As business leaders we often talk about the characteristics of what makes a great leader, like: passionate, driven, charismatic, honest, etc., but we seldom talk about emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence (EQ) is the ability to sense in yourself, and others, emotions as they rise up, in order to use them effectively and not let them control you. Put in basic terms, it’s not acting like a child when things don’t go your way.

In order to be emotionally intelligent, you must have a high level of self-awareness. You must understand your strengths, weaknesses and emotions. In order to improve in any of these areas, you must be self-aware. You can build self-awareness by observing your own behavior and reflecting on past interactions. You can also increase self-awareness by eliciting feedback from trusted and unbiased sources. DO NOT ask your spouse after an argument, “How would you rate my emotional intelligence on a scale from 1 to 10.” The results of your data collection may be skewed.

You also must be able to perceive emotions accurately in yourself as they arise. When talking with coworkers or employees, look inward and understand what emotion you are experiencing at the moment. Is it anger, confusion, envy, sadness? Are these feelings directed toward someone, your self or the task you are working on? You can also determine what emotion others are experiencing by reading their face, voice inflection or body language.

As G.I. Joe said, “knowing is half the battle.” So now that you know an emotion is rising inside of you, what do you do? If you’re getting angry or frustrated, you can leave the situation in order to avoid the conflict or take a deep breath and ask the person to post-pone the conversation to a time that will be more productive. If you’re feeling confused, uncreative or despondent with your work, get up go outside, get some fresh air or get some exercise.

Emotional intelligence is not about stifling emotion and becoming a robot; it’s about understanding and using emotions positively and productively. You can use emotions to be more effective in your work and leadership. If you recognize that your mood is not aligned with the task you are working on, assess the task and determine if a better time (early in the morning, after lunch or late in the day) would be more productive. Do not force your way through a task, meeting or conversation if it does not align with your EQ. Not only will the work suffer, but your relationships will as well.

EQ makes up skills that can be learned. Do not blame your upbringing or heritage on your lack of emotional intelligence. Everyone has the ability to learn and improve their emotional intelligence. To learn these new skills, you need to spend time thinking about your emotions (some may need more time than others), looking inwardly and observing them in others. Assess when you are at your emotional intelligence peak and when you are at your lowest. Knowing these times will be key to turning a difficult conversation into a productive one.

Once you’ve learned and mastered emotional intelligence you will find that this is one of the strongest leadership tools you can have.

Please comment below and tell me when you feel most emotionally intelligent. I’d also like to hear stories about a boss who wasn’t emotional intelligent and how that interaction impacted your work.