How to Increase Emotional Intelligence

Introduction: Some people are just naturally good at leading. They have a knack for influencing people, and they’ve led for many years in their respective careers. How do they do it so well? Charisma may seem like the primary factor in what makes these people so influential, and charisma does help. I’ve learned, however, that those who are very influential for long periods of time have powerful interpersonal skills. Aside from spiritual reasons, emotional intelligence is without a doubt the greatest determining factor in a person’s level of influence.


At some point in the last few years, you've probably heard of emotional intelligence. It’s usually abbreviated to EI or EQ. The business world has embraced the concept, spending billions of dollars every year on the topic. More people are realizing just how influential EQ is to leadership as well as life in general. Today, I want to share with you how this subject impacts leadership and give you a few tips that will help increase your emotional intelligence.




In my early years of ministry, I was considered by certain important people in my life to be very good at taking care of issues and conflict. Notice I said "taking care of" conflict. I was not necessarily good at engaging in healthy conflict resolution. If there was a problem in a ministry, I was quick to approach the ministry leader and resolve the issue, but I would usually have my own ideas for resolution. I would persuade the leader with crafty words or sometimes even dictate to them how I wanted the issue resolved. I would often leave the conversation with a false sense of success, but the other person would feel unheard and relationally empty. Ultimately, the person felt unaccepted and discontented in their position. I quickly learned that a leader's influence doesn’t last too long with this type of disconnected interaction.


Thankfully, I've learned to tune into what other people are experiencing, and I've discovered how to develop buy-in, strong communication, and healthy conflict resolution. I believe that EQ has absolutely made the difference in my ability to do these things.


I love the quote by Daniel Goleman, “If your emotional abilities aren’t in hand, if you don’t have self-awareness, if you're not able to manage your distressing emotions, if you can’t have empathy and have effective relationships, then no matter how smart you are, you're not going to get very far” (Goleman, Working with Emotional Intelligence). A leader must be able to understand and lead themselves before they can ever think about effectively understanding and leading others.


The biggest reason EQ is so important in leadership is that the person with the most influence in the room is usually the one who passes along their emotions to everyone else. This helps create the culture within that organization. If you’re a leader, you probably set the tempo of your work environment. When a leader is able to self-regulate and calm their emotions, there are fewer negative emotional issues throughout their team. Today, organizations are always changing, and people with good self-regulation and emotional intelligence can usually adapt to the stress of those regular changes much more quickly than those without emotional intelligence. People with high EQ do not panic in stressful situations; they’re able to remain stable, gather information, and make logical decisions. Leaders can actually create a positive emotional culture within their organizations, churches, and ministries just by learning to manage their emotions.


Another example of how EQ impacts leadership is demonstrated when a leader practices empathy with their team members. When a leader really understands the underlying emotions of others and learns how to give effective and healthy feedback, the leader is able to successfully move their organization forward. Much more so than leaders who don’t show proper empathy. A leader who leads with empathy cultivates trust and fulfillment within their organization.


Effective leaders also objectively view their environments. They don’t view the world through a black and white lens. They know that their ideas aren’t always the best ideas, and they realize that they are fallible human beings. The most effective leaders don’t let their emotions or their interpretation of a situation cloud their vision of what is needed most for their organization to be effective. These are just a few of the reasons why the best leaders spend a great amount of time, energy, and money on developing EQ within themselves and those on their teams.


If emotional intelligence is this important and will make such a difference in leadership, how can a person increase their emotional intelligence? Of course, you can always educate yourself by reading books and articles. Daniel Goleman has written some excellent material on the topic. There are also many YouTube videos that discuss the subject as well as several good assessments that can help you gain more internal awareness.


One of the quickest and most effective ways to gain EQ is to hire an executive coach. If the coach is trained properly, they can use effective, comprehensive tools as well as personal interaction to help you develop your emotional intelligence. You have to have the time and financial resources to explore that option though, and it can be quite a significant investment.


I want to give you a few practical methods that you can use to begin your journey to increasing your emotional intelligence. I know that self-awareness is half the battle, and you can't even begin to learn to self-regulate and tune into what others are experiencing until you become self-aware and understand what is going on inside of you. This first method to becoming more emotionally intelligent is simple and won’t cost you any money, but it's a very powerful experience if you approach it with humility and the true desire to learn about yourself.


First of all, there is a question you will need to ask at least three different types of people in your life. Consider talking to family members, coworkers, and friends. Sit down with them, and ask, “When I'm tired or stressed, what does it feel like to interact with me?” I preface that question with "when I'm tired or stressed" because that's when the worst parts of us usually surface. If someone is going to be abrasive, this is usually when it will happen.


Before you ask that question, let me give you a few tips. Don’t get defensive, and don’t immediately respond to their answer. Simply ask them to be as truthful as possible, and listen to their response. I’m warning you not to get defensive because there’s no doubt that you will get your feelings hurt if these people are honest with you. We all do things that others wish they could talk to us about but don’t because they know their words will hurt. You are giving them permission, without judgement, to tell you these extremely hard things. If they do it correctly, you will begin to understand your emotional and relational blind spots in life and leadership. I challenge you today to humbly ask that question to a few people.


This next method to increasing your EQ will particularly influence the way you present yourself to others. Altering your facial expressions, even when you’re not in the presence of other people, can greatly benefit your emotional intelligence. Changing your facial expressions may not seem like it will work to help your EQ, but I assure you it does. In one of his articles, Daniel Goleman calls this “The Facial Feedback Hypothesis.” This theory says that our facial expressions impact our emotions; therefore, intentional smiling helps produce positive emotions. Give it a try. Right now, go ahead and smile. You did it, didn't you? I love it.


Another suggestion to increase your EQ is to practice empathy. I wrote a whole post on this topic recently because of how important it is to leadership. You can show empathy by briefly expressing your thoughts about what you're seeing or experiencing and letting the person you’re communicating with know that you understand what they’re feeling. It may be as simple as naming the emotion that you see.


Dr. John Townsend is a phenomenal psychologist who has impacted my life in a great way. Townsend talks about the process of identifying with or attempting to tune into and experience what others are feeling. He calls this attunement. Neuroscience proves that when people feel heard, they’re 30% more likely to solve their own problems (Goleman, Effective leaders Know the Science Behind Their Behavior). What does this mean for you as a leader? It means that your job becomes a little easier.


Empathy is powerful, and the great thing is that empathy can be learned, especially for someone like me who is not naturally empathetic. There are even training programs available to teach you how to express empathy and compassion more effectively. Attunement, empathy, and compassion create better and more productive environments to accomplish goals.


There's so much more to growing your emotional intelligence; and though I've introduced you to this topic, I encourage you to study this subject for yourself. There are books, assessments, and many other resources that can help you grow in your knowledge of EQ. Emotional intelligence a vital part of leadership. I believe the primary influence killer or limiter for any leader is the inability to understand the emotional and relational needs of yourself and others. Emotional intelligence strongly impacts the environment in which you’re leading.


It doesn't matter how smart you are or how well you can preach or teach; if you can't understand the emotional and relational components of your environment, there's no doubt that you'll have limited influence in your organization. Relationships are the greatest asset that you have in life. The primary theme of the entire Bible is relationships. In fact, Jesus taught us that we must love the Lord our God with all of our hearts, souls, minds, and strength, and love others as ourselves. If you value relationships as much as Jesus does, I encourage you to work hard to grow and develop your emotional intelligence.



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