Increase Your Emotional Intelligence

Here are my top five tips for developing emotional intelligence. If you want to take things further, why not get my fluff-free e-booklet 55 Ways to Increase Your Emotional Intelligence? Just sign up for the Coaching Leaders Secrets newsletter.

1. Develop Your Emotional Self-Awareness

Get used to thinking of your emotions as carrying a message – either about something that’s happening now, or something that happened in the past that you have not yet fully resolved. Whenever you feel an emotion you’re not comfortable with, you can ask yourself “what is this feeling trying to tell me?”

One of the best ways to develop your awareness of your own emotions is to meditate. Take some time out to relax, being aware of your breathing as it flows in and out. Observe your thoughts and feelings as they come and go, without judging them. This will give you a degree of detachment, as you realise you are more than whatever thoughts and emotions you are experiencing at the time.

Another good way to become more aware and accepting of your emotions is to keep an emotional journal. Just take five minutes each morning to write down how you’re feeling. Writing things down in this way gives you a degree of detachment and allows you to express your feelings in a way which is safe. It also allows you to recognise recurring patterns in your emotional responses and gives you a record of how far you have come as you develop your emotional intelligence.

2. Take Responsibility for Your Actions and Feelings

It’s important that you accept the emotions you’re feeling as yours. Often we can regard certain feelings as unacceptable and refuse to acknowledge them. This will lead to trouble as we still continue to act from our emotions even if we deny them to ourselves. Sometimes we even project them on to other people, so that someone who is in denial about their own anger may encounter a lot of ‘angry’ people.

Often we talk about emotions as if they just ‘happen’, or that other people create them in us, as in ‘she made me angry’ or ‘he upset me’. Some people even seem to have inanimate objects controlling their emotions, as in ‘that squeaky gate is really pissing me off!’

So, can other people or even lumps of metal really control your emotions, causing your brain to release exactly the right combination of neuropeptides to experience irritation, fear or guilt? I would suggest not.

All the information we receive from our five senses about what’s happening around us is already filtered by the time we become aware of it – first by the limbic system, our primitive emotional brain, and then by our beliefs and the meanings which we put on these events.

For example, if someone shouts at you and you get upset, it may be that the look they give you, or the tone of voice they use, reminds you at an unconscious level of a much earlier time you were shouted at by a parent or other authority figure. What you feel in response are the same feelings you had at that earlier time. In fact they are the same feelings, trapped in your brain since that earlier event and restimulated by a current event that matches the same pattern.

Or it might be your beliefs that are really crucial to bringing about your emotional response. If you believe that people “shouldn’t” shout at other people, naturally you feel upset when someone does. In fact if you have that belief, it means that other people are capable of making you upset any time they want, simply by shouting at you. They may even evoke that response without meaning to – after all, since they can’t read your mind, how are they to know what you believe?

The emotional response to the meaning which we place on any given event can happen so quickly that we aren’t aware of our filtering process and assigning of meaning which happens in the gap between the triggering event and the response. It feels like the ‘trigger’ really does cause the emotional response.

However, if that were really the case, then everyone would react in exactly the same way in similar situations – which clearly they don’t. One person might get angry, another might get frightened, another find it funny, and another might not even notice.

Here’s the thing: in principle, you can change any of your mental filters and emotional responses. This means that you can take “response – ability” – the ability to be able to choose how you want to feel about anything that happens. How? NLP and other technologies for rapid change have a wealth of techniques for helping you to change even the deepest-rooted habitual responses.

3. Remember – You Are Not Your Emotions

There are no “bad” emotions. Whatever you feel is giving you valuable information: either about the situation that you’re in, or about some event that’s happened in the past that you need to learn from and move on.

A trap that people often fall into is feeling that they ‘ought’ to feel a certain way – that they are a ‘bad person’ for feeling emotions they have been brought up to believe are wrong to express or even to feel. If they are on a spiritual path, it can be even worse, as they may feel they ‘ought’ to be above feeling that way.

Remember, it’s how you respond to those feelings that matters. Whatever emotion you’re feeling, you still have a choice about how you act on it – and that’s what counts. Judging yourself does not make you a better person.

4. Put Yourself In The Other Person’s Shoes

Any time that you’re dealing with another person – on a date, in a job interview, in a dispute, selling to them, working with them, or just hanging out – things will go more smoothly if from time to time you put yourself in their shoes and ask yourself, “What’s going on for this person right now? What’s important to them? What do they want from this interchange? What might they be feeling?”

Everyone sees the world in different ways, and everything that person does and says makes sense from their viewpoint, even if it makes no sense to you. People make the best choices they can given their unique ‘map’ of the world – if you assume they have the same map as you, then some of those ‘actions’ might even seem stupid or malicious. If you get a sense of what’s going on for them, you will find them much easier to communicate with.

5. Get Some Distance From The Bad Stuff

I once had a client who came to me for help with anxiety about speaking in public. Every time this person had to give a presentation at work, he found himself experiencing panic symptoms which got stronger as the day approached. He had always got through to the end of the presentation without major disasters, but he hated the experience while it was happening.

When we investigated how he was creating these feelings for himself, it turned out that for days before the presentation he was imagining as many ways that things could go wrong as he could think of. When I tell you that he was imagining these disasters vividly and as if he was really there experiencing it, you’ll understand how he managed to get more and more nervous as the presentation got closer.

While the impulse behind imagining things in this scary and demoralising way was a positive one – to allow him to prepare for any eventuality – the result was that he was doing the exact opposite of the positive mental rehearsal that every successful athlete does. He was mentally rehearsing failure, reinforcing his fear and making it more and more likely that he would mess up in reality as well. Even if the presentation had turned out well in reality, he wouldn’t have had to miss out on the bad feelings – he’d already lived them in his imagination many times over.

With some coaching, he was able to check for things that might go wrong in a less damaging way. By viewing each scenario as a detached observer, in black and white and as a smaller-than-lifesize picture, he was able to see his future self coping with various possible glitches, without having to become emotionally involved in what he was seeing. I also suggested that he finish off by seeing himself in a life-size, colourful picture, giving a perfect presentation, so that he ended his reverie feeling good. He was then able to approach his presentations in a much more resourceful emotional state, and consequently perform much better.

Often the way we feel is a response to ‘movies’ that our minds run, or to an internal critical voice. While the mind’s intention in creating these thoughts and images is positive, the effect is often unhelpful.

The qualities of the pictures, and the volume and tone of internal dialogue, are what give these thoughts their power. A big, bright, moving, 3-D mental picture, especially if we see it as if through our own eyes, will be more affecting than a small, dim, monochrome, 2-D snapshot, whatever the actual content of the picture. Similarly, a loud inner voice with an edge to it will have more of an impact than a softly-spoken voice, whatever it’s saying.

You can use your mental ‘remote control’ to alter the qualities of your mental pictures. Make your good memories and fantasies big, bright, moving and ‘real’ so you can enjoy the most intense positive feelings from them. If you have to look at bad memories or imagine an unpleasant experience, make the picture small, dim, monochrome and two-dimensional, and look at it as if you were a detached observer. That way you can still get whatever information you need, while minimising uncomfortable emotional responses.

For coaching or in-house training to develop your emotional intelligence, contact Andy Smith at

9 thoughts on “Top 5 Tips To Develop Your Emotional Intelligence

  • I for one doubt that there exists annyhitg which could accurately be called emotional intelligence’. There is nothing inherently intelligent in our ability to feel emotion. Our intelligence is in our ability to effectively record information to memory and apply logic to that information quickly and consistently. Saying that there is an element of intelligence in emotion makes no more sense than saying that a car’s tires have their own headlights. The only real difference is that because it’s so abstract, it takes some people longer to realize that it doesn’t make any sense.References :

    1. I understand “Emotional Intelligence” is refering to the intelligent way a person MANAGES their emotions (particularly negative emotions). I don’t think the label(Emotional Intelligence)refers to the inherent ability to feel emotion, as you are suggesting.

      Examples of diminished emotional intelligence in our society today:
      1. Physical assaults among youths because of a perceived personal slight e.g. “He gave me a filthy look”.
      2. Father who had a hard day at work comes home and angrily shouts at his young boisterous children.
      3. Simple disagreement between family members that develops into a long-running feud and hatred. Sometimes family members will not even communicate for years over an incident that really was quite insignificant, but all too often …we are governed by ego.

      1. Aisha, Esty, both of your definitions of emotional intelligence (stated or implied) don’t quite cover the concept of emotional intelligence as agreed on by pretty much everyone in the field.

        EI is not just about how you manage your emotions, it’s also about being aware of them, being able to recognise and understand emotions in others, and about being able to work with and inspire emotions in others. See Daniel Goleman’s definition here which is in broad agreement with other models of EI, though they may use slightly different terms to refer to its constituent parts.

        Esty, you may want to have a look at this article ‘Emotional Intelligence As A Standard Intelligence’ which I believe adequately defends the idea of EI as a valid construct:

  • Good afternoon-good review of a subject that I have been taught on before but your way of presenting it makes it ‘live’more for me so thanks for that!

  • Developing EI is crucial to becoming successful as you are growing up in order to deal with the daily situations that you are likely to come across, some people learn it naturally but others have not and it doesn’t mean you can’t.

  • Hey, actually loved the part of ” you are not your emotions”. I t is quite impressive and motivating. It is true that we should respond to our feelings in spite of it is good or bad and finally, it is our choice to act upon them and expressing them. Appreciate your efforts! Would love to read more from you!

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