Emotional intelligence is a critical tool in business, yet it is often considered a ‘hard’ skill to pinpoint and learn.

In simple terms, EI (or EQ) is the ability to be intelligent about emotions. This foundational skill enables you to work well with others, manage stress and make good decisions—all essential success factors for leading and working in today’s fast-paced environments.

Learning to be smart about emotions gives leaders and anyone whose job involves working with people the biggest bang for their buck as they progress in their career.

Some people are innately more emotionally intelligent than others—they naturally connect and empathise with people, show greater self-awareness and resilience, and manage emotions skillfully in themselves and others.

This doesn’t mean people can’t learn to be more emotionally intelligent if they apply discipline and practice over time. By sharpening their EI skills they can improve their own performance and increase collaboration, engagement and productivity in teams, which in turn results in better business outcomes.

Where do you start?

1. Understand how emotions work in your brain and body.

Emotions are data. They are not good or bad, just information designed to help us understand what’s happening around us, make decisions and take appropriate action. Being aware of what you and other people are feeling gives you more choices about how to respond to situations.

By learning how to pick up emotional cues in yourself and others before they escalate, you can become better at managing emotions, rather than allowing emotions to manage you.

The most accurate test of emotional intelligence abilities is MSCEIT (Mayer-Salovey-Caruso EI Test), which is like an IQ test for emotions.

2. Find out your own emotional intelligence capacities.

Emotional intelligence can now be accurately measured using a range of evidence-based tools. EI testing often produces unexpected insights that other forms of assessment don’t provide, giving you a clear blueprint to start sharpening your EI skills.

Senior leaders I have worked with who rarely receive such direct feedback often resolve to focus far more on the people side of things after EI assessment. When they start attending to their emotional impact at work, this allows them to get far more from their team.

3. Get feedback from others on your EI skills.

Feedback from managers, peers and direct reports (a 360 degree process) will give you valuable information about how other people observe your emotional intelligence capabilities, blindspots and development opportunities.

One of the best tools is the EQ-i 2.0 (and EQ 360), which provides a robust framework to assess and develop emotional intelligence, interpersonal skills, decision-making and wellbeing in leaders and teams.

4. Broaden your emotional intelligence toolkit.

The wider your range of strategies to understand and manage emotions in yourself and others, the more resilient and effective you will become.

Some leaders work hard to develop their emotional perception, learning the cues to emotions so they can read people’s reactions quickly in meetings and negotiations. Others focus on using their emotions more intelligently to get better outcomes. This may involve generating more positive emotions to reduce stress and increase motivation and performance in themselves and their teams.

There are many techniques to develop emotional intelligence, from increasing your emotional vocabulary to boosting wellbeing. Work with a coach or your manager to create a learning plan to leverage your EI strengths or attend an EI course to hone your skills.

You can explore our emotional intelligence solutions for organisations and EI assessment services, or become certified in MSCEIT through Langley Group. To learn more about emotional intelligence, check out our free white paper here.

[This blog was first published on LinkedIn.]