How to improve your emotional intelligence

In a recent article by Megan Beck and Barry Libert about the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) and the implications for humans in the workplace they state,

– “Those that want to stay relevant in their professions will need to focus on skills and capabilities that artificial intelligence has trouble replicating — understanding, motivating, and interacting with human beings. ” –

I’ve helped lots of individuals and teams over the years and the one thing that underpinned an issue, or stopped someone from moving to the next level, was emotional intelligence. Or lack of.

So, here’s five things you can do that others have tried. These things work but only if YOU put the work in. No-one else is going to do this for you. There is no quick fix.

But… do one or more of these things and over time you’ll see an improvement in how you handle problems, how you communicate with others, how you lead others and how you manage yourself.

Keep a journal

I know, I know. Yet another thing to add to your ever-growing to-do list! However, as Nancy J Adler wrote, if you want to be an outstanding leader, then keeping a journal is key. You can do it daily. Every other day. Once a week. Once a month. The point is to write something.


  • How did you handle specific situations?
  • Was there a particularly difficult interaction you had? How well did you handle it?
  • What would you do differently if the same situation arose again?
  • What did you do particularly well that you can build on?
  • What score would you give yourself out of 10 for your level of self-control? Resilience?

You’ll start to see trends and patterns of things you want to do more of (the good stuff) and things you want to stop (the not so good stuff).

Get 360-degree feedback

If you’re in some kind of management or leadership position then you should have had some form of 360-degree feedback. If you haven’t, I’d suggest you get on to this asap.

I’ve had 360 feedback many times over the years, so I get how vulnerable it can make you feel. Particularly the first time. However, it can make you stronger over time too. I’ve also given 360 feedback to hundreds of middle and senior managers over the years and almost every one has gone on to see their emotional intelligence increase dramatically.

And you don’t have to be in a management position to get 360 feedback. Admittedly, with staff reporting in to you it’ll be more like 270-degree feedback. However, the result is still the same. Increased awareness leading to a focused plan of action to smooth out any rough edges.

Get a coach

I’m really clear on this. I don’t think you can survive, let alone thrive, as a manager or leader in today’s hyper-connected world without a coach. Your coaching sessions should be a safe space for you to work through the things holding you back (as evidenced by your 360-degree feedback and you journal, which I know you’re keeping!)

A good coach should be objective, non-biased and offer a balance of challenge and support. A few coaching clients have said that coaching feels like a session in an oxygen tank or hot yoga (delete as applicable). They feel stretched but also like they can breathe easier and have more energy to handle whatever comes their way.

Have regular breaks

Why is it that we spend more time and attention on looking after inanimate objects (cars, gas boilers, laptops etc) than we do on ourselves? You wouldn’t go on a long journey with a nearly empty tank of petrol, would you?

You are not a machine. And remember, the article referenced at the beginning is about how you need to differentiate yourself from a machine.

You have a big project on the horizon; or you’re about to restructure your team, making some redundant; or you’re about to lead a merger between your organisation and another. If you know this in advance then put in place some break points for you to get some space.

Time off before whatever you’re leading starts. A day off here and there during the thing itself (long weekends are good). And time off once it’s all over.

Don’t take time out and your fuse is likely to become ever so short, and your ability to handle difficult situations likely to be impeded.


Hey, where are you going? Come back! Don’t look so alarmed. This isn’t about sitting in the lotus position or chanting (unless you want to, and some do).

This is about getting in to the habit of sitting quietly at a regular time each day and just letting your thoughts come and go.

I first started doing this in 2013 and it absolutely changed my ability to handle stressful events, as well as improved my focus and productivity. I started off using the Headspace app and then progressed to doing it on my own, without guidance. Now, I meditate for 10 minutes every morning. On the odd occasion where I’ve not meditated, I’ve found that I handle difficult situations less well and feel a bit more frenetic.

And if you’re still not convinced, then check out this piece in Forbes which talks about some of the business benefits of leaders taking the time to meditate.

What are the things you’ve found have worked in improving your emotional intelligence? Why not share your tips in the comments section so that others can benefit from your experience?

Did you find this post helpful? I’d love to know, so Tweet me, or drop me a note on LinkedIn. If you have any colleagues that you feel should read this, too, please share it with them. I’d really appreciate it.

I also have a monthly newsletter which is a compilation of blog posts, helpful research, and reviews of books and podcasts – all aimed at helping managers and leaders become more confident in handling a range of workplace issues. You can subscribe here -> SUBSCRIBE

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  1. Simple effective stuff. The high achieving elites often have special needs and extra warping in their daily fabric. As a coach to ministers in the past was an easy MSM target for those (low EQ) journos who scorn the normal human side of leaders


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