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Building Emotional Intelligence for Better Relationships

Four foundations of emotional intelligence.

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Emotional intelligence, or “the capacity to reason about emotions and emotional information, and of emotions to enhance thought,” is important for understanding our own and others' emotions so that we can improve interpersonal relationships (Mayer, 2009).

Have you ever allowed yourself to get worked up in a meeting and then regretted yelling at a coworker or saying a rude or snarky comment to your boss? Have you had a heated argument with your partner, only to cool down later and wonder why you ever let the small issue you were having blow up into something huge? Have you ever made a rash decision while mad, afraid, or upset, only to regret it later? These are all issues of low or poor emotional intelligence.

High emotional intelligence is linked to better job performance, working better in teams, increased creativity, retention at work, and accepting change. Beyond the workplace, emotionally intelligent people often enjoy better interpersonal relationships at home.

According to Dr. Nicola Schutte and her team, emotionally intelligent people tend to be better at perspective taking and self-monitoring. They are also more cooperative and have better social skills. In a study from the early 2000s, her team showed that people who thought their partners were emotionally intelligent had higher marital satisfaction and anticipated more satisfaction in their relationship in the future.

People who are emotionally intelligent understand four important things:

1. They are able to read others' emotions. This is tough, especially when dealing with people who are not very emotion-forward. It is easy to tell someone is sad when they are crying, but how can you tell someone is sad when they are trying to hide it? Emotionally intelligent people can, and with practice, you can too.

2. Emotionally intelligent people are also able to understand and regulate their own emotions. This means that they are in touch with what they are feeling, rather than stuffing it down, mislabeling it, or brushing it aside. The regulation of those emotions is really key — this means being able to wait to show your frustration at your boss until after the meeting, because you know the consequences of showing it at the exact moment you first feel it. It also means holding it together long enough to be there for a sibling when a parent is diagnosed with cancer, even if you are feeling the same amount of fear and sadness they are.

3. Emotionally intelligent people understand that their thoughts create their emotions, and that facilitating and controlling thought has the ability to decrease the power of their emotions. Moods and feelings can also enhance certain kinds of thinking: for example, knowing you are better able to handle conflict when you are calm, and make decisions when you are not upset.

4. Finally, emotionally intelligent people understand the connection between their actions and other people’s emotional reactions. For example, they know that breaking a promise will result in others feeling hurt.

Building emotional intelligence is a tough task, but it's a great way to improve how you relate with others. One way to build emotional intelligence is to observe your thoughts. Watch how your thoughts connect with your emotions throughout the day. Thoughts release chemicals in the brain that fuel the way we feel about things. Once we notice the connection, we can work to decrease the negative emotions we experience by not giving power to the thoughts that create negative emotions, and by focusing on increasing the thoughts we have that are related to positive emotions.

Know what works best to calm you down. Is it going for a run? Taking a walk around the block? Calling a friend? Running through some yoga sequences? Spending 10 minutes meditating with your office door closed? Figure out what works best, and then actually put it into practice.

If there is a difficult and/or negative person you have to be around on a daily basis, be proactive in your interactions with them. Before speaking, focus on the positives that could come from the conversation. Make sure you are in a positive place yourself before you see them, and do not let them pull you into a negative place.

Do you have tips to share about increasing emotional intelligence? If yes, please share them in the comments below.


Schutte, N. S., Malouff, J. M., Bobik, C., Coston, T. D., Greeson, C., Jedlicka, C., ... & Wendorf, G. (2001). Emotional intelligence and interpersonal relations. The Journal of social psychology, 141(4), 523-536.

Schutte, N. S., Malouff, J. M., Hall, L. E., Haggerty, D. J., Cooper, J. T., Golden, C. J., & Dornheim, L. (1998). Development and validation of a measure of emotional intelligence. Personality and individual differences, 25(2), 167-177.

Joseph, D. L., Jin, J., Newman, D. A., & O'boyle, E. H. (2015). Why does self-reported emotional intelligence predict job performance? A meta-analytic investigation of mixed EI. Journal of Applied Psychology, 100(2), 298.

Deep, M., & Mathur, A. (2017). Emotional Intelligence, Adjustment and Quality of Interpersonal Relationship among Young Adults.