest in your surroundings and gather information.  
  2. Notice facial expressions, body language, or specific tones in people’s voices. While all this information is already out there, sometimes we miss noticing it. We need to get out of our head (from our worries, thoughts, priorities) and immerse ourselves in our surroundings.  
  3. Show up for the others with empathy: ask questions and imagine how the other person is feeling but don’t make assumptions or identify yourself in the situation. Last but not least, offer support.  



image of a pleasant conversation


Relationship development 


In the relationship development area, we continue to build on our social awareness. To enhance our emotional intelligence, it’s important to have effective and fulfilling relationships.  


In the same way you are paying attention to the nonverbal cues around you, people around you will react to the signals you are sending. So, think about your nonverbal communication and the message you are sending in a conversation.  


Be genuine and use your natural strengths to your advantage. Listen, communicate clearly, relax, and try to make an authentic connection.   


Finally, one of the essential tools you can use to grow is gathering feedback. Simply ask others how they perceive you. While sometimes it’s difficult to receive feedback, different perspectives can immensely help us grow because we can analyze and refine how we interact with others.  



Work on minor adjustments and improvements in these four areas to grow your emotional intelligence and you will be better equipped to handle life challenges.    




Author: Andreea Floricel