To summarize our last two posts, emotional intelligence, or EQ, is the awareness of one’s own and other people’s emotions, as well as the ability to manage them. EQ involves being able to understand and label emotions accurately, and use this information to guide one’s actions or navigate social situations.

EQ is a flexible skill set that can be developed with practice. While some people are inherently more emotionally intelligent than others, many experts believe EQ can be honed.

Ask Yourself the Right Questions

Improving your EQ starts with asking the right questions. This can help you gain valuable insights into what you’re feeling. When an emotion arises, ask yourself:

  • What am I feeling?
  • How is it impacting my decisions and actions?
  • What can I do about it?

Likewise, when you’re confronted with someone else’s emotions, you can ask yourself similar questions to try to determine what’s really going on with them rather than reacting immediately. If you need help understanding what others are feeling, ask them.

Build Your Emotional Vocabulary

Another way to boost your EQ is to increase your emotional vocabulary. Emotions shouldn’t be categorized as simply happy or sad. Just as an artist doesn’t merely see blue but also periwinkle, cerulean, navy, indigo, etc., you should be able to recognize variations in your emotions. Instead of saying you’re sad, determine if you’re lonely, anxious, resentful, envious, etc. Pinpointing exactly what it is you’re feeling will help you know how to deal with it. For example, if you’re lonely, you can call up a loved one. This is more constructive than dwelling in an emotion you don’t know how to address. Additionally, the more you learn to recognize these nuances in yourself, the more you’ll be able to recognize them in others.

There are thousands of words to describe feelings in the English language. If you have a limited emotional vocabulary, build it by consulting a dictionary or thesaurus to learn more words that capture what you’re feeling. In general, unlabeled emotions can easily be misunderstood, which does not lead to productive coping mechanisms. The more accurate the descriptor, the better the insight it provides into what’s really going on and how it needs to be addressed.

More Tips for Elevating Your EQ

  • Strengthen your introspection by recognizing your own thoughts, feelings and biases. You may even want to track your emotions throughout the day by noting them in a journal.
  • Avoid labeling other perspectives as right or wrong. Instead, seek to understand how they’re different than yours and why.
  • Be open to constructive criticism so you can learn from it and discover weaknesses.
  • Utilize the “pause.” Stop and think before speaking or acting. (This is easier said than done.) Practice regulating your emotions by taking a moment to ask how your feelings are driving your behavior before reacting. As you start to understand how your emotions influence your actions, you may start to better understand the behavior of others.
  • Accept that perfection isn’t realistic.
  • Focus on the good in others. Better yet, tell people what you appreciate about them.
  • Admit when you’re wrong and apologize. It builds humility and authenticity.
  • Forgive others.
  • Set aside 15 minutes every day to practice mindfulness and introspection. This can promote relaxation and stress management.

Building Your Brain With EQ

As you practice EQ skills, an amazing thing happens in your brain – billions of neural pathways are formed. Your brain builds connections as you learn new skills to boost your efficiency performing them. Neurologists refer to this as plasticity. EQ is based on the brain’s ability to communicate between its rational and emotional centers. Practicing EQ skills allows billions of neurons lining the path between the rational and emotional centers of your brain to branch off and reach out to other cells. In fact, a single cell can create up to 15,000 connections with its neighbors. These pathways make it easier to carry out desired behaviors in the future. The more you practice EQ skills, the more your desired actions turn into habits.

This is the third article in a four-part series about EQ. In our next post, we’ll discuss EQ in the workplace.