If you’ve ever patiently waited for someone to finish making their point in a meeting, only to become increasingly annoyed before finally interrupting them in an angry fashion, you’ll know that EQ can be hard to practice.

EQ is using your thinking and feeling skills to make smarter decisions. And it counts more than IQ for success in life. Thankfully, it’s learnable.

Here are seven steps to make your emotions work for you.

1. Name your emotions

To know how best to respond, we first need to know what we’re feeling. It might be a single emotion: ‘’I let slip our negotiating position. I’m mortified.’’ Or multiple emotions simultaneously: ‘’My boss snapped at me out of the blue. I feel humiliated, undermined, furious, disappointed, inferior, confused.’’

Name your emotion to tame it – and to know what you are dealing with.

2. Engage in analysis – and choose!

Emotions arise for a reason. It’s your rational brain’s job to work out whether those reasons are valid. We’ve all received emails that seem to point blame our way, or been aggressively questioned when making a pitch. The unconsidered reaction might be to launch a counter-attack – but how will that help you or the situation? Rather than react immediately, consider your best option.

‘’I’ll call my colleague and hear her perspective.’’

‘’I’ll view the questions as an opportunity to showcase my depth of knowledge.’’

3. Hit the pause button

‘’Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.’’

These are Viktor Frankl’s words, an Austrian psychiatrist and survivor of multiple concentration camps during WWII.

Regardless of the situation, no one can control how we respond to it – that choice lies firmly with us. My boss might be relentlessly negative with feedback and rarely acknowledge excellent work. I can still remain upbeat about my contribution – though unrecognized by my boss.

When triggered, it’s not easy to pause and purposefully choose our preferred path. Try to anticipate triggers and prepare for them: ‘’When Brian monopolizes the discussion, then I will thank him for his thoughts, summarize them if appropriate, and ask others for their perspectives.’’

4. Lose your emotional baggage

What patterns of behaviour do you consistently exhibit, which don’t serve you well? Is there a root cause? You might be reluctant to speak up in the presence of more senior colleagues. Part of this may be cultural, but it might also be because you were petrified of a teacher at school, who was very strict and quick to quash different ideas. You may have been humiliated by her and now avoid any situation which might expose you to judgment or ridicule. Figure out behaviours that don’t serve you and choose an optimistic path. “If I don’t speak up, the organization will lose out on my bright ideas.”

5. Mind your mind – and your self-talk

Why do we sometimes speak to ourselves in such a disrespectful manner? Rather than pepping ourselves up with reinforcements of things we do well and traits others appreciate in us, we focus on the rarer occasions when we drop the ball or we dwell on our less effective habits.

Can you appreciate the good and acknowledge what can be better? Rather than play the self-berating playlist on repeat, can you choose to use your strengths to address any deficits?

6. Be present

If you aren’t present, you are missing clues – to understand your own emotions and those of others. If you are checking email in a meeting, you’re missing body language cues, the discussion flow and probably not catching the subtle changes in tone. You are therefore poorly placed to intervene to alleviate a tense situation, or capitalize on a positive vibe to present your suggestion for a budget reallocation.

Too often, we are ruminating on the past, worrying about the future, without being in the present – the only moment that counts.

7. Lose your assumptions

We are hard-wired to be alert for perceived attacks. We tend to react quickly to a statement or expression that could be construed as hurtful. To avoid misinterpretations, be genuinely curious and get to the crux of the matter – from your counterpart’s perspective. Listen, ask questions, show empathy. This approach seems time-consuming – invariably, in the long run, it saves time and builds more fruitful relationships.

If you assume the person you are meeting is going to be unreasonable, then you may be setting yourself up to signal this belief, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.

8. Fear and anger: Be very aware

‘’Anyone can become angry – that is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way, this is not easy.’’ So said Aristotle.

Short-term, anger will probably get results. As a long-term strategy, especially when leading today’s knowledge workers, it probably won’t inspire them to greatness. It possibly won’t do much for your well-being either.

The other basic emotion to watch out for is fear. Unless we address fear, it holds us back. ‘’I’m afraid to speak up, I am worried about leading this project, I’m anxious about my monthly review.’’

Acknowledge the fear – it’s ok. Now, use your rational brain to determine what’s the worst that can happen – and how you can take constructive steps to mitigate that.

Building EQ takes practice. The good news is, if you practice, you will improve.