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Emotional Intelligence

Can You Increase Your Emotional Intelligence?

A better understanding of how to use emotions in everyday life.

Key points

  • Although some elements of intelligence, both IQ and emotional intelligence are inborn, some can be developed.
  • Viewing emotional intelligence as trainable emotional skills leads to more effective social interactions.
  • Although emotional skills and intelligence can be developed, it takes hard work and dedication.

Since the 1990s, the psychological concept of emotional intelligence has intrigued people and has become part of our everyday language. (“That person has a lot of emotional intelligence.” “My boss has a low emotional IQ." But what is emotional intelligence, also known as emotional quotient or EQ? Can you increase yours?

IQ versus EQ

Let’s use an analogy with general intelligence or IQ. The core of intelligence is mostly inborn, inherited genetically, and it is our capacity to think and learn. Although we may be born intellectually gifted, or not, with some possessing more and some less intellectual capacity, we can still improve our intellectual aptitude through education and other forms of learning. Similarly, some emotional intelligence is innate – for example, our ability to use our emotions to enrich our thinking processes – but other aspects can be developed. Which aspects of emotional intelligence are malleable?

Emotional Skills Are the Key

I like to think, not in terms of emotional intelligence, but in terms of emotional skills. This is our ability to use emotions in communication and in social relationships, and like all skills, they can be honed and developed. In fact, research on emotional skills predates the research on emotional intelligence (Riggio, 2010).

Emotional skills consist of our ability to express emotions to others, or emotional expressiveness, the ability to read and interpret others’ emotional messages, or emotional sensitivity, and the ability to regulate and control our emotional expressions. Let’s look at each emotional skill individually, and some ways that you might increase these skills:

Emotional Expressiveness. This is the ability to express emotions to others through nonverbal cues (facial expressions, tone of voice, gestures, and body movement). It is critical for making your feelings known and for connecting with other people. Research has shown that emotionally expressive people tend to make more positive first impressions and are more influential in social situations.

Emotional Sensitivity. This is the ability to accurately read the subtle emotional cues of others. It is related to empathy. When people think about being emotionally intelligent, they are often focusing on emotional sensitivity, viewing people who lack emotional sensitivity as being “out of touch” or unresponsive to others feelings and concerns.

Emotional Control is skill in regulating and controlling one’s emotional expressions, and the ability to hide felt emotions when necessary. Combined with emotional expressiveness, this ability to regulate emotions makes an individual a good emotional actor – able to enact different emotions on cue.

What Are Ways to Develop These Emotional Skills?

  1. Increase Awareness. Learn as much as you can about the basic emotional communication processes. Become more attuned to others’ nonverbal emotional cues. Become a “people-watcher,” paying close attention to the subtle nonverbal cues in others’ facial expressions and body movement. Strive to become more self-aware of how you are displaying your feelings and emotions through your facial expressions, tone of voice and body language cues.
  2. Get Motivated. Just like any learning, becoming more emotionally skilled takes a great deal of time, effort, and dedication. It may take dozens of hours before you see any improvement in your ability to communicate emotionally.
  3. Get Feedback. To improve and stay motivated, it is important to see progress. Work with a trusted friend or partner to get feedback about your improved emotional skills.
  4. Keep Practicing. As mentioned, just like any skill, becoming a better emotional communicator takes a lot of time and practice.


Riggio, R.E. (2010). Before emotional intelligence: Research on nonverbal, emotional, and social competences. Industrial and Organizational Psychology: Perspectives on Science and Practice, 3, 178-182.

Riggio, R.E. (2010). Before emotional intelligence: Research on nonverbal, emotional, and social competences. Industrial and Organizational Psychology: Perspectives on Science and Practice, 3, 178-182.

Riggio, R.E. & Merlin, R. (2012). Guide for social skill training and development. Redwood City, CA: MindGarden.

First Impressions From Faces. June 2017. Current Directions in Psychological Science.

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