Improving Your Emotional Intelligence

Developing your EI is an important step toward getting the full benefit of a college education. Think about it. Do you often give up because something is just too hard or you can’t figure it out? Do you take responsibility for what you do, or do you blame others if you fail? Can you really be successful in life if you don’t handle change well or if you are not open to diverse groups and their opinions? How can you communicate effectively if you are not assertive or if you are overly aggressive? If you’re inflexible, how can you solve problems, get along with coworkers and family members, or learn from other people’s points of view?

Strategies To Improve EI

It might not be easy to improve your EI—old habits are hard to change—but it can definitely be done. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Identify your strengths and weaknesses. Take a hard look at yourself and consider how you respond to situations. Most people have trouble assessing their own behaviors realistically, so ask someone you trust and respect for insight. If you have an opportunity to take a formal EI test or meet with a behavioral counselor, by all means, do so.

  2. Set realistic goals. As you identify areas of emotional intelligence that you would like to improve, be as specific as possible. Instead of deciding to be more assertive, for example, focus on a particular issue that is giving you trouble, such as nagging resentment toward a friend who always orders the most expensive thing on the menu and then expects to split the whole check evenly.

  3. Formulate a plan. With a particular goal in mind, identify a series of steps you could take to achieve the goal and define the results that would indicate success. As you contemplate your plan, consider all the emotional competencies. You might find that to be more assertive with your friend about the restaurant situation, for instance, you need to figure out why you’re frustrated (emotional self-awareness), identify possible causes for your friend’s behavior (empathy), and consider what you might be doing to encourage it (reality testing).

  4. Check your progress on a regular basis. Continually reassess whether or not you have met your goals, and adjust your strategy as needed.

Handling Stress

Suppose you know that you don’t handle stress well. When things get tough—too many things are due at once, your roommate leaves clothes and leftover food all over the place, and your significant other seems a bit distant—you begin to fall apart.

  • EI competency: Stress tolerance

  • Specific goal: To get control of the things that are causing stress this week

  • Plan: Identify each stressor and select a strategy for addressing it

  • List everything that needs to be done this week. Allot time for each item on the list and stick to a schedule. Reassess the schedule many times during the week.

  • Ask yourself whether your roommate is bothering you only because you are stressed. Do you do some of the same things your roommate does? Ask yourself what the next step should be. Should you talk to your roommate? Look for another place to study?

  • Ask yourself whether your significant other is acting differently for any reason. Is he or she under stress? Are you overreacting because you feel insecure in the relationship? After answering these questions, decide what the next step will be. Should you talk to your significant other and share your feelings with him or her? Reassess the situation in another week when things calm down?

  • Identify what reduces stress for you and still allows you to stay on target to get things done. Exercising? Working in small chunks with rewards when you finish something? Playing a musical instrument?

  • Success indicator: You are feeling less stressed, and you have accomplished many of the things on your list. You are working out three times a week. Your significant other seems just fine, and your place is still a mess but it’s not bothering you. You leave your room and decide to study in the library.

It’s important not to try to improve everything at once. Instead, identify specific EI competencies that you can define, describe, and then set measurable goals for change. Don’t expect success overnight. Remember that it took you a while to develop your specific approach to life, and it will take commitment and practice to change it.