Emotional intelligence is finally starting to get some of the appreciation it deserves.
The ability to understand and process your own emotions and those of others is crucial in both your personal and professional life.
Here are 7 ways to give it a huge boost.
1) Get in touch with your feelings
First and foremost when it comes to ways to improve your emotional intelligence, you need to get in touch with your own feelings.
I realize this can sound like a very daunting task.
After all, “feelings” is a very broad category, and what exactly does “getting in touch” mean?
I would suggest taking a look at two or three of the strongest painful or joyful emotions you’re feeling throughout any given day.
Get in touch with them by acknowledging you’re feeling them and then thinking about why.
Don’t just, just question as if you were an emotional investigator simply looking for clues.
Remember, your emotions aren’t “wrong” or “right.” They just are.
And by understanding them more you can begin to react to them more consciously and in an empowered, directed fashion that puts you in the driver’s seat in your life.
“Often we lead hectic, busy lifestyles and it’s all too easy for us to lose touch with our emotions. To reconnect, try setting a timer for various points during the day.
“When the timer goes off, take a few deep breaths and notice how you’re feeling emotionally.”
2) Try on some shoes
Next up in terms of the best ways to improve your emotional intelligence is to try on some new shoes.
(Or try on some used shoes at the thrift store if you so prefer).
Specifically, try on shoes and imagine you are now somebody else who you know or have met.
Walk around the shoe store imagining you’re them.
Feel that pain in your hip or that anxiety about your teen who’s failing in school.
Feel that doubt about your physical attractiveness or worth.
Feel that excitement about your new job but worry that you won’t have enough time to see your family while at the new position.
You’re now literally walking around in somebody else’s shoes.
Granted, your image of what they are going through may be at least partly in your own head.
But depending on the extent to which you know this person and they have opened up to you, you’ll be walking for a moment or two imagining that you’re really in their life.
It’s actually a powerful exercise for empathy and building emotional intelligence.
Don’t worry, you don’t have to buy the shoes! (Although you can if you want to).
3) Limit complaining
I’m a big complainer and a bitter guy in many ways, so this one is as much for me as for anyone.
One of the best ways to improve your emotional intelligence is to limit or stop complaining as much as possible.
Now if you stub your toe and yell “sh*t! That f*cking hurt!” don’t worry. That’s a momentary and honest reaction to smashing up your foot.
But consciously choosing to complain when you don’t have to is something that is very helpful to stop doing.
The main reason is not that it’s “negative” or even annoying and weak.
It’s that it doesn’t work.
When you complain, you indicate two things:
- An unwillingness or inability to change what you’re complaining about (otherwise why bother with all the talk?)
- A desire for attention or sympathy from others due to the pain and frustration you are feeling (playing the victim and thinking it will benefit you).
The reason complaining is so limiting to emotional intelligence is that it locks us in an emotional prison in which we are always the important one, the special one, the victim who needs attention.
Then the more attention and sympathy we get the more we complain to get more of it, recycling an infantile psychological pattern of crying-reward.
It’s not good and it’s not adult behavior. Try to catch yourself the next time you do it or the next time you’re upset at others for their unearned privileges and lives that you resent.
Your emotional intelligence is already going up just being aware of these ways you complain.
As the spiritual master George Gurdjieff said:
“Do not discuss your personal problems…Do not complain…
“Transform your envy into the admiration for the values of others.”
4) Grill yourself
The first of the crucial ways to improve your emotional intelligence is to question everything you feel and believe.
This is not about proving yourself wrong, guilty or weak.
It’s simply about becoming aware.
What do you believe and why?
What shaped you into the person you have become?
What values drive you in life?
What do you love and what do you hate?
As you engage in questions like this and observe your reactions and interactions in daily life, you will gain much more understanding about who you are and what drives you.
This is a process of critical thinking, where you question your own beliefs and assumptions, coming out wiser and much more self-aware.
5) Talk to those you disagree with
We naturally gravitate towards those whose values we share or where we feel accepted and welcome.
The issue with this is that it doesn’t always provide a lot of opportunity for growth or increasing our emotional intelligence.
The reality is that emotional intelligence comes about from patience and strength in the face of adversity and disagreement.
Talking to someone you strongly disagree with can be an excellent exercise in emotional intelligence.
The reason is that you can speak with somebody whose views or attitude you find abhorrent and completely incorrect while still fully emotionally understanding where they are coming from.
If possible, refrain from jumping into a huge argument. Simply hear this person out.
They have a lifestyle or views that clash with you. Interesting. How did they grow up? What do they think led to their views? What do they think of people like you?
Just ask and see what you find out. You don’t need to label or even feel OK about it. You may feel like you’re betraying your “tribe” by talking to people from other “tribes.”
But it doesn’t matter.
Because in just allowing space for true difference and conflict to exist, you are actively increasing your emotional intelligence.
This leads directly to the next point.
6) Listen up
The more that you listen, the more your emotional intelligence grows.
You may end up hearing a lot that you find useless, stupid or annoying.
You may end up hearing a lot that you even feel is wasting your time or that you’d be better off interrupting and shortening.
But the mere practice of patience in listening is, itself, highly valuable.
As you switch yourself into active listening, you are presenting enormous value to the world and to those around you.
You are providing space and receptivity in a world that so often provides none.
You are reserving judgment and commentary in a world that seems addicted to immediately providing it.
You are existing and allowing others to exist and to speak instead of following your impulses and talking or interrupting.
7) Know your own weak points
The last of the excellent ways to improve your emotional intelligence is to know your own weak points.
The fact of the matter is that we often overestimate ourselves due to confirmation bias.
We are the hero of our own story, so of course our motives are pure…
Of course we didn’t mean to hurt someone or insult them…
Of course we didn’t mean to be dishonest and if we did it was for a very good reason!
But as you know your weak points and have looked at them like an outside observer, you’re more aware of how much subjectivity we can be under.
Our actions are always justifiable to us, just like the actions of others are almost always justifiable to them.
Taking off the blinders is partly about realizing just how hard it is to see from outside our limited perspective.
But once we take those blinders off and consider the emotions of everyone and how subjective many of our experiences are, we begin to develop more patience, insight and compassion for those around us (and ourselves!)
You’re not the only one with mixed emotions
We all have different challenges in life, different advantages and disadvantages.
Emotional intelligence is about learning the power and beauty of emotions.
Unlike numbers and logic which always add up and square out in the equation, emotions rock and roll like the sea. They are unpredictable and ebb with the tides.
But we have to remember that the key to developing emotional intelligence is emotional solidarity.
Hard times can make us feel alone and make us feel sure we’re the only one who’s been excluded, mistreated and misunderstood to such an extent.
But breaking through this narrative is the key to understanding ourselves and others more and having more emotional intelligence.
As the Rolling Stones sang in their 1989 hit “Mixed Emotions:”
“You’re not the only one with mixed emotions
You’re not the only ship adrift on this ocean
You’re not the only one that’s feeling lonesome
You’re not the only one with mixed emotions.”