brain illustration depicting emotional intelligence

Developing a strong emotional intelligence can be a crucial part of becoming a better leader, coworker, and all-around human. If you don’t have access to emotional intelligence training but want to work on your mindset, we’ve listed 5 tips below to help you get started!

1. Develop emotional awareness

Emotional intelligence starts with your own awareness of what emotions you experience on a regular basis and what triggers them. Each person’s response to situations is different and rooted in our upbringing, value systems, and cultural norms.

Our ability to acknowledge our emotions and where they come from is at the core of accepting ourselves and developing self-awareness.

To improve this skill, ask yourself the following questions regularly:

  • Do I have a handle on my emotional responses?
  • What feelings do I encounter most frequently?
  • What factors are present when I feel positive emotions vs. negative?
  • What control do I have over those factors?

Try this activity to develop emotional awareness

  1. Get a piece of paper and draw 2 columns.
  2. Complete the following exercise for 7 days.
  3. In the left column, write what strong positive or negative emotions you observe each day and what appears to be the cause.
  4. In the right column, write down what their impact was on you, others, and the situation.
  5. On day 7, reflect on your responses and identify any insights that surfaced by completing this exercise.

2. Learn to release emotions

Identifying unhelpful emotions and transforming them to shift your mindset can have a drastic effect on your workday. Mastering this mindset can even help you be more creative and productive.

Not sure how to let go of negative emotions? Follow the steps below.

Follow these steps to release your negative emotions

  1. Accept the emotion. At least for the time being, that feeling is part of you. Accept that you’re feeling it.
  2. Allow the emotion to exist. The more we try to ignore feelings, the more they seem to persist. Give yourself some time to feel the emotion. Acknowledge it and consider what this response might be telling you.
  3. Identify what this emotion is telling you. Where is this feeling coming from? What is really causing it? Is there an underlying message? Find the positive message.
  4. Forgive the emotion. Now that you’ve taken time to allow the feeling and consider what it’s telling you, forgive it.
  5. Release the emotion. Is there any constructive reason for you to hold onto this negative emotion? Are you willing to release it? If so, then do it!
  6. Repeat. Sometimes this exercise will reveal another layer of emotion. Repeat until you feel a state of steadiness.

Emotions give us important messages. It’s important to let yourself feel them, learn from them, and then move on when it’s time. Understanding our own emotions is a huge part of improving emotional intelligence.

3. Practice emotional correctness

Emotional correctness is the tone and feeling behind how we say something vs. just what we’re saying. This practice is crucially important if you’re having a disagreement or have differing points of view but also want to maintain a human, emotional connection (hint, hint you should!).

We think Sally Kohn says it best. Check out her TED Talk on the topic below.

Kohn uses an exercise she calls ABC-ing to practice emotional correctness. Try it out for yourself to take another step towards improving your emotional intelligence.

Try the ABC activity to show emotional correctness

  • A is for “affirm”: For example, start your response to a comment from a peer about how lazy the employees must be because sales numbers are lower this month with, “I’m also really worried about the decline in sales and how it’s affecting the company and our job security.”
  • B is for “bridge”: Find a better word than “but” or “however,” which Kohn calls “the Harvard of ‘buts.’ ”
  • C is for “convince”: As Kohn explains, “This is where I put whatever I was inclined to spit out in the first place…” For example, you might point out here that declining sales are the result of a new competitor in the market who has grown quickly and that a strategic session is needed to determine how you will compete. It’s not necessarily a direct reflection on your team’s work ethic.”

4. Identify your hot buttons

Hot buttons are beliefs and emotions that drive our behavior. They typically cause a strong reaction that might not be consistent with the stimulus that causes them. Understanding what “pushes our buttons” is an important part of having good emotional intelligence.

Hot buttons often cause us to engage in counterproductive behaviors like criticism, blaming, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling. To identify your hot buttons, complete the sentences and questions below.

Answer these questions to identify your hot buttons

  1. When someone close to me criticizes me, I…
  2. My biggest disappointment in life is that…
  3. My biggest accomplishment in life is…
  4. I get sad when…
  5. When I am afraid, I…
  6. My weaknesses are…
  7. I can’t stand it when people…
  8. I feel anger when…
  9. People should…
  10. List three times when you know you overreacted, felt out of control, or the intensity of your reaction surprised you.
  11. In one sentence, describe your “go-to” action impulses that show up on a consistent basis. 
  12. In one sentence, describe possible sources of these hot buttons.
  13. In one sentence, describe a way in which you could reframe the source narrative, so you can change your perception.

Recognizing your hot buttons and managing your reactions to have the least negative impact on those around you is an important step to cultivating emotional intelligence and improving the way you’re perceived at work and in your personal life.

5. Regulate your emotions

When you do get your buttons pushed (it happens to all of us, regardless of how emotionally intelligent we are) it’s important to learn skills for regulating those emotions when they come.

Try these three steps to regulate your emotions

  1. Find perspective. Ask yourself “Is the offender aware of his or her actions?” “Is there a chance it was done unintentionally?” “Is it possible that they are unfamiliar with how they should have acted in this scenario?”
  2. Recognize, Reframe, and Rationalize. Recognize how mad you are. Reframe your response by thinking if there are any other factors that could be adding to your response. Rationalize your response by asking if the event really calls for the level of anger you’re feeling.
  3. Choose a course of action. If after trying to find perspective and working your way through the 3 R’s you’re still angry, take action to resolve the issue in a calm manner. Remember that doing nothing can be an option as well.

If you practice these activities on a regular basis and keep the goal of improving emotional intelligence top-of-mind you’ll start to see improvements in the way you handle your emotions and respond to others in no time.

Want to provide more in-depth versions of these exercises to your team? We’d be happy to talk more about how Verb can help.

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