In my last post, Why you should care about emotional intelligence in the workplace, I discussed a little of the history of emotional intelligence as well as a 4-pronged model. As a quick recap - the model proposed by researchers Peter Salovey and John Mayer included the following elements:

  • Perceiving emotions - understanding nonverbal indicators such as facial expressions and body language.

  • Reasoning with emotions - using emotions to promote thinking and cognitive activity.

  • Understanding emotions - being able to interpret the emotions of others and what drives their behavior.

  • Managing emotions - regulating one’s reactions to emotions and responding appropriately.



Here are 5 evidence-based strategies to help raise your EI:

  1. BUILD AWARENESS: Most of the time, we function reactively. Something happens, a trigger is pressed, a button is pushed, and we become angry, irritated, annoyed, or worse. When we build awareness, it enables us to identify a reaction as it is happening so we can be intentional in how we choose to respond, rather than it being automatic.

    As I have written before, a great way to build awareness is through a mindfulness practice. If you want to know more about mindfulness, you can read this and this.

  2. PRACTICE READING EMOTIONS: According to experts, communications break down to 10% words, 30% sound, and 60% body language. This means it’s not what you say but how you say it that will give insight into your emotions. Try watching a TV sitcom with the sound off. Based on facial expressions and body movement, can you guess what’s happening? In addition to words being spoken, pay attention to the pitch, volume, and rate of speech.

  3. REASONING WITH EMOTIONS: Barbara Frederickson’s work on positive emotions shows a connection between positive emotions and better problem solving, more creative thinking, and having a broader perspective. When you need to perform this kind of cognitive activity, be sure to put yourself in a good mood first (and you thought those YouTube cat videos were a waste of time!) And if you are in a really bad mood, consider putting off your creative work for another day.

  4. UNDERSTANDING EMOTIONS: Once you improve the ability to identify your own emotions, it will become easier to interpret the emotions of others. Being able to label emotions with a high degree of specificity is associated with: greater emotional regulation, reduced likelihood of excessive drinking when stressed, and reduced aggressiveness when hurt by someone.

    Labeling emotions with specificity means using words like furious and livid instead of just angry; or exhilarated and joyful instead of simply happy.

  5. MANAGING EMOTIONS: This is (at least for me) the most challenging of the strategies for increasing emotional intelligence. It is also one of the most impactful. Regulating emotions is the attempt to increase, maintain, or decrease positive and negative emotions.

    Some tools include:

    (1) changing the intensity of the emotion - by using deep breathing, positive imagery, or perhaps distraction.

    (2) changing the relationship with the emotion - by accepting it without trying to change it.

    (3) changing the perspective - through expressive writing or reinterpreting the emotional stimulus (called cognitive re-appraisal or sometimes finding the silver lining).



As with most new skills, improving your emotional intelligence is like building a muscle. It takes time, attention, and effort. The many benefits associated with high emotional intelligence (for you, your family and friends, and your colleagues) make it worthwhile.

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Check out Super-Productive: 120 Strategies to Do More and Stress Less.

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