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7 things you can do to increase your emotional intelligence

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Photo credit: Benjavisa/Getty Images

Emotional intelligence is having a bit of a moment right now. You probably know people who have high emotional intelligence, even if you don’t know exactly what it is. They handle stress and obstacles better than most people and bounce back more quickly from major setbacks. Basically, they are more resilient than the average person and they tend to have a good handle on their emotions.

Simply put, emotional intelligence, or EQ, is “being able to recognize, understand and regulate your emotions and how you interact with others in life and at work,” life coach and business strategist Maureen Gharrity tells Grateful.

That translates into the ability to work well with others, stay calm under pressure, resolve or avoid conflicts, have empathy and be trustworthy.

Why is emotional intelligence so important?

EQ is now considered one of the top 10 skills you’ll need to succeed at work, even more important than IQ, according to 71 percent of employers surveyed by CareerBuilder. So, while technical ability will help you land a job, it’s EQ that will get you that promotion. In fact, 90 percent of high job performers have high EQ, according to a study from the Harvard Business Review.

With so much riding on EQ these days, we asked five experts for their top tips on increasing your emotional intelligence. Here are the seven things they recommend.

1. Therapy

“Find a therapist who is empathetic and has a high ability to connect and understand you,” says David J. Puder, MD, is a psychiatrist at Loma Linda University’s Behavioral Medicine Center. “Sometimes you need to experience empathy, warmth and be around people with high emotional intelligence to develop it yourself.” Puder says it is easier to pick up these skills face-to-face than, say, read about them in a book.

MORE: We tried the top 5 therapy apps & these are the best

2. Listen

“One of the biggest things that people want is to be heard,” says Gharrity. “To be able to express their view, their feelings and even frustrations, completely, without defense or attempts to fix it.” That doesn’t mean you have to agree with them or do as they say. What most people are looking for is an opportunity to be heard. So just listen.

“This may seem like a no-brainer, but the truth is that many of us never learned to listen well,” says Antesa Jensen, a life coach who leads workshops on emotional intelligence.

Jensen says, to become a better listener, stay present with each word as it is being spoken to you. Before responding, repeat what you have heard by saying, “This is what I’m hearing you say,” and ask for confirmation that this is what the speaker meant. Then, give your response. This practice will help you hear the subtleties of communication underneath and in between words — which is what highly emotionally intelligent people do instinctively.

3. Be trustworthy

“One of the best ways to instill trust is to keep your word,” says Gharrity. “If you say you will do something, do it. And if for some reason you cannot, say so. People will appreciate an honest reply rather than an excuse.”

Another easy way to improve trust is to take some time and effort to get to know those who live and work around you. Learn their name, learn about their family and pay attention to what they bring to work every day.

4. Practice good boundaries

“The gateway to high emotional intelligence is rooted in healthy boundaries,” says Jensen. “One way to practice this is to interact with others only when you are truly available to do so.” She says it’s important to be willing to say no and equally important to honor others by only giving them your full attention.

5. Pay attention to your own emotions

“People who are highly emotionally intelligent have a nuanced and precise awareness of the full, emotional spectrum,” says Jensen. “This is only possible when someone is intimate with their own emotional landscape.” She says many people say “I feel” and then go on to describe a thought or concept. To practice being more emotionally intelligent, try to express feelings which are a physical sensation or emotional in nature. For example, you might say, “I feel uneasy and I’m breathing faster than usual” or “I feel joyful and filled with delight.”

MORE: How neuroscientists says you can hack your brain to create more happiness

6. Know thyself

“What gets you heated and angry?” asks Audrey Hope, a therapist at Seasons in Malibu, a substance abuse and mental health treatment center. “Who presses your buttons and why? What makes you lose your temper in a hot second?”

Hope says once you become aware of what’s setting you off, you can begin to navigate any situation and any relationship. She also suggests having a system in place for when you lose control. This could be going to the bathroom to regain your composure, taking a quick walk outside or finding a place to take deep breaths and re-center yourself.

7. Feel and express gratitude

“Those with high emotional intelligence experience a deep sense of gratitude for the things they do,” says Roseann-Capanna-Hodge, a mental health expert. “With gratitude comes an appreciation of all the things that life brings, big and small, good and bad. When your heart is full of gratitude, there isn’t room for negative emotions, and positive, good feelings begin to rise.”

One way to cultivate a gratitude mindset is to journal about the three people or three things you are grateful for each day. Learning to take a moment to think about others and what is going right in your life is one of the greatest ways to improve your emotional intelligence.

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