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17 Expert Tricks and Tools for Increasing Emotional Intelligence

Use these communication tools to increase your EQ and better understand yourself and those around you.

Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify, interpret, and manage your emotions, as well as those of others—and it's an essential tool for finding happiness and fulfillment in your personal relationships, as well as your professional pursuits. However, for many people, understanding their own feelings is a challenge in its own right, let alone the capacity to grasp and empathize with the feelings of others. The trick is, the two skills sort of go hand-in-hand. If you want to give your EQ a bit of a boost, read on to discover the emotional intelligence development tools that top mental health professionals recommend. Soon enough, you'll be able to connect with those around you better than you ever thought possible!

Don't make snap judgements of others.

young couple arguing in the backseat of a car while the man points to his phone defensively

It's easy to make quick judgments about other people, but toning down that impulse—and examining why it's there in the first place—can be a major personal breakthrough when it comes to increasing your emotional intelligence.

"As humans, our initial programmed thought is to judge based on outside appearances, and more likely than not, our judgements [aren't] true," explains psychotherapist Richard A. Singer, Jr.

Ask more questions.

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In order to understand others beyond merely a surface level, first you need to get know them. The easiest way to do that? Ask them questions. And, equally important, really listen to what they tell you, says Singer. "Don't talk about yourself," he advises. "Learn about them in a genuine manner."

And don't be afraid to be direct.

interracial coworkers talking at work

Even when you think it's completely clear how people are feeling or what they're thinking, you can never really have a truly accurate understanding of those things if the conclusions you've made are based solely on assumption or speculation. "Instead of jumping to conclusions, ask the other person directly," suggests therapist Lauren Cook, MMFT. "This can often cut through so much of our anxiety as we find out how the other person really feels."

Don't assume that other people's actions are malicious.

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Becoming more emotionally intelligent means not defaulting to negative assumptions about others' actions or behaviors, even when you think something they did or said was wrong. Reserve judgement and always start a conversation with an open mind as to why they behaved the way they did. "While it may feel easy to quickly judge someone or assume the worst, give people the benefit of the doubt," Cook says. "Trust that we are each trying to do the best we can on any given day."

Practice empathy.

Woman talking having a serious conversation

If you want to increase your emotional depth, you need to learn how to be more empathetic to what others are dealing with or have experienced in their lives—and a hug, comforting touch, or active listening are all good places to start. "It's saying to others in a non-verbal way that you understand or are really trying to understand what they are feeling or going through," explains Singer.

And validate other people's feelings.

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A big part of being more empathetic is letting other people know that what they are feeling is valid, says licensed clinical psychologist Rebecca B. Skolnick, PhD, co-founder of MindWell Psychology NYC. She also notes that you don't have to agree with someone to perform this behavior.

"For example, if someone spills water on your co-worker's computer and your co-worker is upset, a validating comment could be, 'Of course you're angry! It must be so frustrating to not be able to finish your work,'" Skolnick explains.

Keep your cool.

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A key component of a high EQ is the ability to have some element of control over your emotions—even during difficult times when that may seem next to impossible.

"This comes with understanding your emotions and being skillful at dealing with them," explains Singer. He suggests mindfulness exercises to help you avoid letting those emotions boil over, even when you're having a hard time.

And when you can't, identify what triggered you.

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But when you do find yourself acting irrationally or angrily, make sure to examine the underlying reason for that kind of response or behavior. "Identify factors that might be making you more likely to react a certain way," suggests Skolnick, who notes that everything from exhaustion to hunger can prompt a strong emotional response you weren't expecting.

Then learn how to keep calm.

young blonde woman relaxing at work

In addition to the things that cause you to lose your cool, also be conscious of the environment you're in and the sensations you feel in your body when you're calm, says Carrie Krawiec, a licensed marriage and family therapist at Birmingham Maple Clinic in Troy, Michigan. "Take actions to behave this way," she says. "As your body restores calm, your mind and feelings will, too."

Expand your emotional vocabulary.

lesbian couple talking and communicating to each other

If you've ever answered "fine" when someone asked how you were—especially if you were feeling anything but fine—it may be time to expand your emotional vocabulary.

"People use 'bad' or 'OK' to describe feeling states, which aren't [effective] terms at all," Krawiec says. Instead, she suggests using a thesaurus or talking with people you view as emotionally intelligent about how to use more expressive language—describing yourself as frustrated instead of mad if that's a more accurate description of your current mood, or sharing more vulnerable feelings when it's appropriate to do so.

Allow yourself to feel what you are feeling.

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While it's important to communicate your emotions clearly and constructively, it's equally essential to allow yourself to feel your feelings without judgment. "Begin to allow yourself to experience whatever emotion you are having without criticizing yourself," suggests therapist Kathryn Ely, MA, ALC, NCC, of Empower Counseling & Coaching.

Speak for your emotions, not from them.

black couple talking on couch

While this may be a difficult communication technique—especially when you first attempt to put it into practice—learning to speak for your feelings can make a major difference in how emotionally attuned you are in the long run. How do you do that? "Instead of saying, 'You're making me angry,' try, 'I notice I am experiencing anger after you said that to me,'" suggests licensed professional counselor Emma Donovan, MA.

Remind yourself that conflict isn't a bad thing.

man holds head in hands while talking to another man

Though it may be more comfortable to shy away from disagreements entirely, being emotionally healthy requires actively engaging in uncomfortable situations when it feels necessary. "Resolving conflict in healthy, constructive ways can strengthen trust between people," says Kristen Suleman, MEd, LPC, a clinician at Ajana Therapy and Clinical Services. "When conflict isn't perceived as threatening or punishing, it fosters freedom, creativity, and safety in relationships."

Follow in the footsteps of those you admire.

Business Team Standing Having Informal Meeting In Modern Office

If you want to become more emotionally intelligent, emulate other people who seem to be acing their own interpersonal relationships. "Look around and identify friends, co-workers, bosses, family members, or acquaintances who seem wise, have good self-esteem, and exemplify effective interpersonal skills," suggests therapist Karen R. Koenig, MEd, LCSW. "Notice what they say and do—and, as important, what they don't say and do—and think about how you could be more like them."

Stay present.

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It's easy to find yourself reminiscing about past mistakes or worrying about how things will shake out in the future, but it's crucial to focus on the here and now when at all possible. "Thinking too much about the past or the future can overwhelm you and cause your thoughts to lose touch with what you are feeling and what you need in the present," says therapist GinaMarie Guarino, LMHC. "Whenever you find yourself drifting, try using your grounding exercises to bring you back to the present moment."

Don't dwell on your mistakes.

sad pensive woman what does it mean when you dream about someone dream meanings

Even when mistakes are fresh, still don't allow yourself to ruminate on them too heavily. "Remember that a mistake is just that and doesn't define you," says therapist Stefanie Juliano, LPCC. After all, "you're not the only person the professor or boss has given criticism to—and [you] won't be the last."

And remain optimistic.

A mature black man looks out while sitting on his porch

In addition to giving yourself a break when it comes to your mistakes and not dwelling on others' criticisms of you, keep in mind that your journey to becoming more emotionally intelligent is exactly that—a journey.

"Make sure not to judge yourself during your introspection, but remain curious and optimistic that whatever you don't know you can learn," Koenig says.

Sarah Crow
Sarah Crow is a senior editor at Eat This, Not That!, where she focuses on celebrity news and health coverage. Read more