5 Steps to Help Improve Emotional Intelligence: Strategies from Alum Marco Ruiz

By DeVry University

From recent news to everyday conversation, many of us may have heard of “emotional intelligence”—also referred to as “emotional quotient” (EQ)—but may not understand what the term means or how to foster it.

DeVry University alum Marco Ruiz—who has dedicated many hours to developing his own mental and emotional strengths—offers some perspective. See how he achieved his personal goals and learn his top five tips to help improve emotional intelligence and enhance your own development.

The Power of EQ

Marco Ruiz has accomplished many goals. He earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration with a specialization in Human Resource Management while working 40-hour weeks at GameStop’s corporate headquarters. Then, he landed a new position at Lowe’s Inc., purchased a home and recently moved his family across the country during a pandemic—all while being a dedicated husband and father of four children.

When asked how he balanced it all—work, school, family and more—Ruiz credits some of the usual suspects for success: effective time management, ironclad discipline and a strict focus on prioritization. Taking courses online with DeVry also allowed him to create a flexible schedule and get student support anytime he needed it.

But as a busy student ¬¬¬and working father, Ruiz also relied on one unexpected skill he says many people overlook: emotional intelligence. “People often confuse high IQ with high EQ, but the two are not the same,” he explains.  Unlike intelligence quotient (IQ), which calls for logic and reason to make decisions, emotional intelligence focuses on learning how to identify and manage your own emotions while maintaining empathetic interpersonal relationships with others.

While there are many approaches to building emotional intelligence, one of the most popular models documented by Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence, defines EQ across four categories:

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-management
  • Social awareness
  • Relationship management

Under Goleman’s model, if you wish to improve emotional intelligence, you should work on developing a set of 12 core emotional skills—such as adaptability, empathy, the ability to work well on teams and a positive outlook—across each of these four categories.

Building Emotional Intelligence

Even if you only start with one of these core skills and learn others over time, Ruiz believes strong emotional intelligence fosters the relationship-building skills you may need to create an effective professional network and take on new challenges in your career.

Here are his five small—but mighty—steps to help improve emotional intelligence:

1. Start with Self-Awareness

To get started, simply take a moment to reflect on your own inner being:

  • How do you feel about yourself and your current relationships?
  • What are your personal strengths and weaknesses?
  • Where do you see signs of mental and emotional growth in your life?
  • Where do you see areas for improvement?

These are the kinds of questions Ruiz consistently asks himself to understand which aspects of his emotional intelligence to target.

“While I love books and can recommend many, one of the main sources of my wisdom comes from simply looking in the mirror,” Ruiz says. “Because I am always willing to look in the mirror, I can always hold myself accountable and find new ways to improve.”

To self-reflect, try journaling as a first step. If you’re not fond of writing, record audio messages or videos on your phone as personal notes. Regardless of the approach you take, the key is to improve emotional intelligence by creating a space for honest expression.

You can also ask a trusted friend, relative or co-worker how they experience your personality as a way to gauge how your behaviors (good and bad) may affect others. This can be an effective way to help improve emotional intelligence and build self-awareness, Goleman writes in the Harvard Business Review: “The more people you ask, the better a picture you get.”

2. Learn the Language of EQ and Empathy

Once you’ve evaluated your strengths and opportunities, familiarize yourself with the basics of building emotional intelligence, empathy and effective communication by reading (or listening to) books on these subjects. You might start with Goleman’s 1995 book, Emotional Intelligence, which topped The New York Times bestseller list and has been printed worldwide in multiple languages from Portuguese to Chinese.

One of Ruiz’s favorites: Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves. Ruiz is such a fan of the book, he has purchased it more than five times for people he mentors as a gift and tool to improve emotional intelligence. “Many of them have found great value in the book as well,” Ruiz says.

If you don’t have time to read, there are a variety of  video presentations and TEDx Talks on building emotional intelligence. The ultimate goal is to learn new ways to identify, express and manage what you feel. In turn, this knowledge can be used to expand how you understand and connect with others—another key benefit to building emotional intelligence.

3. Strive for Your Own Version of Happiness

Personal development has no expiration date—and that’s the growth mindset that drives Ruiz to continue building emotional intelligence at any age.

When he made the decision to go back to school after years of working retail, Ruiz did not let his age or life circumstances deter him. Instead, he used emotional intelligence to define his own standards for happiness—then he lived by them.

“I am 40 years old,” Ruiz says. “I went back to school late but even though I am 40, I never stopped trying to improve my life.”

Going back to school as a working adult can also provide unexpected opportunities for growth: for instance, if you learn new concepts in class, you may be able to apply them to your job or work in real-time. In that sense, as a working adult and student, you can find immediate ways to enjoy the benefits of learning.

“Why should we ever stop striving for happiness? You always have a second chance to improve the quality of your life until the day you stop breathing,” Ruiz says.

4. Practice Gratitude

A little gratitude can add plenty of well-being to your day and improve stress management, according to early research on gratitude practices.

To reap the benefits of thanks, try reflecting on the good things that have happened in your life and note the positive feelings you experience as you remember each moment, advises Dr. Judith T. Moskowitz, a psychologist at Northwestern University.

“We encourage people to try practicing gratitude daily,” Dr. Moskowitz says. “You can try first thing in the morning or right before you fall asleep, whatever is best for you.”

Another step to improve emotional intelligence: practice gratitude among family and friends. This is how Ruiz recharges when he commits to ending work at 6 p.m. to eat dinner or take a walk with his wife and kids. “It’s the little moments in life that put our soul at peace for a second,” he says. “You have to absorb the joy you pour into it.”

5. Stay Playful

In the constant quest for balance, it can be easy to forget to have fun, but try not to take yourself too seriously or slump into boredom, Ruiz cautions. Although building emotional intelligence requires commitment, that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun.

In between goal setting, explore activities that make you feel playful and more like yourself. For instance, despite being a busy father and professional, Ruiz never lost touch with his inner “comic book nerd.”

“I love collectibles and comic books. When I set up my home office with all my Godzilla figures, it made me happy,” Ruiz says. “Other times I’ll just pull out my guitar and play for 10 minutes … it’s incredibly important for your own mental and emotional health to keep nurturing the fire that is within all of us.”

Want more tips to improve emotional intelligence and personal development?

Watch this video on leveraging soft skills to communicate effectively during interviews and learn how to create a career plan to execute your long-term goals.

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