3 Ways to Increase Your Emotional Intelligence
Reduce stress at work and home.
If I could ask for a show of hands to the question, “Who is stressed?” I am fairly confident that a majority of those reading this post would indicate they are indeed stressed. This is based on the eye-popping results from multiple surveys on worker stress. And this stress can lead to decreased performance at work and home.
So how do we take steps to reduce our stress? There are some well-known ways of reducing stress, such as engaging in exercise or utilizing time-management techniques, and these are without a doubt excellent coping mechanisms. However, those techniques often take time to plan and implement, which can lead to a delay in reducing your stress. On the other hand, our emotional intelligence can be increased almost immediately and can be a very effective tool in reducing our stress.
At its most basic level, emotional intelligence refers to our ability to a) identify our feelings, b) identify others’ feelings, and c) react accordingly. And why should we care about our emotional intelligence? In terms of stress, research suggests that higher emotional intelligence leads to lower stress levels.
Furthermore, there is a large amount of research indicating that emotional intelligence is a critical success factor in the workplace as well as at home. For example, employees high in emotional intelligence are more satisfied with their jobs than their counterparts with low emotional intelligence. This also translates to better performance on the job, with those workers high in emotional intelligence outperforming those low in managing their emotions. Some studies even show a high correlation between emotional intelligence and how much money we earn!
Here are three ways we can immediately work on building our emotional intelligence and starting to reduce our stress.
1. Practice Emotional Literacy
Being emotionally literate helps us to direct the focus of our own feelings and emotions in the right place. We can practice being emotionally literate by expressing our thoughts in three-word sentences (perhaps best done internally to ourselves—not aloud for others to hear). For instance, if a coworker or family member is taking too long to complete a task you asked them to do, then you might be tempted to think to yourself (or possibly say aloud to this person) “You are ridiculous!” However, this emotion will likely make you less effective during that interaction. Worse yet, if a “you” statement is actually verbalized it is likely to put the other person on the defensive. On the other hand, if you redirect this thought by saying to yourself “I feel impatient,” then you are more accurately getting to the root of the emotion and are better able to regulate that emotion.
Try these tips to increase your emotional literacy:
Express your feeling with a three-word sentence.
Use “I” instead of “You” (this allows you to own the feeling instead of placing it on
Use feeling words in your three-word sentence (for example, I feel…tired, exhausted, frustrated, etc…).
Remember that thoughts determine emotion.
2. Develop Empathy
Having empathy means we recognize and understand how others feel. Displaying empathy is important because when our coworkers and family members perceive that we are empathetic, they in turn believe we are treating them with fairness and respect. When it comes to interactions with coworkers and family members alike, you can take steps to develop empathy by:
Listening to others (and resisting the urge to interrupt).
Being slow to offer advice (sometimes listening, from the previous point, is enough).
Taking others’ points-of-view into account (the old “put yourself in their shoes” adage).
3. Develop Emotional Control
While emotional literacy and empathy are specific, developing emotional control is a little broader. In general, emotional control means taking action on those situations in which we have control. For example, if a coworker is rude to you during an interaction, you cannot truly control their behavior. Nevertheless, you can control your behavior. One element you have control over is your breathing—that’s right, your breathing. Try taking deep breaths as a way to calm your emotional response. There are both psychological and physiological mechanisms at play when we take a deep breath and these allow us to reduce stress in the moment and maintain better control over our emotions.
You might also try forward thinking when you encounter a stressor. Forward thinking is a technique where you simply think to yourself “How significant will ___ be tomorrow…or next week?” Yes, the coworker may have been rude to you. But does their rude behavior require an equally rude response? Likely not. A rude response by you will only hurt your own reputation. Developing your emotional control will help lessen the impact of a situation like this.
As a way to develop more emotional control, try these tips:
Breathe deeply for a few seconds.
Take a break (detach yourself from the situation if possible).
Try forward thinking (How important will ___ be tomorrow?).
Developing emotional intelligence takes time and practice. And simply practicing the preceding three tips will not make us emotional intelligence experts after one day. However, we can implement these suggestions now and begin to see the positive results immediately.
Russell Clayton, Ph.D., is an instructor in the Muma College of Business at the University of South Florida and the author of Balancing Life: Seven Strategies That Can Help You Achieve Work-Life Balance.