One of the most common questions I get asked is ‘how do I develop my emotional intelligence’. My response is, well that depends. In order to develop your EQ, you first need to understand where you are at with your emotional intelligence already, before you think about how to develop. Consider this example. You are in a meeting with six other people. Someone makes a statement that you disagree with – in fact, you find it quite offensive. Do you speak up? If so, what do you say? Once you have said it, what do you do then? How are you feeling 5 minutes later? An hour later? How would this interaction color or affect your relationship with this person? The answer to all of these questions would determine where you are at with your EQ.


Now, respecting the fact that emotional intelligence is infinitely nuanced (it’s hard to take into account every variable in examples like this), consider which of the following sounds more like your reaction:


Reaction 1:


You stand up, and in the most serious and threatening voice possible, explain to the ‘idiot’ as you call them on the other side of the table how bizarre and stupid their statement was. Without giving them time to respond, you noisily gather your things, storm out of the meeting room, and slam the door behind you. When another person from the meeting comes to talk to you later, you reiterate why you are offended. When you get home that night, you are in a bad mood because of the meeting and as a result say hurtful things to your spouse.


Reaction 2:


Whilst you are deeply offended by the person’s statement, you don’t want to make a scene. Additionally, you want people to think you are a nice person, so you don’t say anything. However, you spend the rest of the meeting fuming over what the person said, to the point that when someone asks you about your perspective on a completely different issue, you find that your concentration has been lost and you have no idea what they are talking about. Later that day, when someone drops by to check in on you because you seemed upset when the meeting ended, you tell them everything is just fine. When you get home, your spouse asks you how your day went. Again, you tell them it was just fine, and bury yourself into a book barely saying a word for the rest of the evening.


Reaction 3:


Whilst you are deeply offended by the person’s statement, no-one else in the meeting seems to have been affected by it, at least not outwardly. You consider whether you misunderstood or mis-interpreted the statement. As you think the situation through, the conversation has moved on. You make a note to talk to the individual later and ask for clarification or if necessary explanation of the statement. You then join back into the conversation flow of the meeting. When you go to ask the person later on they clarify their statement, and you are still offended by what they said. You state your offense in plain language, explaining why you are offended, and what the impact was on you. Even though their response is still unsatisfactory, you feel that you have made your point and go back to your office. As you get into the next chunk of work, you decide to let your frustration with the other person go. When you get home, your spouse asks you how your day was. You tell them about the incident, and listen to their opinion to further determine whether your level of offense at the statement was appropriate.


Now, if you are like most people, there are elements of each of these scenarios that apply to you. While the first one might seem outlandish (though I have met people that literally do behave like that), and the last one seem just a little too perfect (I have met people that behave that way too), a blended version that includes elements of all three is common.

First Steps….

And that’s where the first step in developing your emotional intelligence lays. You must understand the emotional intelligence you have, before you think about developing it. If you are more like Reaction 1, for example, you may want to work on your Impulse Control, Reality Testing, and Emotional Expression. If you are more like Reaction 2, then working on your Reality Testing, Assertiveness, and Interpersonal Relationships might be more useful.

To help you with this process we have what I call the ROAD to Success – Reflect, Observe, Assess, and then Develop. Developing your EQ before you have done the Reflection, Observation, and Assessment, will most likely mean you end up working the wrong way, on the wrong thing. I will talk more about the Reflection, Observation, and Assessment processes in upcoming blog posts.

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Drew Bird

I have been helping leaders to understand and develop their skills and effectiveness for more than 20 years. After a stint in the IT industry that included multiple leadership roles, I moved into healthcare before launching my own leadership and organizational consulting company in 2012. Since then I've had the privilege of working with literally thousands of leaders in various industries, organizations, geographic locations, and disciplines. I draw on my real world experience as well as my education and interest in organizational psychology and leadership to create effective solutions and programs. If you have a question on this program, or anything else related to leadership and organizational development, feel free to drop me a line directly at I respond to every email.

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