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Building Your Emotional Strength

Photo by Aaron Hermes on Unsplash

Among the soft skills that are regularly touted as critical to the success of an organization, emotional intelligence is at the top of the list. Knowing how people feel and how to deal with those feelings is foundational to good communication, adept leadership, effective teamwork, and personal success.

While it is often called emotional intelligence, it is better to think of this concept as emotional strength. “Intelligence” indicates a limited capacity, but this is an ability that one can improve upon with deliberate practice. Just like physical strength, your emotional intelligence can grow. In this post, I’ll tell you how to identify and build emotional intelligence in yourself.

So what is it and how do you know if you have it? We can define emotional intelligence as the ability to determine, understand, and manage emotions in yourself and in others. Let’s break that down…

Emotional intelligence is determining emotions.

Are you able to sense the slightest shift in the tone of a stranger’s voice, but find it hard to pinpoint your own feelings? Or are you someone who is crystal clear about your own feelings, but the feelings of others are a mystery? Whether one of these describes you or you’re one of those unicorns who can adeptly identify the feelings of everyone including yourself, identifying the emotions in yourself is the first step to high emotional intelligence.

PRACTICE naming the emotion you are feeling. The more specific you are the better. Saying that you are happy or sad isn’t as informative as excited or disappointed. If this is hard for you, start with labeling your feelings as positive or negative and then be more specific when you can. With practice, this is a skill you can improve.

Emotional intelligence is understanding emotions.

Imagine you see a person staring at their car in a deep ditch and suddenly they burst into laughter. If your thought is Clearly they’re insane, then your emotional understanding might be low. If you could think of several logical reasons for the person’s reaction (Overwhelmed? Unseen irony? Were just telling a friend that they wish they could get a new car?), then you’re using emotional intelligence to understand the person’s reaction.

PRACTICE understanding emotions by reflecting on a time you had a surprising emotional reaction and explaining how that emotion came about. The obvious emotions (I felt entertained while laughing with friends at a party) aren’t as good an exercise as the complex emotions. Did you feel at peace during a funeral? Felt a little sad when your team finally won the championship? Explain these reactions to yourself to get a deeper understanding of the complexity of emotions.

Emotional intelligence is managing emotions.

Do you have a song that pumps you up before a workout or a presentation? Do you get excited to start your next task when you finally accomplish something you’ve been putting off? Do you tilt your head back and mutter a prayer for strength when you hear your kids start screaming at each other? If so, you are engaging in emotion management. This is when you try to induce or use an emotion to get something done. Inducing excitement can help you overcome a hurdle while inducing calm can help you deal with stress or focus on a problem. When strong emotions arise naturally, emotionally intelligent people will adapt their tasks to fit their feelings.

PRACTICE managing emotions by looking at your to-do list and determining what feeling would best help you achieve your goals. Positive, elevated emotions help you tackle hard things with optimism, whereas negative, lowered emotions help you slow down and focus on issues. Once you know how to manage your own emotions, you’ll have a better idea how to do the same when managing other people.

Take a minute to reflect upon which areas of emotional intelligence you are strongest and weakest in. For those areas in which you are weak, what can you practice to build this skill? Remember, emotional intelligence is a strength. As with any strength, it can be built through repetition and challenge. A leader’s strong emotional abilities translate into superior team performance, so it’s worth the effort.

Next time, I’ll be reviewing techniques for how to identify emotional intelligence in others so that you can bring this valuable competency into your own organization.



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Alex Stewart

Alex Stewart

Alex is a consultant at Horizon Performance and studies industrial-organizational psychology at NC State University.