emotional intelligence

10 Ways to Develop Emotional Intelligence

I often hear people say that emotional intelligence is more important than IQ. I actually think you can have both. You can increase your IQ. And you can increase your emotional intelligence. And I want to talk about the latter today.

Ever heard the phrase “It’s not just what you say, but how you say it”?

This holds especially true for leaders. Leading isn’t just about strategy and logic. It’s about understanding and managing emotions – both ours and others. That’s where emotional intelligence (EI) steps in.

active listening

What is emotional intelligence?

In simple terms, emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize, understand, manage, and respond to emotions in a positive and effective manner. It’s what helps leaders connect, build trust, and create a happy workplace.

Someone with high emotional intelligence thrives in crises. The pandemic has shown that emotionally intelligent leaders make better decisions. And those who can only curse and insult, at the end of the day, had shown their ineptitude.

A person with a high IQ will surely benefit from improving emotional intelligence. Let’s talk about how to make that happen.

Improve Your Emotional Intelligence

We’ll walk through 10 practical ways to boost your emotional intelligence. Each step is presented as an action you can take, explained with a quick insight into why it’s essential, and brought to life with a short story. 

The stories are curated from my experiences working with clients and employees.

Plus, I’ve added some handy sidebar tips for each step, to help you make the most of it.

1. Practice Active Listening

I encourage leaders to listen actively. There are many benefits to active listening. But a lot of people who claim themselves to be geniuses often ignore this advice. Of course, they eventually learn their lessons. Well, not everyone.

Have you ever been in a conversation where you felt the other person was just waiting for their turn to speak? We all have. But true leaders listen, and they listen well.

Here’s how and why.

Imagine a conversation where you’re completely present. You’re not just hearing words, but you’re absorbing them, letting them sink in. 

That’s active listening. It means you give your full attention. You avoid jumping in with your own response right away. You want people to know that their ideas matter to you.

Active listening is about understanding the feelings and intentions behind the words of others. This understanding paves the way for empathy. When people feel heard, they trust more. They feel valued. And trust me, in any leadership role, building trust is golden.

Maria is a dynamic manager. But she had a habit that was a thorn in her team's side. She would always cut them off mid-sentence. They felt unheard and, honestly, a bit disrespected. 

However, when Maria recognized this and started truly listening to her team without interrupting, the change was night and day. 

Her team meetings became more collaborative. Ideas flowed freely. Her team felt acknowledged, and in return, they were more open and communicative.

And you can do that too. When in conversation, put away that phone or any other distractions. Be in the moment. Remember, a lot of our communication is non-verbal. So, keep an open posture. Nodding occasionally shows you’re engaged.

Ready to make a change? “Embrace active listening to unlock deeper connections.” Whether in the boardroom or at the dinner table, being an active listener can transform your interactions. Give it a try!

2. Cultivate Empathy

I talked about malasakit too. Empathy is the closest equivalent.

We’ve all heard the saying, “Walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.” But how often do we truly try to understand what someone else is feeling? Empathy isn’t just about being kind; it’s about truly connecting with others.

Empathy is like a bridge. It connects you to others by helping you feel and understand their emotions. It’s not just about sympathizing or feeling sorry for someone. Empathy is about genuinely understanding their perspective, their feelings, and their challenges.

When we show empathy, we’re telling others, “I see you. I understand you.” This creates a safe environment where people feel they can express themselves without judgment.  This can lead to stronger teams, better collaboration, and a more harmonious workplace.

Read Malasakit: The Filipino Culture of Caring for Others

Meet Carlo, an enthusiastic HR professional in the sunny city of Cebu. But there was a cloud over his department: high staff turnover. 

He couldn’t figure out why. He decided to have open conversations with his departing employees. Instead of just listening to their reasons, he really tried to understand their feelings and concerns. 

This simple act of showing genuine empathy changed the game. Employees began to feel valued and understood. And guess what? Retention rates began to improve. Carlo's genuine attempt to understand made all the difference.

And doing this is easy. When someone shares something, ask open-ended questions. This not only shows you care but helps you understand better. Sometimes, people just want to be heard, not necessarily looking for a fix. So, listen first.

Start today! “Feel with others to bridge gaps.” The next time you converse with someone, try to truly understand where they’re coming from. You might be surprised at the deeper connections you’ll forge.

3. Reflect on Your Emotions

Most of my regrets have everything to do with my inability to control my emotions.

Ever find yourself reacting in a way you later regret? I’ve all been there. Eventually, I learned that the key isn’t to suppress those emotions but to understand them better.

Reflection is like having a conversation with yourself. You recognize how you feel. You can reflect quiet contemplation, journaling, or even just pausing during a hectic day.

By understanding our own emotions, we get a clearer picture of our triggers and patterns. It’s like being the driver of your emotional car. Knowing when to accelerate, when to brake, and when to just enjoy the ride.

Being self-aware makes us more in control, more balanced, and more effective in our interactions.

Liza is a vivacious executive in the vibrant city of Davao. She had it all going for her, but there was one hiccup. She'd often snap in meetings over minor issues. 

She decided to take a step back and reflect. Every evening, she'd jot down instances that upset her and try to understand why. Over time, she realized it wasn't the issues in the meeting but her own stresses causing these reactions. 

Recognizing this, she worked on managing her stress and her approach to meetings. The result? A calmer, more approachable Liza who led her team with understanding and grace.

You can do it too. Dedicate a few minutes daily for self-reflection. Over time, these minutes can make a world of difference. Asking “Why did I feel that way?” can open doors to deeper understanding.

Ready to understand yourself better? “Dive into your emotions; discover your true self.” Take that moment of pause and reflection, and watch as it transforms your emotional landscape.


4. Seek Feedback

Ever wondered how others perceive you? While our self-awareness is important, getting a mirror of our behavior through feedback can be eye-opening. Let’s delve into the power of feedback.

Feedback is like getting a report card but for our behavior and interactions. It’s about asking others – be it colleagues, friends, or family – about how we come across, what we do well, and where we can improve.

Sometimes, we have blind spots. Things we don’t realize we’re doing, or ways we don’t realize we’re coming across. Feedback shines a light on these areas, allowing us to be more informed and intentional in our actions.

Pedro, a sales lead in the picturesque city of Iloilo, was passionate about his pitches. But, for some reason, they often fell flat. Baffled, he decided to ask his colleagues for feedback. What he found was surprising. 

It wasn’t the content of his pitches but his delivery. He often spoke too fast, not allowing clients to process the information. Armed with this feedback, Pedro adjusted his approach. His pitches became more engaging, and his success rate? Well, it soared.

  • Open Ears, Open Mind: When asking for feedback, be genuinely open to what you’ll hear. Remember, it’s for growth.
  • Specific Questions Help: Instead of a vague “How am I doing?”, try “How can I improve my presentations?” or “Did I handle that situation well?”

Want to be the best version of yourself? “Know yourself better through the eyes of others.” Take the brave step of seeking feedback, and embrace the growth that follows.

5. Manage Stress Effectively

Life, especially in leadership roles, comes with its fair share of stresses. But it’s not the stress that defines us—it’s how we handle it. Let’s uncover the art of stress management.

Stress management isn’t about avoiding challenges but about equipping yourself with tools to handle them. Whether it’s deep breathing, exercise, or a hobby, it’s about finding what works for you and incorporating it into your routine.

When stress builds up, our emotional responses can become heightened or unpredictable. 

By managing stress, we maintain equilibrium, which in turn helps us respond to situations in a more balanced and emotionally intelligent manner.

Rosa, a dedicated teacher in Baguio, found herself constantly overwhelmed. The pressures of lesson planning, grading, and managing a classroom took a toll. She’d often lose her temper, making both her and her students miserable. Realizing this, Rosa decided to take up yoga and meditation. 

These moments of mindfulness helped her find her center. With time, she became more patient and understanding, turning her classroom into a haven of learning and mutual respect.


  • Find Your Outlet: Be it painting, running, or even cooking—find what relaxes you and make time for it.
  • Pause and Breathe: When things get heated, take a moment to breathe deeply. It can reset your emotional compass.

Feeling the weight of the world? “Channel stress into strength.” Explore stress management techniques and witness a positive change not only in your professional life but in your personal life as well.


6. Foster Positive Relationships

Humans are inherently social beings. We thrive on connections. In the world of leadership, the quality of relationships you nurture can be the bedrock of your success. Let’s discuss the magic of genuine connections.

Fostering positive relationships is all about mutual respect, trust, and understanding. It’s about actively investing time and energy into getting to know the people around you, understanding their aspirations, strengths, and challenges.

Good relationships lead to better collaboration, improved teamwork, and a positive workplace culture. When people feel connected and understood, they’re more likely to go the extra mile, communicate openly, and approach challenges with a can-do attitude.

Juan, a budding entrepreneur in Cagayan de Oro, was struggling with a demotivated team. He realized he barely knew anything about them outside of work tasks. So, he decided to change things. He began with weekly team lunches, casual coffee chats, and even weekend outings. 

This time together helped Juan truly connect with his team on a personal level. The ripple effect? A more unified team, working passionately towards a shared vision.


  • Listen Actively: Remember our first point? Use it here to truly understand your team.
  • Celebrate Milestones: Whether it’s a team achievement or someone’s birthday, take a moment to celebrate. It builds camaraderie.

Ready to create meaningful connections? “Strengthen ties for a more fulfilling journey.” Dive into building and nurturing relationships, and see how it positively impacts your leadership and team dynamics.

7. Continuously Learn and Adapt

Resting on our laurels isn’t always an option. Especially in leadership, being adaptable and always eager to learn is crucial. Let’s unravel the power of adaptability.

Continuous learning is about embracing new knowledge, skills, and experiences, whether they’re directly related to your field or not. Adaptability, on the other hand, is the ability to change and adjust according to the situation.

By always being open to learning, leaders stay updated, relevant, and can bring innovative ideas to the table. Adaptability ensures that when challenges arise or the landscape shifts, a leader can navigate these changes effectively, keeping the team steady.

Lea, a hotel manager in Palawan, faced a dilemma when the tourism industry saw drastic changes due to global events. Instead of panicking, Lea took online courses about new-age hospitality and digital marketing. She adapted her hotel’s offerings, introducing virtual tours and online experiences. 

This proactive learning and adaptability not only saved her business but also set a benchmark for others.

  • Stay Curious: Attend webinars, read books, or even pick a new hobby. Keep that learning muscle active.
  • Embrace Change: Instead of resisting, look at change as an opportunity to grow and innovate.

Yearning for growth? “Stay agile; keep evolving.” Embrace continuous learning and adaptability, and watch as doors of opportunities open up for you.

8. Cultivate Self-Confidence

Believe it or not, the way we perceive ourselves impacts our interactions, decisions, and leadership style. That’s where self-confidence comes into play. Dive in to understand its significance.

Self-confidence is an inner belief in your abilities, skills, and values. It’s not about being arrogant or dismissive, but about trusting yourself and projecting that trust in a way that inspires others.

When leaders are self-confident, they make decisions more decisively, handle challenges with resilience, and inspire trust in their team. It fosters a can-do attitude that can be infectious, driving teams to achieve greater heights.

Miguel, a young architect in Bacolod, was often overshadowed by more vocal peers, even when his ideas were innovative. Recognizing that his lack of confidence was the issue, he started attending public speaking workshops and took on small leadership roles within projects. As he gained more confidence in himself, others began to notice and respect his insights. 

The projects he led were not only innovative but also executed smoothly, all because Miguel believed in himself.

  • Celebrate Small Wins: Every success, no matter how small, is a stepping stone. Take a moment to acknowledge them.
  • Positive Affirmations: Start your day with positive self-talk. Tell yourself, “I got this,” and believe it.

Want to lead with assurance? “Believe in yourself to inspire belief in others.” Cultivate self-confidence and watch as it transforms your leadership style and impact.

9. Practice Gratitude

Amidst the hustle and challenges, it’s easy to forget the good moments, the achievements, and the support. But embracing gratitude can change the emotional landscape of a leader. Let’s explore how.

Gratitude is the act of acknowledging and appreciating the positive things, people, and experiences in our lives. 

It’s about focusing on the good, even on tough days, and recognizing the support systems and opportunities around us.

Gratitude shifts our focus from what we lack or what’s going wrong, to what we have and what’s going well. This positive mindset can reduce stress, foster optimism, and improve overall emotional well-being, making interactions more genuine and decisions more balanced.

Isabella, a marketing lead in Quezon City, found herself constantly stressed, feeling like she was battling fires every day. Then she began maintaining a gratitude journal, jotting down three things she was thankful for every night. This simple act shifted her perspective. She began appreciating her team more, acknowledging their efforts, and celebrating small victories. 

This attitude made her more approachable and boosted the team’s morale.

  • Daily Reflection: Take a few minutes every day to think about what went well or what you’re thankful for.
  • Express It: Whether it’s a thank-you note, a small gift, or just a verbal acknowledgment, let people know you appreciate them.

Ready to elevate your emotional well-being? “Harness the power of thankfulness.” Embrace gratitude, and you’ll be amazed at the positive ripple effect it creates.

set personal boundaries

10. Set Clear Boundaries

In a world where everything is interconnected, and we’re always “on,” understanding the importance of boundaries is pivotal for emotional wellness. Let’s dive into why it’s crucial for leaders to delineate and respect these lines.

Setting boundaries is about defining what’s acceptable and what isn’t in terms of demands on your time, energy, and emotions. It’s about knowing when to say “yes,” when to say “no,” and understanding your limits.

Boundaries prevent burnout and emotional exhaustion. When leaders are clear about their limits, they can better manage their energy, time, and emotional resources, leading to more effective leadership and healthier interpersonal relationships.

Carlos, a tech startup founder in Cebu, was always available—late-night emails, weekend brainstorming sessions, impromptu meetings—you name it. While it initially felt like passion, it soon took a toll on his health and personal life. Recognizing the need for change, Carlos started setting clear work hours, prioritizing tasks, and importantly, scheduling personal time. 

The result? A more focused, relaxed Carlos who could lead more effectively, and a team that respected and emulated these boundaries, leading to a more balanced work environment.


  • Communicate Clearly: Be open about your boundaries. Let your team know when you’re available and when you’re not.
  • Lead by Example: As a leader, when you respect your boundaries, it sets a precedent for the entire team.

Looking to lead with clarity and balance? “Draw the line for a healthier you and a more harmonious team.” Set and respect boundaries, and witness the transformation in your emotional wellness and leadership efficacy.

Be emotionally intelligent.

Emotional intelligence isn’t just a buzzword—it’s the linchpin that holds together effective, empathetic, and resilient leadership. It’s the soft skill that often makes the hardest impact. 

As we’ve journeyed through these ten ways, we’ve seen the profound effect of small actions, from active listening to setting boundaries, in shaping a leader’s interaction with their team, their decision-making, and their overall well-being.

Leaders with high emotional intelligence will undoubtedly stand out. They’ll not only navigate challenges with grace but also foster work environments where creativity thrives, teams feel valued, and organizations flourish.

But remember, the journey to enhancing emotional intelligence is ongoing. It’s about constant reflection, learning, and growth. 

So, as you step into tomorrow, armed with these strategies, know that every effort you make towards emotional wellness will resonate in the legacy you leave behind.

Embrace the journey, for “In understanding ourselves and others, we shape the future of leadership.” Take the first step, and the path will unfold.

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