Emotional intelligence is experiencing a resurgence. The concept–that we can develop the ability to identify, understand, and manage emotions–has been around for a while. But it’s gained steam in recent years, partially due to the polarizing climate in which we currently live. In addition, many in younger generations are discovering the basic tenets of “EQ” (and their benefits) for the first time.
So, if you’re looking to build your emotional intelligence, where do you start?
In my new book, EQ Applied: The Real-World Guide to Emotional Intelligence,I outline a number of clear, practical tips that you can implement in your daily routine, most of which take only a few minutes a day.
Here are 21 of my favorites:
1. Ask and reflect.
Carve out some time this week to answer a few of the following questions. Then, ask them of someone you trust.
- How do my moods affect my thoughts and decision-making?
- How would I (or you) describe my communication style, and its effect on others?
- What traits in others bother me? Why?
- Do I find it difficult to admit when I’m wrong? Why or why not?
- What are my strengths? What are my weaknesses?
Think deeply about the answers, using them to better understand yourself and your emotions.
2. Use your emotional vocabulary.
When a doctor tries to diagnose a problem, he or she will ask you to describe the pain you’re feeling. They might ask you to use words like sharp, dull, burning, shooting, aching, cramping, gnawing, heavy, splitting, stabbing, nauseating, throbbing, and tender. The more specific you get, the easier for your doctor to diagnose the problem and prescribe proper treatment.
It works similarly with your emotions: By using specific words to describe your feelings, it’s easier to get to their root cause, enabling you to better deal with them. So, the next time you experience a strong emotional reaction, take time afterward to process not only what you’re feeling, but also why. Try to put your feelings into words; then, determine what you want to do about the situation.
If you feel yourself beginning to respond emotionally to a situation, take a pause. If possible, go for a short walk. Once you’ve had the chance to calm down, come back and decide how you want to move forward.
4. Use the 3-second trick.
If you tend to put your foot in your mouth, agree too quickly to commitments, or otherwise say something you later regret, ask yourself three quick questions (which I learned from Craig Ferguson) before speaking:
- Does this need to be said?
- Does this need to be said by me?
- Does this need to be said by me, now?
In contrast, if you’re more introverted and often find that later you wish you had expressed yourself in a specific moment or situation, ask yourself:
Will I regret not speaking up later?
The right question(s) can help you manage your emotional reactions and avoid regrets.
5. Adjust your volume.
When you communicate, your conversation partner will often react in the same style or tone you choose. If you speak in a calm, rational voice, they’ll respond similarly. Yell or scream, and they start yelling and screaming, too.
If a discussion begins to escalate, focus your efforts on “dialing it back” by softening your tone or even lowering your voice. You’ll be surprised at how your partner follows your lead.
6. Think before addressing sensitive topics.
Before revisiting a touchy topic, give careful thought as to where and when to speak, with the goal of having a calm and rational discussion.
It’s also important to consider how you will reintroduce the subject. For example, opening with an apology, with an expression of gratitude, or by acknowledging where you and your communication partner agree may lead the other person to lower his or her guard and become more open to what you have to say.
If emotion is clouding your judgment, take a moment to fast-forward and consider the consequences of your actions–both short- and long-term. Doing so can help you achieve clarity of mind and make sound decisions that you’re proud of.
8. Learn from negative emotions.
If you find yourself struggling with negative emotions, ask yourself: What is this feeling telling me? Can I use this emotion to motivate me to make a change?
9. Learn from emotional hijacks.
An “emotional hijack” is a situation in which you completely lose control of your emotions. Often, it’s a series of circumstances or events that culminates in an action that pushes you “over the edge.”
When you experience an emotional hijack, try to examine what happened by asking yourself:
- Why did I react the way I did?
- What would I change if I could do it again?
- What could I say to myself next time that would help me think more clearly?
Once you begin to understand why you reacted the way you did, you can train your default reaction so you respond differently next time.
10. Learn to say no.
It’s great to be kind and helpful to others, but you have your limits. If you say yes to every request for your time and energy, you put yourself on the path to burnout.
And remember, every time you say yes to something you don’t really want, you’re actually saying no to the things you do want.
11. Ask for feedback.
Get specific. For example, authors Sheila Heen and Douglas Stone advise asking your manager or a trusted colleague:
- “What’s one thing you see me doing (or failing to do) that holds me back?”
12. Turn criticism into constructive feedback.
When you receive criticism, resist the urge to take it personally. Instead, focus on answering two questions:
- Putting my personal feelings aside, what can I learn from this alternate perspective?
- How can I use this feedback to help me improve?
Remember that most criticism is rooted in truth. And even when it isn’t, it gives you a valuable window into the perspective of others.
13. Learn from commendation.
The next time someone commends you, thank this person politely. Later, ask yourself the following:
- What can I learn from this commendation?
- What did I do well? How can I repeat it?
- Who helped me perform well? Can I, in turn, thank or praise the person who praised me, too?
14. Practice empathy.
When a person tells you about a personal struggle, listen carefully. Resist the urge to judge the person or situation, to interrupt and share your personal experience, or to propose a solution. Instead, focus on understanding the how and why: how the person feels, and why he or she feels that way.
Then, ask yourself:
- When have I felt similar to what this person has described?
Once you have a better understanding of how the person feels, try to relate to their feelings.
15. Commend others.
For one month, schedule 20 minutes a week to reflect on what you appreciate about someone important to you. It could be your significant other (or another member of your family), a friend, a business partner, or a colleague.
Then, take a moment to write this person a short note, give them a call, or go see them in person. Tell them specifically how they help you or what you value about them. Don’t address any other topics or problems; just show some love.
16. Fight fear–with knowledge.
Strive to identify situations where others use fear to influence your feelings and actions. Since we tend to fear the unknown, research the facts and consider opposing opinions before passing judgment or making a decision. Endeavor to see the whole picture.
17. Learn to say sorry.
There are probably no two words harder to say than the following:
But by learning to acknowledge your mistakes and apologize when appropriate, you’ll develop qualities like humility and authenticity, naturally drawing others to you. Additionally, remember that apologizing isn’t always about right and wrong; it’s about valuing your relationships more than your ego.
Refusing to forgive is like leaving a knife in a wound–you never give yourself the chance to heal.
Instead of hanging on to resentment while the offending party moves on with life, forgiving gives you the chance to move on, too.
19. Be honest. (But keep it respectful.)
Being authentic means sharing your true thoughts and feelings with others, realizing that not everyone will agree with you, and being OK with that. But honesty must be practiced with respect if you want to gain the respect of others.
Authenticity doesn’t mean sharing everything about yourself, with everyone, all of the time. It does mean saying what you mean, meaning what you say, and sticking to your values and principles above all else.
20. Keep your guard up.
Beware of persons who constantly seek to stroke your ego, push a relationship to levels you’re not ready for, or are quick to show warmth and affection but then quickly lose their temper or find other ways to “punish” you when they don’t get their way.
If a relationship seems to be moving too fast, don’t be afraid to slow things down. And don’t be afraid to say no when appropriate.
21. Control your thoughts.
When you experience a negative situation, it’s difficult to control your feelings. But when you focus on your thoughts, you can control your reactions to those feelings.
Don’t try to ignore your feelings; instead, acknowledge them. Then, move forward in a way that’s in harmony with your goals and values.
Enjoy this post? Check out my book, EQ Applied, which uses fascinating research and compelling stories to illustrate what emotional intelligence looks like in everyday life.
A version of this article originally appeared on Inc.com.