24 Do’s and Don’ts to Improve Your Emotional Intelligence

UPDATED: March 29, 2024
PUBLISHED: September 18, 2023
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You’ve heard it before: Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is the best predictor of highly successful people. They’re emotionally balanced, in tune with their gut and have the innate ability to listen, empathize, creatively solve problems and basically take over the world. The good news is, you can improve and develop your emotional intelligence over time with daily practice.

1. Don’t: Say yes unless you really want to.

Research conducted at the University of California in San Francisco shows that the more difficulty you have saying no and setting boundaries, the more likely you are to experience stress, burnout and even depression. Saying no is indeed a major challenge for most people. “No” is a powerful word you should not be afraid to wield. When it’s time to say no, emotionally intelligent people avoid phrases like “I don’t think I can” or “I’m not certain.” Saying no to a new commitment honors your existing commitments and gives you the opportunity to successfully fulfill them.

2. Do: Give gratitude to improve your emotional intelligence.

The most effective way to cultivate positivity in your organization is to acknowledge and reward the behaviors you want. I’ve found that showing gratitude every day has been a game-changer. It helps me recognize, analyze and appreciate the good in my life, which includes the people in my life and the things they do.

Cody McKibben, Thrilling Heroics

3. Do: Manage your stress.

A cool head makes better decisions and can help you listen better to your team. How you handle high levels of stress can mean the difference between being assertive and poised or being negative and disgruntled. Staying in control of your emotions during stressful situations helps you focus on what’s important.

Nicole Munoz, Start Ranking Now

4. Don’t: Let anyone limit your joy to increase your emotional intelligence.

When your sense of pleasure and satisfaction are derived from comparing yourself to others, you are no longer the master of your own happiness. When emotionally intelligent people feel good about something they’ve done, they won’t let anyone’s opinions or accomplishments take that away from them.

While it’s impossible to turn off your reactions to what others think of you, you don’t have to compare yourself to others, and you can always take people’s opinions with a grain of salt. That way, no matter what other people are thinking or doing, your self-worth comes from within. Regardless of what people think of you at any particular moment, one thing is certain: You’re never as good or bad as they say you are.

5. Do: Communicate with awareness.

Emotional intelligence is particularly important when pitching a proposal. You need to be able to read people and understand which techniques relax them and which ones alienate them. When I pitch, I’m purposefully aware of their body language and tone of voice, which helps me be aware of emotional signs.

Adam Steele, The Magistrate

6. Do: Give back to improve your emotional intelligence.

You can hone your emotional intelligence by joining an organization outside the workplace that seeks to do good in exchange for nothing. Leaving the business world behind to help others opens your eyes to the everyday struggles of other people, which can make you a more empathetic, rounded person. These qualities will then be appreciated by those who work with you.

Marvin Amberg, Caseable

7. Don’t: Forget.

Emotionally intelligent people are quick to forgive, but that doesn’t mean they forget. Forgiveness requires letting go of what’s happened so you can move on. It doesn’t mean you’ll give a wrongdoer another chance. Emotionally intelligent people are unwilling to be bogged down unnecessarily by others’ mistakes, so they let them go quickly and are assertive in protecting themselves from future harm.

8. Do: Reflect on your day.

At the end of the day, reflecting for even a few minutes will give you clarity. Details can easily be convoluted by time, so making a point to reflect daily on your interactions will allow you to evaluate your strengths and weaknesses. It’s easiest to be honest with yourself while still in the moment.

Charles Bogoian, Kenai Sports, LLC

9. Do: Observe those around you to develop your emotional intelligence.

Everyone is different. Strong emotional intelligence and healthy, lasting relationships are formed by knowing how to best engage each person. When you understand their motivations and reactions from conversations with you or others, you can better understand how to foster relationships with them.

Carlo Cisco, SELECT

10. Don’t: Die in the fight.

Emotionally intelligent people know how important it is to live to fight another day. In conflict, unchecked emotion makes you dig your heels in and fight the kind of battle that can leave you severely damaged. When you read and respond to your emotions, you’re able to choose your battles wisely and only stand your ground when the time is right.

11. Do: Encourage criticism.

To be emotionally brilliant, you have to be able to find feedback valuable, even if it’s negative. Otherwise you’ll end up with a team of “yes men” (or women) and a failing business. The best ideas often come from the most unlikely places. But it can’t happen if you shut your door to criticism.

Elle Kaplan, LexION Capital

12. Do: Be honest with yourself to improve your emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence is the ability to accurately identify feelings and emotions—and then put them to use. When you’re interacting with someone, ask yourself, What am I feeling right now? What emotions is this person displaying? Begin this practice by reflecting on one conversation every day and journal the answers to form a habit.

Brian Smith, Brian Smith Group

13. Don’t: Prioritize perfection.

Emotionally intelligent people won’t set perfection as their target because they know it doesn’t exist. Human beings, by our very nature, are fallible. When perfection is your goal, you’re always left with a nagging sense of failure, and you end up spending your time lamenting what you failed to accomplish and what you should have done differently instead of enjoying what you were able to achieve.

14. Do: Breathe before you speak to increase your emotional intelligence.

This is lesson No. 55 in Richard Carlson’s book, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff. Carlson instructs readers to always stop and take at least one breath before responding to someone. This simple, short pause allows you to really process what they’re saying and show you’re listening. It will also change the pace of the discussion and allow both of you to connect.

Neil Thanedar, Labdoor

15. Do: Exercise routinely.

I like to start my day by exercising in the morning. Set aside at least 30 minutes to do cardio, yoga, run, lift weights, etc. For most people, this is the hardest part of their day, so powering through a good workout releases endorphins, increases your mood and puts you in the emotional mindset to take on any challenge you might encounter.

Dustin Cavanaugh, RenewAge

16. Don’t: Live in the past to develop your emotional intelligence.

Failure can erode your self-confidence and make it hard to believe you’ll achieve a better outcome in the future. Most of the time, failure results from taking risks and trying to achieve something that isn’t easy. Emotionally intelligent people know that success lies in their ability to rise in the face of failure, and they can’t do this when they’re living in the past. Anything worth achieving is going to require you to take some risks, and you can’t allow failure to stop you from believing in your ability to succeed. When you live in the past, that is exactly what happens, and your past becomes your present, preventing you from moving forward.

17. Do: Assume the best.

Brené Brown said in a recent interview, “What if you knew that everyone in the world was trying their absolute best?” That perspective triggers an immediate and powerful shift in compassion. You will listen and connect more (and improve your emotional intelligence) when you assume people are doing everything they can.

Carter Thomas, Bluecloud Solutions

18. Do: Meditate.

There is something deeply powerful about taking time out for stillness. I’ve become a highly empathetic and intuitive person, which would not be how I described myself less than a decade ago. I feel highly in tune with the world around me as a result.

Darrah Brustein, Network Under 40/Finance Whiz Kids

19. Don’t: Dwell on problems to develop your emotional intelligence.

Where you focus your attention determines your emotional state. When you fixate on the problems you’re facing, you create and prolong negative emotions and stress, which hinders performance. When you focus on actions to better yourself and your circumstances, you create a sense of personal efficacy that produces positive emotions and improves performance. Emotionally intelligent people won’t dwell on problems because they know they’re most effective when they focus on solutions.

20. Do: Look for meaning to improve your emotional intelligence.

It’s important to reflect at the end of the day to better understand what transpired and how you could have handled it better. Look for the meaning in people’s reactions—it will tell you a lot about what they’re thinking. Sometimes it’s hard to determine in the moment, but you may find the answer if you reflect on it later.

Andy Karuza, FenSens

21. Do: Respectfully disagree.

If you don’t agree with a decision and need to present an alternative, first put yourself in the other person’s shoes and think about how you would want to be approached. Would you want to discuss this one-on-one or in front of a group during a meeting? Are you being solution-oriented or are you pointing out a flaw? Always consider the other person.

Sharam Fouladgar-Mercer, Signos

22. Don’t: Hang around negative people.

Complainers are bad news because they wallow in their problems and fail to focus on solutions. They want people to join their pity party so they can feel better about themselves. People often feel pressure to listen to complainers because they don’t want to be seen as callous or rude, but there’s a fine line between lending a sympathetic ear and getting sucked into another person’s negative emotional spiral. You can improve your emotional intelligence and avoid getting drawn in by setting limits and distancing yourself when necessary. 

Think of it this way: If a person were smoking, would you sit there all afternoon inhaling secondhand smoke? You’d distance yourself—and you should do the same with complainers. A great way to set limits and develop your emotional intelligence is to ask complainers how they intend to fix a problem. The complainer will then either quiet down or redirect the conversation in a productive direction.

23. Do: Stick to a mantra that resonates with you.

I center my mantra on the fact that you cannot control other people’s actions, only your own. Often in life, we’re faced with challenging people and situations. It’s in the way we react, feel, think and act in relation to the challenges that will make the difference.

Stanley Meytin, True Film Production

24. Don’t: Hold grudges to improve your emotional intelligence.

The negative emotions that come with holding a grudge are actually a stress response. Just thinking about the event involved sends your body into fight-or-flight mode. When a threat is imminent, this reaction is essential to your survival, but when a threat is ancient history, holding onto that stress wreaks havoc on your body and can have devastating health consequences over time. In fact, researchers at Emory University have found that holding onto stress can contribute to high blood pressure and heart disease. Holding onto a grudge means you’re holding onto stress, and emotionally intelligent people know to avoid this. Learning to let go of a grudge will not only make you feel better now but can also improve your health and develop your emotional intelligence.

This article was originally published December 2015 and has been updated. Photo by Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock.com

Dr. Travis Bradberry is the award-winning co-author of the #1 best-selling book, Emotional Intelligence 2.0, and the co-founder of TalentSmart, the world’s leading provider of emotional intelligence tests and training, serving more than 75% of Fortune 500 companies. His best-selling books have been translated into 25 languages and are available in more than 150 countries. Dr. Bradberry is a top LinkedIn Influencer and he has written for, or been covered by, Newsweek, BusinessWeek, Fortune, Forbes, Fast Company, Inc., USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and The Harvard Business Review.

Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched BusinessCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.