Understanding and Improving Your Emotional Intelligence - Advance your career and improve your relationships!

Emotional intelligence (EQ) is the ability to recognize, control, and express one's own emotions in an appropriate and reasonable manner, AND the ability to recognize, validate, and even influence the emotions of others.

Benefits to having a high EQ are: more success in your personal relationships, better ability to communicate with others, reduced stress and anxiety, having more empathy, and the ability to overcome life's challenges. If your EQ is great, so is your quality of life!

Signs that you have a high EQ:

- You think about your feelings and the feelings of others. You tend to stop for a moment to really understand how you or someone else feels. This process is essentially a part of your regular habits. 

- You are willing to hear what other people think about how you, in terms of how you react and behave. This includes being able to hear negative feedback about yourself with little or no defensiveness. 

- You feel and express empathy for others.

- You can notice and validate your own feelings without judgement.

- You give praise and "credit" to others. You can recognize when someone does something well, or is better than you at something. You can be happy for someone else. 

- You don't carry around resentment. You are able to forgive. 

If your emotional intelligence could use some work, now is the perfect time to get started with improving your EQ. It takes time and thought, but improvement is certainly achievable! I've seen it happen many times. 

Here are 5 ways to boost your EQ:

1. Connect your thoughts and feelings. Often times people focus on one or the other, but understanding the interconnection between thoughts and feelings is critical to having a high EQ. Practice this by asking yourself what you think and how you feel. For example, on your way to a party you feel anxious. Ask yourself what you're thinking. (Ex. "no one will talk to me," "I'll say something dumb," etc.). Then work on changing those thoughts by thinking something more neutral or even POSITIVE about the situation. (Ex. "maybe I'll have fun," "if it's not going well, I can step outside for a few minutes and walk around," "no matter what happens, I will get through it."). Ahhh, you feel more relaxed and at ease about the situation. Recognizing your thoughts gives you the power to change them, and thereby gives you control over how you feel!

2. Plan a few minutes into everyday to stop what you are doing and notice how you feel. Good times to do this is when you wake up in the morning, once during the day, and before bed at night. Take an emotional inventory. Notice if you are feeling, relaxed, stressed, angry, annoyed, happy, mad, etc. Try to take a moment to then understand where those feelings are coming from. If you wake up feeling anxious, maybe it's because you have a presentation that day, or because you have somewhere you need to be and you're rushing. Acknowledge your feelings without judgment. Say to yourself, "I'm anxious because I have to present to the group at work today. It makes sense to me that I'm anxious and it's ok. I will get though it."

Often we focus on negative emotions- knowing when your angry, stressed, or sad, and managing those emotions appropriately. But it is also important to give awareness to the good feelings too. In fact, probably even more important! Would you believe that in some families, positive feelings were actually discouraged!? Seems crazy, but I'm sure some of you reading this can relate! The discouragement of positive feelings may have been overt or subtle. Like if a child was laughing and the parent gives them an eyebrow raise that means, "ok, that's enough laughing/silliness." I believe people (kids and adults!) need to be allowed to be silly, funny and happy without being put down about it. As long as what they're laughing about isn't disrespectful to someone else. Some adults are not comfortable with feelings, negative or positive, and this can get passed along to the children. So the point here is, take time to notice when you're happy, content, relaxed, etc. and enjoy that. Understand why, and use it to help you in the future. If you wake up feeling happy, think about where those feelings are coming from. Did you have dinner with a friend last night and it's left you in a happy mood? That's good information that you can use in the future to pick yourself up when you're feeling down. 

3. Slow down and observe. We live in a fast-paced society. Everything from morning to night feels like GO GO GO! Taking the time to slow down and observe what those around you are saying, communicating (verbally and non-verbally), and doing, is important to building up your EQ. Recently I was rushing to get my young daughter dressed and off to school. She was running away, hiding, and generally making it very difficult to get her dressed. I was fighting a losing battle and getting frustrated. Like many parents, I started out by saying, "come on, you need to get dressed!" "Get out from behind there so we can get your shoes on," etc. I realized none of this was working so I slowed down. I asked her in a calm, non-rushed, non-annoyed tone, "sweetie, why don't you want to get dressed today?" And guess what? It changed everything! She came out from behind the couch and said, "Because I don't want to go to school. I want to stay home with you today." We were then able to have a pleasant conversation where I validated her feelings, told her that I wouldn't be home because I was going to work so she wasn't missing anything, and talked to her about fun things we could do together the next day when she didn't have school. Then she got dressed easily and we went on about the morning with no arguments or stress. Now this is not supposed to be a lesson in parenting, though I guess it could be, haha. But rather, slowing down long enough to understand the feelings behind the words or behaviors will help improve your EQ and also improve your relationships. My example was with a child, but it works with adults too!

4. Ask for feedback. Don't be afraid to ask other people how you come across. This can be the one of the scarier, but also most valuable, ways to increase your EQ. Try to get a couple of opinions from people who know you well and whom you trust. Ask your spouse, partner, friend or family member, "how did you feel I responded to you when we discussed xyz yesterday?" "Did you feel I come across as understanding during difficult situations?" "In your opinion, what can I do better."

Try not to be defensive. Just listen to what the other person has to say and then sleep on it for a few days. Process what you've heard and don't be defensive. Remember, this doesn't mean you have to agree, but think about if there was accuracy to what you heard about yourself and be willing to change. No one is perfect so having things to work on is normal and it takes confidence and strength to be willing to look at yourself to make those changes.

5. Don't be judgmental of feelings. This applies to other people's emotions as well as your own. Never tell yourself or someone else not to feel how they feel. When I said at the beginning that high EQ people are able to "influence" emotions in others, it is through empathy and validation. Not by trying to change how someone else feels. When someone feels heard, they may feel less alone and therefore less stressed, less anxious and even happier. When you tell someone else (or yourself!), "it's ridiculous that you feel (insert feeling here, for example: worried, angry, scared)..." the feelings can actually increase. If they were worried before, that sentiment can make them more worried. If you validate (e.g. "I know it can be stressful when..." or "I see you're feeling so frustrated by this situation and I'm sorry about that.") those negative feelings can go down. Therefore, you can influence emotions in a positive way by listening, validating and having empathy.

I hope this article has helped you understand and improve your EQ!


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