Increasing our emotional intelligence can actually help us make progress in all areas of our lives: social, relational, professional, physical and emotional.
Imagine being able to respond to stressful situations with a calm non-reactive response. Imagine being able to think clearly even when everyone around you is in a panic. Emotional intelligence is something you can work on and develop like a stronger muscle or new skill.
Here are 20 effective tips to increase your emotional and relational intelligence:
- You can’t multi-task mindfully. Single-task and focus your attention on one thing at a time. Be intentionally present and remove the distractions from your activities. Schedule time in your day to get away from devices. Maybe do a few commutes each week without the earbuds—no music or podcasts, just give yourself time to think about your life.
- Be aware of ways you might distract yourself from being fully present in your life—alcohol, eating, video games, binge watching TV—experiment with setting limits.
- Develop a regular practice of meditation—start short, maybe three minutes and gradually build up to 10 minutes each day. Maybe give yourself a meditation break before a stressful meeting at work or before you tackle a difficult conversation with your significant other.
- Name what you’re feeling—angry, anxious, bored, depressed, frightened, hungry, overwhelmed, sad, tired—and think about the best way to soothe what you’re feeling. Give yourself what you need based on what you’re feeling. Feeding yourself when you’re hungry makes good sense, feeding yourself when you’re angry is not an emotionally intelligent response to what you’re feeling.
- Develop awareness of your own emotional tender spots. Do you over-react when someone interrupts you or cuts you off in traffic or shows up 10 minutes late? Consider putting some effort into taking a breath before you let your feelings turn you into a human volcano.
- Understand emotions as signals and give yourself time to think before you react impulsively to feelings before you have time to process them.
- Practice hitting the pause, stop or ask for a do-over. Sometimes our feelings are too big to push through and we need to give them a moment to pass. Someone says something that offends you in the middle of a meeting with an important client—that’s probably not the time to process the offense. You get an angry email from your mother-in-law and you immediately begin writing a response to tell her just what you think about how she has it all wrong. Emotional intelligence would guide you to calm down before you react.
- Increase your capacity to adapt. Sometimes things don’t go as we plan, the flight is delayed or canceled, the picnic gets rained out. Pitching a fit won’t change anything.Give yourself a moment to be disappointed and then move on to what you can do now since you can’t drive the plane or stop the rain.
- Practice realistic optimism. Imagining things going well really does improve our chances of doing well.
- Just do it anyway. Sometimes we don’t feel like getting started on something we want to do (going to the gym) or need to do (meeting a project deadline at work). Instead of thinking about how you can’t get started, just start. Taking action is not just the effect of motivation but also the cause of it. It also helps to break down these kinds of tasks into several small, manageable goals so as you progress through the task, you’re continually meeting set goals.
- Develop empathy. Think about the feelings of others. Imagine how the overworked waiter at the busy restaurant will feel before you impatiently complain about slow service. What if instead of complaining you praise his ability to keep it all straight under such pressure? Which response do you think might speed up the service? Empathy might even earn you a free dessert.
- Know when to walk away from the fight. Processing conflict when you’re tired or hungry or have had a little too much to drink likely will not result in a positive resolution. Suggest a time out and stop before a small offensive incident escalates to destruction.
- Know when to let it go. Not every disappointment or offense needs to be processed. Sometimes we can forgive without apology and accept that we’re all imperfect humans and just move on.
- Don’t catastrophize. Don’t turn a bad moment into a doomed marriage or a horrible job or a terrible life. Don’t let a mistake make you a failure. Put the bad moment or mistake in perspective and work on repair and take stock of what’s good about your marriage, your job, your life.
- Practice gratitude. Spend a few moments everyday counting your blessings even, especially when you’re going though tough times. Getting in touch with what’s good in our lives enables us to deal with challenges with hope and strength.
- Respect the contagious power of emotions. Negative emotions spread like germs and cause us to perform badly. Positive emotions contribute to success. Spread the good stuff.
- Learn and practice the magical art of genuine, heartfelt apology. Saying “I’m sorry” doesn’t mean you’re admitting that you’re a bad person. An apology signals a way out of the polarizing stuck place of who’s right and who’s wrong or who is more wrong. “I’m sorry” means “let’s stop fighting and figure a way forward.” Say it like you mean it.
- Be able to hang out in a relational disconnection. Sometimes you’ve had a conflict with another person and it can’t get immediately resolved. You don’t have to stay up all night rehashing the disagreement and end up with a ruined, sleep deprived next day. Sometimes you do have to go to bed, maybe not angry, but maybe with matters not fully worked out. Things often look better the morning after than they did the night before. Before you make the relational mess even bigger, give it a rest and come back to the problem when you’re fresh and not running on raw anger.
- While things are still being worked out, practice civility. Communicate with thoughtful attention to your tone of voice, volume and choice of words. Halt the relational damage so there isn’t even more hurt and injury to repair when you’re both ready to work on reconnection.
- Find a good therapist or coach. Just like you might want to workout with a personal trainer to strengthen your body, building emotional/relational intelligence takes training and practice. Working with someone who can help you develop insight and new strategies to respond to your emotions in healthy, positive ways can change your relationships and your life for the better.
Changing the whole world is a lot harder than changing ourselves. The truth is that when we change ourselves to be calmer, kinder, gentler, more thoughtful and compassionate, less reactive, we make our corner of the world a more peaceful and happy place.