How to Improve Your Emotional Intelligence

Close-up of a woman's hand placing the final piece of a puzzle that says 'emotional intelligence'
Rei Imagine /

While there are many factors that determine the success of employees in the workplace, it’s fair to surmise that emotional intelligence is near the top of this list.

In fact, this attribute was recently ranked sixth in the World Economic Forum’s list of top 10 skills required for the workplaces of the future, and chances are that it has already had an influence on your career development so far.

Below, we’ve listed several steps that can help you improve your emotional intelligence as you look to develop what’s quickly becoming a seminal professional skill.

1. Evaluate Yourself

In order to improve your level of emotional intelligence, you’ll first need to perform a self-evaluation and identify any potential weaknesses that you may have.

By using an emotional intelligence quiz, you can target key areas of weakness in terms of how you manage your emotions and the way in which you communicate with your colleagues.

That said, while these quizzes are helpful and genuinely insightful, they only work if you’re willing to accept your weaknesses and have the courage to appraise yourself honestly.

By accepting that you’re not perfect and actively seeking improvement, you can improve your levels of emotional intelligence and become a more capable employee. This, along with the development of similar soft skills, such as work ethic and decision making, will contribute heavily to your career progression over time.

2. Become More of a Team Player

The next step is to appraise your particular working environment and your individual outlook as an employee.

Once again, this requires an ability for self-reflection and a willingness to objectively appraise the way in which you interact within the workplace.

One of the first questions to ask is whether you actively seek praise and attention for your accomplishments. While this may be a natural instinct for some, it can also betray a lack of humility and overlook the role that other employees have played in delivering on core business objectives.

Humility is a key indicator of emotional intelligence and emotional neutrality, and one that’s central to a unified and productive workplace. Without this, you may be left with an overly competitive and potentially toxic workplace that gradually erodes effective collaboration over time.

With this in mind, it’s clear that improving your emotional intelligence will establish you as an effective team player. When applied throughout a business, this heightened sense of emotional intelligence can amplify this positive effect and underpin concepts like Kaizen (which leverages cooperation and commitment from an entire team with a unified outlook).

3. Ask Others for Their Perspective

On a similar note, the success of any team or department relies heavily on the interpersonal relationships that underpin it.

These relationships have a tendency to shift and evolve over time (for better or for worse), while they can also intensify during periods that require individuals to work closely with one another.

Perception plays a significant role in defining these relationships, particularly with regards to the difference that exists between how we view ourselves and the way in which we’re perceived by others.

Often, we simply fail to recognise these differences, and this can cause considerable issues in terms of how we communicate and our approach to dealing with conflict and stressful situations.

It’s easy to fill these gaps in knowledge, however, simply by asking your colleagues for their perspective on the interactions that you share with them.

Try to focus on interactions that took place during busy and stressful times, while asking others to relate their experiences in terms of your behaviour and the way that you dealt with the situation in question. You may discover that you become too abrupt or impatient when under pressure, for example, or less likely to read the emotional tells of your colleagues.

Regardless, the feedback that you receive can prove invaluable going forward, as it highlights potential flaws in your emotional intelligence and the way in which you view yourself. In practical terms, it should also improve your ability to communicate and deal directly with others in the workplace.

4. Examine Your Reaction to Stressful Situations

Stress is a real problem in the modern workplace, with the incidence rate in the UK reaching a new peak at the end of 2017.

In total, an estimated 526,000 people were suffering from stress, depression or anxiety in the year ending December 2017, increasing the human and financial cost of absenteeism for businesses.

If you’re suffering from stress or the symptoms of workplace burnout, it’s also important to note that your reactions and emotions could be having an adverse impact on others. This is particularly true if you’re in a position of power, as you may inadvertently direct your anger at those who work directly beneath you.

In order to develop your sense of emotional intelligence, you will, therefore, need to examine how you react to stressful situations and deal with challenges that arise unexpectedly in the workplace.

If you’re unable to control your reaction or hide your frustration, this should become a key area of focus as you look to gain control of your emotions. This is the very essence of emotional intelligence, and it starts by recognising that your own inability to control your feelings impacts directly on the happiness, morale and productivity of others.

Remember: the ability to retain a sense of composure and control of your emotions is also highly valued and a key leadership attribute, while it also has relevance across every type of interpersonal relationship.

5. Observe How You React to People

On a similar note, you should also observe and review the way in which you interact with colleagues across a number of everyday exchanges.

Most importantly, you need to identify reactions and traits that can impact negatively on workplace interactions, including rash judgements, an inability to listen or a penchant for stereotyping others.

If you are guilty of one or more of these habits, you can rest assured that you’re not alone, while the willingness to recognise these and challenge them is central to the concept of improving your emotional intelligence levels.

With these points in mind, try to honestly appraise the precise way in which you interact with your colleagues every single day, while putting yourself in their place to understand the impact of specific words and gestures.

This way, you’ll become more accepting of your emotional weaknesses and the impact that your behaviour has on those around you.

6. Take Responsibility for Your Actions

In some respects, the steps that we’ve described here are reflective. As a result, they’ll require you to look back on interactions and previous conversations, but this should not distract from the fact that improving your level of emotional intelligence is an ongoing and real-time discipline.

This means that you’ll also need to be mindful of your communication style and the way in which you interact with your colleagues at all times, while being willing to take responsibility for your actions in instances where you hurt somebody’s feelings.

In fact, the way in which you respond to offending others is another key indicator of your emotional intelligence levels. Indeed, those who are moved to apologise directly recognise the impact that their words have had, and they take proactive steps to resolve the conflict.

This is pivotal in any productive workplace, as it helps to resolve disputes quickly and it prevents conflicts from spiralling out of control.

The key takeaways here are clear, both in terms of the importance of emotional intelligence and how it can help you to develop your career.

As a result, it’s important that you follow these steps and proactively look to improve your emotional intelligence levels, regardless of your role or the industry in which you work. For further insight, check out these examples of emotional intelligence in the workplace.

Feel free to let us know your thoughts on this below, particularly if you have your own suggestions on how to improve your emotional intelligence.