What Is Emotional Intelligence and How Can It Be Improved?

Posted by Maria Milanetti & filed under Family and Independent Business, Leadership Development, Organizational Psychology.

At MarchFifteen we facilitate Emotional Intelligence sessions within organizations and find this a fascinating topic to share with clients. I was very inspired while doing EQ/EI research to come across a Harvard Business Review Blog. It reinforced that it is possible to shift an individual, a team and an entire organization towards a higher awareness of Emotional Intelligence, to make their cultures more emotionally intelligent, one person at a time.

I love what the author says in the HBR Blog entitled “Can You Really Improve Your Emotional Intelligence?” (Chamorro-Premuzic, 2013). It went as follows:

Your level of EQ is firm, but not rigid. Our ability to identify and manage our own and others’ emotions is fairly stable over time, influenced by our early childhood experiences and even genetics. That does not mean we cannot change it, but, realistically long-term improvements will require a great deal of dedication and guidance…”

Improving Emotional Intelligence

Supposing that you did want to improve your Emotional Quotient, I can share the following pieces of wisdom that I have gleaned since facilitating EI/EQ Sessions over the past several years:

  • Try to listen twice as much as you speak – some say that is why we have two ears and one mouth
  • Try not to hurt others with your comments, and use the platinum rule – treat others as they would like to be treated
  • Admit to others when you have been inappropriate and apologize about your behaviour, if not your comments, if indeed these two are separate things
  • Ensure you are not being inappropriate – yelling, using sarcasm, berating others – on a regular basis and then apologizing
  • Be aware that our words represent 7% of what we say, with 38% being conveyed by our tone of voice and 55% by our body language (Mehrabian, 1971)
  • Use your own case studies to learn in a learning setting, by recounting an incident where your Emotional Intelligence was seen to be low, and going back as an outside observer to analyze what you might have done better in this situation

Daniel Goleman (2002), who is one of the seminal writers on Emotional Intelligence, has coined another concept that describes the ideal leader: primal leadership. The fundamental task of leaders, he argues, is to prime good feelings in those they lead. That occurs when a leader creates resonance – a reservoir of positivity that frees the best in people. At its root, then, the primal job of leadership is emotional.

He goes on to explain that though this dimension of leadership is often overlooked, it determines whether everything else that a leader does, works as well as it might.

Leadership Competencies that make up the Emotional Intelligence model Goleman promotes include:

Self-Awareness – including emotional self-awareness, accurate self-assessment and self-confidence

Self-Management – including self-control, transparency, adaptability, achievement, initiative and optimism

Social Awareness – including empathy, social awareness and service

Relationship Management – including inspiration, influence, developing others, being a change management agent, a conflict manager and using teamwork and collaboration

The impact of this higher state of emotional awareness for business people and for the general population is a more thoughtful presence in both the workplace and the world-at-large. It allows the “primal leadership” that Goldman describes to maintain and improve valuable business relationships.

These are not skills and attributes that we gain overnight, but they are ones that we gain over a career or a lifetime, by paying attention and by concentrating on building the right skills to be the best human beings and leaders. An interesting set of skills to think about, and one that society is starting to value more and more, so much so that they are now introducing some of them more deliberately in the primary school system.



Chamorro-Premuzic, T. (2013, May 29). Can You Really Improve Your Emotional Intelligence? Retrieved from http.blogs.hbr.org/2013/05/can-you-really-improve-your-em

Goleman, D., Boyatzis, R., & McKee, A. (2002). Primal Leadership: Realizing the Power of Emotional Intelligence. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

Mehrabian, A. (1971). Silent messages. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth

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