How To Improve Your Emotional Intelligence

For a century, we’ve heard that IQ is the end-all, be-all measure of an individual’s intelligence. However, a growing body of evidence suggests that the results of IQ tests may be misleading — they simply don’t tell the full story. (An anecdote to drive this point home: I took two online IQ tests. One told me I was a genius; the other told me I had below-average intelligence.)

So is there a scale that we can more confidently rely on as an indicator of one’s potential? Emotional intelligence, sometimes called “EQ,” might be the key. Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer pioneered research on this subject. In their article entitled “Emotional Intelligence,” they define this quotient as “the subset of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions.” In other words, if someone is emotionally intelligent, they have the capacity to clearly perceive their own feelings, to understand the emotions of others, and to respond — instead of merely react — in a more rational and level-headed manner.

Not only is this important in interpersonal relationships, it is also paramount to success in the workforce: Forbes contributor Travis Bradberry explains that, “… Emotional intelligence is the strongest predictor of performance, explaining a full 58 percent of success in all types of jobs.” If that isn’t enough, he goes on to say that people with high EQ’s out-earn those with low EQ’s by $29,000 a year.

Fortunately, you can enhance your emotional intelligence — thereby potentially improving your communication skills, your personal health, and your earnings — by following the steps below.

Measuring Your Emotional Intelligence

It is beneficial to get a “baseline reading,” so to speak, to see if there are certain areas that need more attention than others. You can easily access quizzes online, many for free, including those through the Greater Good Science Center (UC Berkeley). Many books on emotional intelligence also come equipped with a test. Books may be a more attractive option to those who would like a personalized interpretation of their results. Finally, there is the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT), created by the “fathers” of emotional intelligence.

Cultivating Mindfulness

Perhaps one of the most important factors in emotional intelligence is the ability to perceive things clearly and objectively. Watch yourself both at rest and in stressful situations. Do you find that you are more likely to lash out at others, or suffer in silence? Either way, observe yourself without judgment, with a healthy dose of gentleness, kindness, and compassion. Sit with your emotional discomfort and observe how it exists in your body. Do you feel tightness in your chest, a weight behind your eyes? Let the thoughts, feelings, sensations, and urges exist exactly as they are, without fighting them or trying to talk yourself out of how you naturally feel. Only when we turn towards our discomfort, accepting and embracing it as an inevitable part of human existence, can we become more emotionally intelligent.

Actively Listening to Others

Put down your phone, turn off the television, and tune in to what your audience says — and what they don’t say. Nonverbal cues can be just as important as words. Focus on engaging with the person in front of you. This usually entails ignoring your mind’s relentless stream of “Don’t forget to schedule that dentist appointment!” and “I have so much laundry to take care of.” Finally, exercise empathy and compassion: always make an effort to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Imagine what they are thinking and feeling, and connect as one human being to another.

This article is updated from its initial publication in Brain World Magazine’s Fall 2014 issue.

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