Make Your Emotions Work For You

Start by smiling like the Mona Lisa (yes, for real)

Make Your Emotions Work For You

When we think about professional development, we usually think about learning new job skills and stretching our intellect in different ways. But what about improving your emotional intelligence? It’s just as important to your professional success, and there are simple ways to enhance it.

What is emotional intelligence?

Emotional intelligence refers to our ability to understand and effectively use our different emotions. According to Gill Hasson, a teacher and career coach and the author of Emotional Intelligence Pocketbook, “It’s not so much about controlling your emotions, which implies that you restrain, suppress or deny them.” Rather, it’s about “managing your emotions, which involves being flexible with your thinking, behavior and responses and being open to stay with feelings—both pleasant and unpleasant.”

We can learn and practice emotional intelligence skills at any age or stage of life. And we should: emotional intelligence is linked to better mental and physical health and overall life satisfaction.

Hasson adds, “The extent to which you’re able to understand and manage your own emotions influences your ability to understand and manage other people’s emotions”—just what we need during intense discussions in the workplace.

Enhancing emotional intelligence

Make all emotions your allies

We often think of emotions as either good or bad, like happiness versus sadness. However, all emotions are valuable in providing information about what we’re experiencing and what we might need.

Name them to claim them

One study found that putting feelings into words made sadness, anger and pain less intense. Labeling our emotions without judgment creates distance from them and reminds us that they’re temporary. Keep in mind that you can feel more than one emotion at once.

Use your body

Paying attention to our bodies can offer important emotional information. For example, a racing heart can let us know we feel anxious. To foster calm, try “half smiling”—a technique introduced by Dr. Marsha Lineham. To half smile, relax your face and shoulders and slightly elevate the corners of your mouth (think of a Mona Lisa smile, which may feel more natural than a big toothy grin).

Smiling throughout the day (first thing in the morning, when irritated, while meditating or simply when you have a free moment) is thought to create changes in the brain that can help us feel calmer and happier. Research also suggests that smiles really are contagious and can make those around us cheerier as well.

Explore the “why”

Once we’ve named our emotions and checked into our bodies, we can start to investigate why we might be feeling the way we’re feeling. For example, are we irritable because we’re overwhelmed, in need of support or simply hungry?

We can explore the “whys” to practice empathy and understand others as well, asking ourselves: “Why might this person feel the way she does? What is she dealing with that I might not see? In what ways might she feel differently than I do?”

Asking questions like these shows a high level of emotional intelligence, and answering them can help us succeed in any job.