top of page

Development Action Planning Series: How to Build Your Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence

Last time we reviewed how to develop your executive presence. Rivalling this for top hit on development action plans these days is Emotional Intelligence, or what some people refer to as EQ.

We used to think that straight up intelligence, or IQ, was the biggest predictor of life and career success, but there were too many examples of where the smartest people fizzled out when it came to leadership, and where people who were really great relationship people, but not necessarily branded as “smart” were rising to the top. The fact is, people with the highest levels of IQ outperform those with average IQs just 20% of the time, while people with average IQs outperform those with high IQs 70% of the time. What we were missing in explaining this phenomenon was EQ.

Emotional Intelligence: What is it?

“Your EQ is the level of your ability to understand other people, what motivates them and how to work cooperatively with them.”

Howard Gardner, Harvard theorist and researcher

Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves divide Emotional Intelligence into four key subskills:

  1. Self-Awareness

  2. Self-Management

  3. Social Awareness

  4. Relationship Management

The real key to emotional intelligence, according to Bradberry and Greaves, is improving the communication between the rational thinking part of your brain, the prefrontal cortex, and the source of your emotions, otherwise known as the limbic system. The more that you can listen to and identify your emotions coming from your limbic system and then choose appropriate responses, the higher your EQ.

How Do I Know if I Have an Emotional Intelligence Gap?

You may have a presence problem if you receive feedback that:

  • You are just not as likeable as others

  • You could do more to ingratiate yourself to others

  • People don’t know how to respond to you

  • You have a way of turning other people off

  • You are combative or aggressive, or tend to bulldoze people

  • People don’t know how to read you

I’m Afraid that I Just Don’t Have It

You may think that like IQ, EQ is fixed. According to the research, this just is not true. We can teach ourselves how to become more aware of our own emotions, manage our reactions, and how we comport ourselves with others and the good news is, it’s actually relatively easy to do. The key is to have awareness, accept that you have room to improve, and to be diligent in choosing a different way for yourself.

How to Build It

1. Get Clear on the Feedback

Understand what it is that makes people give you feedback that reflects lower emotional intelligence. Is it emotional outbursts? Is it speaking negatively about colleagues? Is it talking over others in meetings? Or is it your lack of a poker face? It could be any one of those things or all of them. Write it all down and decide what you want to work on first.

2. Pick Your Ongoing Feedback Mechanism

Without feedback progress is inevitably slower and if you’re on a path to greatness, slow is the enemy. Enlist your boss, a friend at work who can observe you in leadership situations, your partner, or maybe even your HR business partner to give you ongoing feedback. If you’re a high flyer, ask for an executive coach. Get a mentor or a sponsor. Consider asking for feedback from more senior people in your organization on a formal or informal basis. Pick one or multiple methods, but make sure you have a feedback mechanism to track your progress.

3. Build Your Plan

Your company is highly likely have a Development Action Planning (DAP) tool as part of its performance management software; also known as the Individual Development Plan (IDP) in many companies. If you have it, use it. If you really want to be focused, choose just one subskill and once you’ve made significant progress, go to the next subskill. If you’re really ambitious, choose up to 3 subskills to work on. Beyond 3, you’ll be too diluted to make any real progress on anything.

A good plan will identify the skill you’re looking to build, the actions you’re going to take, a timeframe you’ll do it in, and a support mechanism (see point 2, above). It should also paint a picture of what progress will look like and how you’ll measure it.

4. Practice Mindfulness

Guess what? Mindfulness is popular for a very good reason: it is the ability to see what we are thinking and feeling with some distance in between, which just happens to be what EQ is all about. The internet is flooded with tools to help you with this. Try an app like Stop Breathe & Think and make a habit of listening to a short, guided meditation every day when it works for you, or when you most need to take a breather. Yep, I said that, take a breather… and monitor your breath going in and out, in and out… I feel better already.

5. Try the Strategies from Emotional Intelligence 2.0

This easy-to-read bible on EQ provides 66 simple, practical strategies. Some of them include keeping a journal of your emotions, visiting your values and getting to know yourself under stress. All increase your self-awareness of your inner emotions and make building your skill on a daily basis easy.

6. Respond, Do Not React

It’s about choosing your response, not acting on impulse. That facial expression that tells others what you’re thinking, that sarcastic joke, that biting remark? All reactions, not chosen responses.


Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradberry & Jean Greaves

Leadership 2.0 by Travis Bradberry & Jean Greaves

Primal Leadership: Realizing the Power of Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee

Sherry Pedersen-Ajmani is an Executive Coach and Organizational Development consultant in Toronto and Principal at Contact her at if you’d like help with your Development Action Plan or follow her on Twitter @SP_talentcraft.

Featured Posts

Recent Posts

Search By Tags

Talentcraft Logo, org design consultant in Toronto, Sherry Pedersen-Ajmani
  • LinkedIn Social Icon
  • Facebook Social Icon
  • Twitter Social Icon
  • Google+ Social Icon
  • Instagram Social Icon
bottom of page