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Four ways to improve our EQs

We can grow our emotional intelligence — and be on our way to great relationships and more fulfilling lives.

Emotions. They affect our friendships, our moods, our workspace, our families and, let’s be honest, everything we do. The wonderful thing about emotions is that we can learn more about them and grow our own emotional intelligence.

Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves, authors of Emotional Intelligence 2.0, describe four components of emotional intelligence: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management. Unlike personality traits, these are skills we can build and improve upon all of our lives. Let’s take a deeper dive.

1. Become self-aware

Chris Cooke ’03 MBA and Laura Cooke, co-founders of Positive Foundry in Columbus, recognize how important emotional intelligence skills are to thriving in the workplace and in life — and they incorporate them in their corporate training and coaching sessions. The Cookes consider self-awareness the ability to recognize and name one’s own emotions, and they suggest several ways to improve it:

  • Build a strong emotional vocabulary. There are hundreds of words to describe the subtle shades of our feelings. Are we elated, happy or content? Agitated, aggravated or disgruntled? We can learn new words to describe our feelings and practice writing about how we feel in a journal. A strong emotional vocabulary will allow us to identify how we are really feeling and talk about it with someone else.
  • Learn our triggers. If we know what sets us off, we can see trouble coming and deal with the emotions that follow. Often the things that really get us steamed are based on our fears — of not being safe or treated fairly, for instance. We can identify situations in our work and personal lives that lead us to feel threatened or uncomfortable.
  • Sit with our emotions. Rather than label emotions “good” or “bad,” we can practice just observing them. How long do they last? Can we name them and let them go? If we need to, we can distract ourselves with deep breathing, a short walk, a glass of water — anything to give ourselves time to cool down and think.
  • Take a personality test. This can help us learn our communication style. We all have different ways of expressing ourselves. A personality test such as DiSC or Myers-Briggs can give us more insight into our tendencies and how we might be presenting ourselves to others.

2. Self-manage our emotions

This refers to productively managing our emotions so we can perform well at work and in our relationships. We feel emotions; we are not our emotions. Once we have gained self-awareness about our emotions, we can figure out ways to navigate emotional situations. Take time to answer questions such as these in a journal: “When I’m frustrated I need to …” or “When I’m discouraged, I should …” Planning ahead for the next emotional hot spot can help us keep our cool, slow down and present ourselves as we’d like to. Other ways to manage our emotions:

  • Practice mindfulness. When possible, we can ground ourselves in the present moment without worrying about tomorrow or feeling regret for the past.
  • Catch, check and change our thoughts. When we feel stressed, anxious, depressed or angry, we can catch negative thoughts and check them by asking: What was just going through my mind? Is it true? Do I have evidence to back it up? Is this thinking helpful? Chances are, those negative thoughts aren’t helpful. If we turn them around, we’ll feel better.
  • Get curious. When we feel frustrated or when unexpected occurrences trigger a negative emotional response, curiosity can help us see new possibilities for our response.
  • HALT: This acronym from the recovery community urges us to pay extra attention to our emotional reactions when we are hungry, angry, lonely or tired — HALT for short. If we are experiencing more than one of these at a time, it might be best to halt what we’re doing and rest!
  • Sleep on it: It’s often best to put aside big problems until the morning. Also, we need to make sure we are getting enough sleep so we can feel our best: 7–9 hours a night is recommended for adults.

3. Become socially aware

Social awareness means understanding and dealing with the emotions of others. Of course, the best way to find out how someone is feeling is to ask them, rather than to make assumptions. We can act in ways that make others feel relaxed, happy and important to us, and that is part of social awareness, too — building trust and showing that we care. Ways to build social awareness:

  • Show you care: Take the time to ask people how they are doing and what’s going on in their lives — both at work and at home. Then listen.
  • Check-in regularly: We might think a co-worker is angry with us when, in fact, he is only tired. Or we might think our team is happy with a plan when secretly they are anxious. We should check in with our partners to see what they really feel and allow them to express their feelings in a safe space where they feel free to speak.
  • See it their way: We can try to step into others’ shoes to see things from their perspective.

4. Work on our relationships

The skills of self-awareness, self-management and social awareness can help us manage relationships, whether one-on-one or in a group. Relationship management means controlling our own emotional responses and being aware of how others feel so we can all work together effectively and enjoy the interaction. It may be helpful to learn more about conflict resolution and communication, and to discover our personal communication style, which is based on our personality. The Cookes from Positive Foundry also suggest:

  • Practice giving and taking feedback well. If someone gives us honest feedback, we should thank them for it, then pause long enough to control how we respond to it without reacting. We can make our own feedback direct and constructive. When giving feedback, we should do so like an Oreo cookie — say something positive about the person, give the constructive feedback and finish with a positive.
  • Adopt a “learner” mindset rather than a “judger” mindset: In challenging situations, we can try to learn more about what others are thinking, feeling and wanting, rather than passing judgment.

Emotional intelligence is about showing up in the world the way we want to so we can build strong relationships and have positive and meaningful interactions with others. These are skills we can all practice, and research shows they lead to a happier life. 

About the author

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Bernadette Mazurek Melnyk

Bernadette Mazurek Melnyk is vice president for health promotion, university chief wellness officer, dean and Helene Fuld Health Trust Professor of Evidence-based Practice in the College of Nursing, professor of pediatrics and psychiatry in the College of Medicine and executive director of the Helene Fuld Health Trust National Institute for Evidence-based Practice in Nursing and Healthcare.