Can emotional intelligence be learned? 4 techniques you should know.

4 min read

Education & Career Trends: April 6, 2022
Curated by the Knowledge Team of ICS Career GPS


Emotional intelligence is an innate quality, but it can be improved with sustained practice. (Image Credit: Canva)

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According Dr. David Caruso, a management psychologist and research associate with the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, it is a misconception that emotional intelligence (EI) can be easily learned. However, it can be improved, he says.

Here are four skills, which, with practice, can improve the application of EI in the workplace, says Caruso:

1. Mapping emotions

  • The first emotional intelligence skill to understand is the ability to perceive and read emotions – your own and those of others.
  • Helpful tip: If you are not versed with this, asking someone how they are doing won’t help. Instead, there are remedial questions you can work into interactions to get a better read on another person.
  • For example, “Is this still a good time for you to discuss this?” Or “What’s on your mind today?” or “On a scale of zero to 10, how is x going – and what can I do to make it better?”
  • In his work, Caruso employs a “mood map”: A 2×2 grid charting energy level on the x-axis and pleasantness on the y-axis. High energy and low pleasantness, for example, tend to indicate anxiety or anger, while low energy and high pleasantness tend to indicate contentment.

2. Matching emotions to tasks

  • That mood map comes in handy when matching an individual or team’s emotional state to a task.
  • “Being anxious is not necessarily a bad thing. The important thing is understanding how these emotions impact thinking,” says Caruso.
  • Anxiety, for example, can sharpen focus, happiness or joy (high energy and pleasantness) is conducive to creativity, contentment can be good for coming to a consensus.
  • Caruso says, “If you have a brainstorming session and the team seems anxious, that’s not a good match. You either have to change the tone of the room or change the agenda to match the tone.”
  • When it comes to tasks like implementation or budgeting, low energy and pleasantness (which correlates generally to sadness) is a better fit for the work.

3. Understanding the meaning of emotions

  • Cognitive empathy – understanding the meaning of others’ emotions – is necessary for those who want to motivate others.
  • Unfortunately, many managers and leaders simply assume what makes them happy makes others happy.
  • So when they want to motivate or reward a team, they may arrange a fancy dinner for everyone simply because they’re a food and wine connoisseur. However, it may not coincide with their team members’ preference.
  • An emotionally intelligent leader will do some emotional due diligence to get to know the source, causes, and trajectory of another person’s emotional state.

4. Influencing emotions

  • Ultimately, an emotionally intelligent leader focuses on influencing emotions in order to set the best tone for certain work.
  • There are a number of ways to do this, according to Caruso. You can use tone of voice, pacing, setting, day of the week, or time of day to change the tone. As the leader you may carefully engage in moving your emotions and those of your team to set the best tone to achieve the task.
  • You will notice how the team is collaborating, communicating, and progressing, ready to help move the team in the right direction.

One key to improving EI is sustained practice.

A useful exercise: Note what’s worked and what has not with a kind of EI post-mortem or after-action review in situations where you applied the approaches described above. It helps to give insight into what went well and what didn’t.


Have you checked out yesterday’s blog yet?

Mind Management: Harnessing the power of your thoughts and emotions


(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the above mentioned article are those of the author(s). They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of ICS Career GPS or its staff.)

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