6 Things You Should Do to Develop Your Emotional Intelligence

People often ask me what they need to do to develop their emotional intelligence. It’s a tough question to answer – specific development opportunities vary greatly from person to person. What one person may need or want to work on will be different from someone else. However, there are certain things that everyone who wants to develop their emotional intelligence needs to do. Here are the 6 that I think are the most important.

1 – Learn The Language

There are any number of general descriptions of emotional intelligence, such as “The ability to understand, process, and act on emotional information.” While descriptions like these let us understand the basic idea of emotional intelligence, they don’t really help to focus in on the specific elements, which is what you will need if you are going to develop. Using a model like the EQ-I 2.0 model of Emotional Intelligence (shown right – click for larger image) really helps – it gives you a language with which to understand and talk about emotional intelligence.

The model is comprised of 5 Composite Scales, and 15 Subscales. It is these 15 subscales that you should be primarily interested in. Each subscale has a specific definition, and there are several books such as The Leader’s Guide to Emotional Intelligence, and The EQ Edge that dig into the details about the behaviours, characteristics, and attributes, associated with each subscale. With this level of detail, you can truly start to understand and explore EQ. You can find a handy reference guide to the EQ-I 2.0 Model of Emotional Intelligence HERE.

2 – Identify A Concrete and Important (to you) Goal

A mentor of mine once said to me “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. If the horse is thirsty, you won’t need to.” This advice has stuck with me through the years, and I often use it to figure out why I am motivated, or not, to learn something new. If you are serious about developing your EQ, you should figure out how developing or working on it can create an outcome you are looking for. So, what are you thirsty for? Maybe you want to improve the performance of the team you lead, close more sales opportunities, or improve the relationship with your partner. Having a clear outcome will incentivize and encourage you to learn more about, and develop, your EQ. It will also help you to figure out which specific elements (subscales) you need to look at

3 – Assess Yourself

Prescription without diagnosis is mis-prescription. This was a mantra that was drilled into me many years ago when I started working as an organizational development (OD) practitioner. The premise is that if you haven’t take any time to properly understand a situation, pretty much any action you take to alter it will be wrong. It’s critically important that you take time to understand what is happening with your emotional intelligence before you make changes.

You can do that through taking an assessment such as the EQ-I or EQ360 (the 360 also adds others’ perspectives on your emotional intelligence into the mix, which is incredibly valuable). If you don’t want to take a formal assessment, you can simply reflect on your emotional intelligence through the lens of the subscales we talked about above. What do you see as your areas of strength? Opportunities for growth? What subscales are connected to your goal? Which ones are you motivated to work on?

4 – Learn to Observe Yourself, and Others

Another key ingredient in developing emotional intelligence is observation. We break down observational skills into two areas – observation of self, and observation of others. Observation of self is about developing the ability to view your actions from as neutral a perspective as possible. Asking yourself questions about why you act and behave the way you do, and why you think about situations the way you do, is the key. Writing down your thoughts through journaling can be a powerful tool in this process, and I constantly encourage the leaders I work with to develop a journaling practice – its one of the best ways to better understand and develop your emotional intelligence, and your leadership, not to mention that it’s free! Observing others is also useful as a development tool. I am not encouraging you to mimic people – simply to watch other people in a non-judgmental way to determine what kinds of behaviours and actions create similar results to those that you seek. If you think a colleague of yours has a great way of engaging their team, watch what they do and say that creates that engagement? What can you learn from that? Of course, you can learn just as much about what not to do by watching others as well!

5 – Be Open To Change

If you are serious about developing your emotional intelligence, you must be open to the idea of change – that is changing your behaviour. You may be thinking that sounds kind of obvious, but you would be amazed at how many people I meet who are learning more about emotional intelligence, but still stick rigidly to their current way of thinking and doing things. Developing understanding doesn’t change anything – learning must be translated into action. So, if you think you need to be more assertive, for example, you must act in a more assertive way. You must voice your opinions more clearly, more often, and to the right people. And, you must accept that you won’t always get it right. Which brings me to my final point.

6 – Be Willing to Experiment – and Make Mistakes

If you are really working at developing your emotional intelligence, as you start to try different approaches, or behaviours, you are likely to make some mistakes. Perhaps your attempts to manage impulsive behaviour go a little too far, and you miss an opportunity. Or maybe your new approach to goal setting leads you to taking on too much, too quickly. When this happens, don’t be too hard on yourself. Trying, and failing, is all part of the process. The most important thing is to make sure you understand, and take away, the lesson from the experience. If my own experience is anything to go by, the only time I am making zero mistakes is when I am doing things as I have always done them (and even then, I often mess up). Giving yourself a little ‘space and grace’ can go a long way. And, if you can extend some of that space and grace to others, as they try things and mess up, all the better.


Developing your emotional intelligence doesn’t need to be a slog – in fact for many people it’s a very enjoyable experience, particularly when you start to see the gains. The basic process involves understanding the emotional intelligence construct, assessing your situation and skills, and then committing to change. I know from personal experience that rewards can be immense. You just have to be willing to do the work.



Similar Posts