This is part two of a two-part article about emotional intelligence. In Part 1 we discussed what emotional intelligence looks like and how it can make us more effective leaders. However, just understanding what emotional intelligence is doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll be able to exhibit it yourself.
Like any skill, emotional intelligence increases with practice. There are plenty of things we can do to improve our ability to understand ourselves and others, regulate our emotions, and work successfully with other people.
Often, the first step is realizing just how important emotional intelligence is to your success as a leader. Once we understand how crucial it is, we’ll be more motivated to make developing our emotional intelligence a priority and put the work in to improve our skills in this area.
We’ve compiled this list of suggestions to help you get started with improving your emotional intelligence and increasing your effectiveness as a manager.
Start with Yourself
Earlier, we looked at the four pillars of emotional intelligence. The first two of these, self-awareness and self-regulation, are both areas of personal competence. We need some of this in place before we can effectively start developing our areas of social competence – social awareness and relationship management.
This doesn’t mean we need to have mastered these areas before we can start looking outward. Just that we need at least a base level of understanding of our emotions and how to manage them before we can focus on our interactions with other people.
Here are some ways you can develop your personal competencies.
1. Cultivate Self-Awareness
There are two sides to self-awareness. The first is knowing what is going on internally – being able to identify your emotions and patterns of behavior. The second is understanding how you present to other people. We’re focusing on the first in this point (and we’ll explore the second more below).
Becoming more self-aware starts by getting curious and noticing how you react to different situations. Learn to name the emotions you feel – this handy sheet from Deloitte is a useful guide to get you started.
As well as noticing and naming your emotions, try to connect them to what is happening around you. You’ll hopefully begin to identify some patterns that help you see where your triggers lie.
You may find it helpful to use a journal to record your observations as you practice this skill. Some people also find mindfulness techniques like meditation help them become better at observing their emotions and behavior without judgment.
2. Be Open to Feedback
When it comes to understanding how others see us, many of us make assumptions that aren’t actually true. So, the best way to become better at this aspect of emotional intelligence is to ask for feedback – and to accept it even when we don’t like what we hear.
Most of us find it hard to hear anything negative about ourselves. But if we want to improve our emotional intelligence, we need to find ways to be open to critical feedback as well as positive comments.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you need to accept nastiness from other people. But it does mean that you should work on being open to honest, constructive feedback from your team members, peers, and mentors.
3. Develop Coping Mechanisms
When something happens, we have a moment before we react. When we allow our emotions to rule us, that moment will be short and we’ll often find we react impulsively.
One of the skills that people who are emotionally intelligent cultivate is the ability to pause longer before reacting. During that pause, you have time to consider what to do next. Instead of going with your first instinct, you can choose to react differently.
Sometimes it will be enough just to pause long enough to allow your rational brain to kick in. Other times, you might need to draw on coping mechanisms to help you, especially in stressful situations.
Opting to step away for a moment to work through any strong emotions can make a huge difference in how you handle challenging moments. Perhaps you’ll find it helps to take some deep breaths, get a change of scene, or go for a short walk.
4. Understand What Motivates You
Understanding our emotions and behavior is a major part of increasing our emotional intelligence. Another important aspect is being clear on what motivates you, what you value, and where you derive your sense of purpose.
This can often help you understand your emotional responses more clearly. For example, if you value integrity, you are more likely to react strongly if you feel someone is being inauthentic.
Knowing what your own motivations are can also help you understand where your experience might differ from other team members. And it can help you act in a way that fits your values.
5. Uncover Your Biases
We all have biases – assumptions and beliefs that inform our decision-making and behavior. A lot of the time, we’re completely unaware that these biases exist, which is why they are often referred to as unconscious biases or implicit biases.
Part of becoming more emotionally intelligent is working to shed light on the biases we hold and how they subtly affect our behavior.
Once you bring these patterns from your unconscious mind to your conscious one, you can start to notice when your decisions and actions are being influenced by the ideas you hold about people. This makes you a fairer, more open-minded leader.
When we think about bias, we often think about things like race, gender, sexuality, age, etc. And many of us do carry ideas about these things we need to be aware of.
But bias can come in other forms too. For example, if you are a direct person, you might unconsciously believe that everyone will speak openly when they disagree about something. As a result, you might overlook times when people who communicate less directly are trying to tell you they want a different approach.
6. Consider Coaching
Gathering feedback from our peers and direct reports can be an excellent way of understanding where our idea of ourselves may not match other people’s experience of us.
Another way to invite a third-party view of ourselves is to take part in professional development or leadership coaching. Whether one-on-one or in a group, coaching sessions can often help us learn more about ourselves and give us ideas for where we can improve our emotional intelligence further.
We’ve looked at ways to improve the areas of emotional intelligence that relate to your personal experience. Now, we’re going to consider how you can improve the other side of emotional intelligence – your understanding of other people’s emotions and how you build relationships with them.
1. Develop Your Empathy
Empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and it plays a vital role in the workplace. According to research by Ernst & Young, 89% of employees agree that empathy results in better leadership.
The same survey discovered that over half of Americans have left a job because their boss wasn’t empathetic to their struggles.
Understanding someone else’s experience and point of view is essential to building your emotional intelligence. When you make this a priority, you train your brain to consider how other people might think and feel about a situation – making you more socially aware and better at fostering connections.
2. Listen Actively
One of the ways we deepen our understanding of our team members is simply by listening to them in a way that encourages them to open up.
This is called active listening and it is likely a concept you are already familiar with.
Active listening is when we work to understand the complete message that someone is trying to share with us – not just the words they say. It means paying close attention when people talk, asking questions that invite them to elaborate, and reflecting the message back to them to check our understanding is correct.
When we listen actively, it tells the person who is speaking with us that they are valued and heard, which is great for building stronger relationships with your team members. But it also means that we’re more likely to gather all the details we need to understand other people’s perspectives and make informed decisions for our teams.
3. Prioritize Collaboration
One of the reasons that emotionally intelligent leaders tend to lead successful teams is that their example inspires others to develop their own empathy and self-awareness. As a result, everyone on the team improves their emotional intelligence.
To create a workplace culture where emotional intelligence thrives, make sure you focus on collaboration over competition.
Not only does this create stronger relationships between your team members, but it is also great for your bottom line. Teams that support one another and work together effectively are more successful.
Indeed, one study found companies that prioritize collaboration are five times more likely to be high performing than those that don’t.
Reward your team for working well together and supporting one another. Recognize how each person inputs into the overall levels of achievement and invite everyone to share ideas and creative solutions.
4. Communicate Authentically
As leaders, we sometimes think that we need to present ourselves as effortlessly competent and can’t show our teams that we’re unsure or struggling.
In fact, being willing to admit mistakes, be vulnerable, and communicate authentically are all signs of an emotionally intelligent leader.
Obviously, some rules of workplace propriety still apply. But within those boundaries, seek to communicate honestly and openly with your team.
The example you set will help to create a workplace culture where employees feel comfortable and confident sharing their own struggles, admitting their mistakes, and asking for help when needed.
Emotional intelligence is a vital skill for leaders and managers who want to lead high-performing and effective teams. It requires us to develop our understanding of both ourselves and other people, so we can build stronger relationships, support our employees, and manage our own emotional responses.
Like any skill, emotional intelligence can be improved through practice. By cultivating self-awareness and empathy, communicating authentically, and inviting feedback from others, we can all develop this essential leadership trait.