Is It Time to Raise Your EQ? Here's How to Do It in 3 Steps

Don't write off the idea of emotional intelligence as some new-age concept involving rainbows and trust circles. Your EQ is critical for helping you lead, learn, negotiate, persuade, and collaborate effectively. Here are some simple steps for giving your EQ a boost.

Rachel Cooke
6-minute read
Episode #642
The Quick And Dirty

Your emotional intelligence (or EQ, for Emotional Quotient) determines how effectively you navigate relationships and interactions with others. To give your EQ a boost:

  • Understand the components of emotional intelligence
  • Recognize how your show up in interactions with coworkers, colleagues, and clients
  • Take control of your emotional intelligence by paying attention to yourself, paying attention to others, and changing your responses intentionally

If you’ve ever discounted the importance of “emotional intelligence” because it sounds like rainbows and trust circles, it’s time to think again.

The meaning of EQ

Emotional intelligence, often referred to as EQ (for Emotional Quotient), is defined as "... your ability to understand other people, what motivates them, and how to work cooperatively with them."

Emotional intelligence can boost your ability to learn, listen, lead, sell, persuade, and negotiate more effectively.

Having a high EQ is about more than just being swell to work with. Emotional intelligence can boost your ability to learn, listen, lead, sell, persuade, and negotiate more effectively.

So let’s take a closer look at what drives your emotional intelligence and talk about how you can give your EQ a bump.

The 4 components of emotional intelligence

Renowned emotional intelligence researcher Daniel Goleman describes the four key components of EQ as:

  1. Self-awareness — Recognizing our own emotions
  2. Self-management — Controlling our own emotions
  3. Social awareness — Recognizing the emotions of others
  4. Relationship management — Influencing those emotions

In essence, emotional intelligence is about how you manage yourself and connect with others in moments of interaction. Whatever your job function, chances are you rely on the agreement or support or collaboration of others in order to achieve your own goals. Emotional intelligence can be a means to that end.

Savvy Psychologist's 6 Negotiating Tactics Based on Psychological Science explains more about how paying attention to emotions can help you negotiate better and build successful working relationships. Give it a read!

What does emotional intelligence look like in like practice?

Last year, I was coaching an executive named Darren. He was a sales leader known for having tremendous knowledge of his market, portfolio, and products. He had top-notch sales skills, but he was struggling to hit quotas and retain talent on his team.

When the feedback you hear is about how you show up versus what you know or deliver, it’s an indication that your EQ may need a boost.

I had the opportunity to interview some of his employees and his clients. Here are some of the snippets I heard:

  • He just doesn’t read the room well. He has an agenda and can’t respond to the conversation happening in the room.
  • He knows it all. So much so that no one else feels comfortable speaking up.
  • He's condescending. I’m uncomfortable voicing questions because he makes me feel dumb for asking.

What I didn’t hear was anything about his analytic or forecasting capabilities, his knowledge of product, and all of those other things he was "known for." As a general rule, when the feedback you hear is about the “how” rather than the “what”—how you show up versus what you know or deliver—it’s an indication that your EQ may need a boost.

When I initially shared this feedback with Darren, he scoffed. “I sell software products,” he told me. “It’s about technology, not warm fuzzy feelings.”

“But you’re selling to—and leading a team of—people. And people have feelings and experiences that play a part in your hitting your targets,” I responded.

Then he nodded, and we began to establish a plan of attack.

How do you raise your EQ?

There’s no right way to bump up your EQ, but I’m partial to a simple three-part framework.

  1. Pay attention to yourself
  2. Pay attention to others
  3. Respond intentionally

Pay attention to yourself

As I always tell my daughters, you’re entitled to any emotions you feel. Emotions are neither good nor bad; it’s your actions that matter.

Emotions are neither good nor bad; it’s your actions that matter.

So Darren and I began here. I needed to understand what Darren was experiencing in these moments off-putting moments his clients and team members described.

Here’s what he told me:

  • “I get frustrated when it’s so obvious and they just don’t get it.”
  • “I get bored of having to repeat myself”
  • “I’m annoyed that people who know less than me are making the decisions”

These are all fair. Feeling frustrated, bored, and annoyed is a part of Darren's experiences, and he’s entitled to them.

What matters is his actions—how he responds or reacts. Your emotions don’t always have to dictate your actions.

As organizational psychologist Adam Grant once tweeted:


With clarity on what Darren was experiencing, I asked him to start to note when these feelings were triggered for him. I needed him to pay attention to how those feelings caused him to behave and how people reacted to those behaviors.

Pay attention to others

Once Darren started noting these moments of his boredom or frustration, he realized the impact it was having on his relationships and ultimately his career. He noticed that:

  • Clients who seemed inquisitive at the start of a meeting would stop asking questions a few minutes in. 
  • His team members stopped bringing forth ideas and instead simply awaited his instructions. 
  • His colleagues had stopped asking for his subject matter expertise even though he was known as the product guru.
  • His emotions were driving behavior that was having real, not to mention unaffordable, consequences.
  • His frustration was intimidating people
  • His arrogance was limiting his ability to put his expertise to use.

Darren realized that something had to give, so we focused on changing his reactions to see how people responded.

Respond intentionally

Making the connection between your emotions, your reactions, and other people’s experiences of you is critical for building emotional intelligence. Seeing the connection allows you to ask yourself “What experiences do I want people to have around me?”

Asking and answering this question informs your choices.

Here are the commitments Darren made to me, but more importantly to himself.

He would:

  • Let a question be fully asked before reacting. Even if it seems “dumb” or repetitive, every question provides an opportunity for him to inform or influence. He was ready to take that opportunity.
  • Invite ideas again from his team. With his knowledge of product and customers, he was in a tremendous position to help his team shape those ideas. This is what being a leader meant. 
  • Seek advice from his colleagues. Sure, Darren’s product knowledge may be top-notch. But are there things he still has to learn from others about leading teams and building relationships? Yep!

With patience and persistence, within a few months Darren began to see some positive indicators. Clients, team members, and colleagues all began responding more favorably to Darren. Suddenly he was leading effectively, winning in negotiations, and learning a great deal about the soft side of selling along the way.

Sometimes rainbows and trust circles are just the things you need.

Check in with your own emotional intelligence

So now it’s your turn. Where is your EQ opportunity? 

Maybe you’ve been interviewing like crazy but haven’t gotten the offer. Or you’ve been struggling to motivate a colleague to collaborate with you. Or you keep pitching an idea you know is great, but no one is supporting you.

All of these outcomes require someone to respond to you in a particular way. So ask yourself:

  • What experience are you having in critical moments?
  • How do others seem to be responding?
  • What changes can you make to your actions in the moment?

Checking in with yourself has a ton of value, but there's something even better—asking for feedback. For example, if you've noticed that others don't share ideas with you, ask them if there's something you're doing that makes you seem unapproachable. Can't get buy-in on an idea you believe has a ton of potential? Ask if there was something off-putting about the way you presented your pitch. Showing humility and the willingness to receive honest feedback can go a long way toward amping up your EQ.

Identify opportunities for growth, experiment with them, and tweak as needed. Moving your EQ in the right direction really can be that simple.

About the Author

Rachel Cooke

Rachel Cooke is a leadership and workplace expert who holds her M.A. in Organizational Psychology from Columbia University. Founder of Lead Above Noise, she has been named a top 100 Leadership Speaker by Inc. Magazine and has been featured in Fast Company, The Huffington Post, and many more.