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Five tips for understanding and managing your emotions to build flourishing connections

Mirimus, Inc. lab scientists work to validate rapid IgM/IgG antibody tests of COVID-19 samples, NY.

Taking responsibility for the way you behave towards others can improve your professional relationships.Credit: Misha Friedman/Getty

The cognitive-intelligence quotient, known as IQ, is an important factor in determining your reasoning ability, but a high IQ score is not the whole story when it comes to thriving professionally (and personally). Another dimension of human intelligence, known as the emotional intelligence quotient, or EQ, has also been linked to success. Although people often unwittingly ignore this crucial part of themselves, the good news is that you can learn how to boost your EQ. This involves identifying and managing your own emotions, as well as evaluating and controlling the way in which you react to those of others.

A phenomenon known as emotional hijacking happens when the amygdala — which mediates the processing of strong emotions — bypasses our capacity for rational reasoning. Developing your EQ can help to attenuate this hijacking and can make it easier for you to maintain your composure, both externally and internally, in stressful situations.

Continuously reinforcing our EQ skills is a necessity in the workplace, and can make the difference between favourable and sub-optimal team interactions It can also affect your efficiency and productivity. As an anaesthesiologist, M.S. interacts with surgeons, nurses, junior doctors and physician assistants, as well as with patients and their families, in difficult and often emotionally wrought circumstances. R.G. works with different levels of institutional hierarchy to facilitate individual, team, departmental and institutional success.

You can take steps to start understanding and expanding your own EQ. Exploring and honing these skills can not only help you to succeed in your career, but also improve your relationships with loved ones and your social interactions. Here are five tips you can use to start improving your EQ.

Identify your emotions

Emotions are a veritable onion of complexity, and layers often need to be peeled away to discover what’s at the core. When certain emotions build up unchecked, they can manifest as basic ‘umbrella’ emotions — those that a person might express more readily. An example might be when someone who feels insecure or sad instead behaves angrily and yells during a laboratory meeting, because anger is easier to give voice to than sadness.

Identifying your emotions takes practice and is an important foundational step in building emotional intelligence. Regularly recognizing and naming your emotions throughout the day, and trying to peel back the emotional layers to identify exactly what you are feeling, as well as how those emotions might be manifesting physically, is a good way to develop your EQ. You could even go a step further, and try to determine how the presence of certain emotions affects your behaviour, productivity and overall perception of the day.

Consider your response

You must remember that you alone can choose how you react or respond to a situation. Taking responsibility for the way you behave towards others and, possibly even more importantly, how you treat yourself, is a crucial aspect of emotional intelligence.

A reaction is a rudimentary knee-jerk process, whereas a response is a conscious, considered process. When your grant does not get funded or the review on a paper is not as glowing as you had hoped, examine and reflect on how you might be reacting or responding.

Be empathetic

Empathy is a cornerstone of EQ. It is defined as the ability to identify and share the thoughts, feelings or emotional state of another person. A little empathy goes a long way. It is important to demonstrate empathy towards people other than just those with whom you find it easy to get along — especially those who are junior to you, and colleagues and associates with whom you might struggle to connect. You might be surprised by how an empathetic approach can change a seemingly stagnant relationship.

Before you can empathize with those around you, however, it is important to be able to empathize with yourself. If you are feeling a certain way, ask yourself why. Identifying and tracing the origin or cause of your own emotions takes practice, but will ultimately enhance your EQ. These skills are especially important in isolating times such as those seen during the pandemic, when our work and personal lives become more entangled and new stressors are all around us.

Listen actively

Engage in the moment and acknowledge what other people are saying. Try to avoid just waiting for your turn to talk about yourself and your story. Active listening involves asking open-ended questions such as ‘When?’ ‘How?’ ‘Do you mean...?’ or ‘Could you tell me a bit more about that?’, as well as using words to reinforce what someone else might be experiencing: ‘That must be difficult.’ Active listening also calls for avoiding questions that would elicit only a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response.

Try to avoid looking at your phone or text-messaging during any interaction or conversation. There is no better way to non-verbally demonstrate your lack of interest during a meeting or discussion than by multitasking with your device.

Master your body language

Non-verbal communication is powerful and can make or break your interactions with others, as well as affecting their perceptions of you. Whether you maintain eye contact or have open or closed body language can speak volumes.

Open body language means uncrossing your arms and legs and literally taking up a larger amount of physical space. It communicates that you are comfortable with yourself and in your space, and conveys a sense of agreement or even just openness to interaction with others.

With closed body language, your arms and legs are closer to your body and your head is low, and you physically take up less space. This posture can convey to others that you feel defensive or submissive and insecure, or that you disagree with the discussion.

Once you become more conscious of your body language, you can practise using it to accurately express how you feel. Although in some instances it is important to use your body language to mirror your emotions — for example, to communicate effectively with loved ones — it is just as important to know when to use open body language even if it does not match your internal state. Maintaining an open demeanour sets a positive and relaxed tone and flow of interactions between you and others, whether at a lab meeting, poster session or question-and-answer discussion at a conference.

Developing your emotional intelligence can help you to identify when you might be headed for an emotional hijacking and how to reroute strong emotions into rational and constructive responses. You will spend less time ruminating, which will not only mitigate stress, but will also leave you with more time to connect with, and continuously improve your relationships with, those around you.


This is an article from the Nature Careers Community, a place for Nature readers to share their professional experiences and advice. Guest posts are encouraged.


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