Improving your emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognise your own feelings and choose how you respond to them. This can allow you to take better control of the way you think and behave [1] and improve your communication skills by helping you to read other people’s emotions better [2].

Why emotional intelligence is good for your relationship

Couples with strong emotional intelligence are more likely to be satisfied with their relationships [3]. The more aware you and your partner are of your own emotions, the easier it becomes to see things from each other’s points of view. This can help you feel closer, support each other better, and understand each other more [4].

Developing your emotional intelligence will help you communicate and resolve arguments more effectively. When you have a good understanding of how emotions work, you’ll find it easier to step back from a difficult conversation, examine the options, and look for ways to work towards a resolution [5].

How to improve your emotional intelligence

The following tips can help you work on your emotional intelligence, allowing you to take charge of your emotions and improve your communication skills.

  1. Learn to recognise your emotions 

Developing your emotional intelligence starts with self-examination. Notice how you feel, particularly in times of stress or high emotion. Do you get angry easily, or sulk when you don’t get your way? What about other emotions – what does it feel like when you’re happy, confused, or bored?

Check in with yourself from time to time and notice the way you experience different feelings. Without judgement, describe to yourself what you’re thinking and feeling. Notice the physical sensations as well as the thoughts in your head. Is your heart rate up or down? Is your mind racing or still? Are your muscles tense or relaxed?

  1. Look behind your emotions

Once you’re comfortable with the process of recognising your emotions, start to delve a little deeper and think about why you feel the way you feel. Is it because of what’s happening now, or are there other factors influencing you – perhaps something from the past, or an external factor like a work deadline or a lack of sleep?

Check in on your emotions a few times a day, whether you feel good, bad or neutral. As you become more aware of the triggers that lead to certain emotions, you’ll find you can anticipate them, and even regulate them. This is an important step in learning to stay calm under pressure and composed during an argument.

  1. Reflect on your behaviour

Your thoughts and actions are intrinsically linked to your feelings. As you learn more about your feelings, expand your attention to notice how they affect your behaviour.

  • Do you lash out when you’re angry?
  • Do you leap to the defensive when you’re feeling hurt?
  • Do you get single-minded when you’re under pressure?

Remember that the ways you respond to different situations are the product of years of life experience. Try to observe your behaviour without judging it – this will make it easier for you to give yourself an honest account of what’s happening. Notice the links between your emotions, thoughts and actions, and see if you spot any familiar patterns.

  1. Take responsibility

Once you’re able to recognise the way you respond to your feelings, you can start to take more responsibility for your choices. Try to catch yourself before you react negatively to something, and see if you can make a different decision. This could be as simple as asking someone to clarify their meaning before you respond, or taking a break from something that’s irritating you. The more you practise this, the more you can start to choose how you respond to difficult situations and conversations.

  1. Work on your empathy skills

Understanding your own emotions will start to give you an insight into others’ emotions too. Being emotionally intelligent will not make you a mind reader, but it will give you a level of insight and understanding that can make you a much better communicator.

The next time you are facing difficult feelings, try a quick check-in. Ask yourself:

  • How am I feeling?
  • What am I thinking?
  • How is that making me behave? 

You can’t stop yourself from feeling bad, but you can learn to make different choices when you do.

References
 

[1] Coleman, Andrew (2008). A Dictionary of Psychology (3 ed.). Oxford University Press.

[2] Mayer, John D (2008). Human Abilities: Emotional Intelligence. Annual Review of Psychology. 59: 507–536. 

[3] Brackett, M., Warner, R., & Bosco, J. (2005). Emotional intelligence and relationship quality among couples. Personal Relationships, 12(2), 197-212. 

[4] Schröder-Abé, M., & Schütz, A. (2011). Walking in each other's shoes: Perspective taking mediates effects of emotional intelligence on relationship quality. European Journal of Personality, 25(2), 155-169. 

[5] Zeidner, M., & Kloda, I. (2013). Emotional intelligence (EI), conflict resolution patterns, and relationship satisfaction: Actor and partner effects revisited. Personality And Individual Differences, 54(2), 278-283.

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