With over 15 years of practice, I have worked with thousands of people to help them improve not only their communication skills and strategies but how they communicate. The most common complaint is we don’t communicate. But what they are really saying, is, ‘ I don’t know how to communicate effectively and in a healthy way. I don’t know how to manage my emotions when trying to share my point of view. Things escalate quickly and I walk away feeling bad. And then like a bad penny, it starts all over again.’ Sound familiar? The truth is, it’s simply not enough to garner effective skills and strategies to communicate better. You must also learn how to manage your emotions while you are communicating – more specifically gaining mastery and improving your emotional intelligence. However, improving your emotional intelligence becomes that much more tricky and complicated because of the way our brain works.

Our brain. Our emotions first travel through our limbic system (the place where our emotions are experienced) before they arrive at the place in our brain where we can think and act rationally – the prefrontal cortex of our brain. This is the place where all of our executive functioning – think impulsivity, problem solving, and reasoning – occurs. Yet this remains a very challenging and elusive process for most people. Further, improving your EQ is not only important in our day to day living but also in our professional world. And this becomes even more important as our work and personal responsibilities continue to grow and overlap.

In their groundbreaking book, Emotional Intelligence 2.0, Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves share what Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is and tangible ways to improve it. First, what is EQ? EQ is your ability to recognize and understand emotions in yourself and others and use this awareness to manage your behavior and relationships. This is not the same as IQ. Further, there is no known connection between IQ, which is fixed at birth and EQ, a skill that has plasticity and can be learned.

In addition, According to Bradberry and Greaves states that EQ is so critical for success that it accounts for 58% of job performance in all types of jobs. Further, EQ is the ‘foundation of a host of critical skills. Spending a little effort on increasing your EQ tends to have a wide-ranging and positive impact on your life.’

It all starts with an investment in yourself to make a change – no matter how small the change is. Just start. 

The Four Skills That Create the Foundation of EQ:

Personal Competence: This area focuses on individual interactions with other people and your ability to manage your behaviors and being self-aware of your emotions and feelings.

1.) Self-Awareness: I believe this to be one of the most essential and necessary skills to have in your life. Your ability to be self-aware of how you are thinking, reacting, feeling, and behaving in the moment and long term is crucial in life. Step away from yourself and gain insight. Change often starts with becoming more aware. And once you start to become self-aware, it changes everything. Becoming more intentional and considering what changes need to be made by asking, how are you managing your emotions and thoughts? What are my reactions to specific events, triggers and the effect on me? Asking where are these emotions coming from? Why am I reacting this way? Seldom do emotions come from ‘nowhere’ but ‘somewhere.’ Taking the time to investigate (become your own investigator) and think about your emotions and the reason why you are having a specific emotion as this will help increase your self-awareness. Being self-aware also allows for change to occur and improve our ability to have greater insight about our strengths and the areas we need to improve upon (as we all have things that we can do better).

2.) Self-management: In essence, this means your ability to manage yourself. This is dependent on your self-awareness and your ability to ‘use your awareness of your emotions to stay flexible and direct your behavior positively.’ Asking how am I managing my emotions? Can I tolerate uncertainty? How would I like to be responding and can I do this? The goal is to create a template of managing your emotions so that regardless of the situation, you have the skills and strategies to manage your emotions effectively and in ways that have positive outcomes for you. While in the moment, learning not to overreact or act in ways that are counterproductive and not helpful, yet still allow you to manage your tendencies, postpone instant gratification and/or your immediate needs.

Social Competence: Your ability to understand other people’s moods, behaviors, and emotions to improve the relationship. Looking outside of yourself and being more aware of what’s going on with the other person to create a better relationship.

1.) Social Awareness: Are you perceptive of another person’s emotions and understand what’s going on with them? Are you tuned in and not tuned out? Are you present? This is literally the foundation of social awareness and is a critical component to improve relationships. Learn to cultivate an awareness outside of self. When you become more socially aware, you are focused on other people and able to receive and incorporate critical information that are necessary for relationship building. Two ways to achieve this is to become a good listener (not just hear them but listen!) and observation (because we all know non-verbal communication and cues are game changers and speak volumes). And to become better at this, it’s being able to turn off our inside voice and personal monologue, so we don’t miss something. It’s also about truly listening and not thinking about what we want to say once the other person stops talking and or how we want to respond. Stay in the moment. Listen with intention. Make the investment in the other person. 

2.) Relationship Management: This skill brings together the three previous foundational skills: self-awareness, self-management, and social awareness for the greater good to improve relationship interactions. This management skill is about managing not only your emotions, reactions, and behaviors but also the interactions and exchanges between parties. And not necessarily just two people. For example, this could and often does stretch beyond just two people in a corporate setting to include several people on a team where there are many interactions between people that need to be effectively managed. So, having this skill is critical. And garnering this skill considers relationship building over the long haul not just in the moment. It’s your ability to manage the relationship with someone you like as well as those people who are more challenging to work with (and we all know them). Recognizing each person’s strengths as a way to improve the relationship, meeting them half way, and cultivating a positive relationship are all positive skills that help improve relationships.

During times of stress, these skills will be tested over and over again especially in the work environment where you have different personalities to work with without knowing a lot about their background, how they manage stress, the effects of their home life, or their triggers. But learning and implementing these four invaluable skills will no doubt create a strong foundation from which to build upon!


  • Kristin Davin, Psy.D.

    Strategic and Solution-Focused Therapist and Coach helping people communicate better both professionally and personally to achieve maximum positive impact

    Proactive and approachable, Dr D has been described as a 'straight shooter.' She is a relationship builder and knows that people thrive best when they are able to cultivate positive relationships in their life. A primary focus is helping people create more effective communication skills and strategies in everyday interactions at both home and work while improving their emotional intelligence to create positive exchanges and interactions. By tapping into their strengths, each person learns how to maximize their life and live authentically. Real problems, real solutions. Let's talk!