A 2016 report by the World Economic Forum called The Future of Jobs anticipated that emotional intelligence (EQ) will become one of the top 10 skills demanded in the workforce by 2020. Today, we have already started to acknowledge the importance of EQ as countless articles and reports talk about the global leaders that preach and practise this skill with success.

So what does “emotional intelligence” mean and how can you develop it within yourself?

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What is emotional intelligence?

Emotional intelligence is the ability to process emotions, control your responses, and make sound decisions. Experts say that understanding and managing emotions – not just your own, but the emotions of others – can greatly increase your chances of success in the workplace. Similar to the general intelligence quotient, EQ is also an abstract concept and cannot be measured with absolute objectivity.

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The good news is that even though it is difficult to measure, you can continuously work on and improve qualities related to emotional intelligence. According to best-selling author Mark Manson, your EQ is much easier to change than your IQ. Think of emotional intelligence as a muscle – you can strengthen it with practice and perseverance.

Why is EQ a top 10 skill?

Good emotional intelligence is incredibly important for your personal life, but it brings just as much value in a business context. Professionals and leaders who are masters of their EQ can create productive and positive work environments. They can navigate tricky situations and, ultimately, bring about better results and increase their success in the organisation.

It is easier said than done, but EQ is vital to be able to perform at your best. A study by EQ training provider TalentSmart found that emotional intelligence is responsible for 58% of your job performance. Here is what Joseph C Rode, Professor of Management at the Farmer School of Business at Miami University of Ohio (US), has to say on the topic:

While emotional intelligence includes the ability to use emotions to increase motivation and focus, it also includes the ability to detach from very powerful short-term emotions when needed, to better focus on the tasks at hand.

4 steps to boost your EQ

There are several ways to tell if someone’s emotional intelligence is as high as it should be. But even if you don’t recognise yourself in these lines, you can take a step in the right direction by working on the qualities associated with emotional intelligence.

#1. Know yourself first

Before you can learn to assess situations from the outside, you need to know yourself first. This is not something you learn all at once – it is an ongoing process and according to EQ consultant Justin Bariso, it starts with reflection. Find the time and space where you can consider these questions without any distractions:

  • What are my emotional strengths? What are my weaknesses?
  • How does my current mood affect my thoughts and decision-making?
  • What is going on under the surface that influences what others say or do?

#2. Read other people’s emotions

Empathy and compassion are directly connected to emotional intelligence. Are you able to listen without judgement? Can you do your best to understand another person’s thought process even if you disagree with them? Being open to people’s emotions and experiences will ultimately help you build stronger relationships at work and in your personal life. Moreover, it will help you manage your relationships better.

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#3. Choose how to express your feelings

There is no such thing as a “good” or “bad” emotion – there are only good and bad reactions to your emotions, emphasises Mark Manson. This means that it is completely normal to sometimes feel frustrated, exhausted or annoyed with your work or the work of someone else. What matters most is to make sense of these feelings and manage them.

Learn from this story by Karen Oakey, Director of Human Resources at Fracture, shared for Business News Daily:

My favourite example of emotional intelligence is knowing not to fire off an email response when you’re hot over the topic or situation. Don’t swoop and lose the trust of whoever is on the other end. Take time, self-regulate, and be aware of all of the facts and details […]

#4. Enjoy the freedom of adapting

Your capacity to change is essential on your way to success, just as your self-awareness and balanced response to other people’s emotions. Many HR experts have taken the importance of adaptability to the next level by giving it its own quotient – AQ. In a recent article for the BBC, business journalist Seb Murray described the adaptability quotient as “the ability to pivot and flourish in an environment of fast and frequent change.

Natalie Fratto, TED speaker and Vice President at Goldman Sachs, says that organisations already have their ways to gauge the adaptability of candidates. If your answer to these questions is “yes”, you can probably react to new situations swiftly.

  • Can you picture possible versions of the future by asking “what if” questions?
  • Can you unlearn information to challenge presumptions?
  • Do you enjoy exploration and seeking out new experiences?

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Whether you are already in a position to lead or you have just recently started your career journey, you will learn the importance of emotional intelligence from experience.