Emotions are an important and valuable part of our lives. They guide us towards things we’re passionate about through feelings of joy, they heighten our awareness in order to keep us safe through feelings of fear, and more generally they color our experiences as human beings with complexity and vivacity. Emotions are part of who we are. But, emotions can also be distracting, overwhelming, and inhibit our happiness. They can, if gone unmanaged, become a real problem.

Life is full of challenges and disappointments. It’s important that we are able to understand, cope, and most importantly grow throughout these various stages of our lives. A question you should always be asking yourself is, “Are you managing your emotions or are they managing you?”

Emotional Intelligence is an individual’s ability to recognize the presence of negative emotions within oneself or other people and to manage those emotional situations in a way that enhances respect, builds relationships, and achieves results. In other words, can you recognize/define emotional states and utilize them for positive and purposeful means.

We’ve all been in situations before where we haven’t done such a great job of this. We’ve ended up saying something we wish we hadn’t, making a rash decision, or walking away from something that ultimately could have bettered us had we been up to the challenge. Ultimately, our emotions “got the best of us.” While we may not be able to change things we’ve done in the past, we can learn from these mistakes in order to better manage similar situations in the future.

And it is crucial that you do. However you choose to embrace your emotions will have a deep impact on your relationships with others and your professional potential, especially as a leader and team member. Leading effectively and building strong interpersonal relationships is going to require emotional finesse.

In fact, researchers have estimated that 58 percent of an individual’s successful performance in any job can be attributed to emotional intelligence.[1] If you’re thinking to yourself, “I’m not sure I’m all that in control of my emotions.. Am I doomed?” You’re in luck because the answer is a resounding “NO.” Emotional Intelligence can actually be learned.

Here are few tips to will help you manage your feelings more effectively:

Learn to separate your interpretations from facts.

People naturally make observations about the world around them. What we observe, however, is never really a true expression of what’s in front of us, but rather our own interpretation filtered through the lens of our past experiences. Because of this filtering, we often interpret events as a reflection of who we are and what we’ve seen before.

The first step in becoming more emotionally intelligent is being able to identify what is happening in fact and what you’re assuming based on your past experiences and feelings.

An example: Susan and Fred are married. Susan gets home later after a long day at the office. Fred is sitting on the couch watching TV. Both are upset by the situation. Susan interprets Fred’s actions as being unappreciative. The underlying assumption: if Fred appreciated her hard work, he would start dinner before she got home when he knew she was working late. Fred interprets Susan’s actions as deprioritizing him. The underlying assumption: if Susan considered their marriage and time with him as a priority, she would find a way to leave work on time instead of taking on the workload she does. The truth of the situation? Fred hasn’t started dinner because he enjoys cooking with Susan and values the experience as important bonding time each evening. Susan works late because she cares about their marriage and wants to provide the best future for them financially. Do you see how each person’s interpretation was not only wrong but colored by their own fears and insecurities?

Being able to recognize how your own experiences warp your interpretations the world in front of you are key to having more control over your emotions.

Learn to find the root of your emotions.

Most emotions are preceded by a thought. Next time you notice an unpleasant emotion starting to well up, try finishing this sentence in as many ways as possible, “I’m upset because…” As simple as this sounds, it’s pretty common for people to forget to assess what sparked their unsettling emotions in the first place and instead start reacting to the thoughts that come up after they’re already upset.

An example: You plan to meet up with your friend who shows up 20 minutes late. When they arrive, you’re cold and unattached, which ruins the meal. Before reacting emotionally, you should have finished the sentence, “I’m upset because…” Which could have led you down the following train of thoughts:

I am upset because…

– I find lateness disrespectful.

– I showed up on time because I respect my friend, and I’m excited to see them. If they are late, they might not feel that towards me.

– Conclusion: I am afraid that my friend does not think as highly of me as I do of them.

Instead of being cold and unattached to your friend, which isn’t going to make them think any more highly of you, this could be a great opportunity to discuss with them why they are late and how it made you feel. My guess is, they probably didn’t mean to disrespect you, and they would feel bad knowing it affected you negatively.

The more time you take to identify what you’re upset about, what caused that thought, and what your underlying fear is, the better you will be able to communicate those thoughts and emotions with others, which in turn will make your relationships better.

Learn what core values make up your character.

You probably already have some things you know you value, like preparedness or punctuality. What people often don’t realize is that negative emotions tend to come along when we feel that those values are being violated or underappreciated. Take our last example with the friend who was late to lunch. The reason for the upset was because punctuality was a value that was being interpreted as violated. The more you understand what values you hold, the better you’ll be able to manage your emotions when you start to feel that those values aren’t being respected.

Moreover, if you are able to understand not only your own values but the values in others, you can be a key mediator in situations of conflict. At the core of every conflict is essentially a conflict of values. Understand the values, and you will be able to better bridge solutions.

 If you practice these skills, you’ll find that both your personal and professional life benefit from your emotional growth. Everyone is an individual, which means that you are going to need to be able to collaborate with people who have different experiences, backgrounds, and values. The better you’re able to manage your own responses to emotionally challenging situations and gauge others, the better off everyone will be.

[1] Bradberry, Travis, PhD and Jean Greaves, PhD, Emotional Intelligence 2.0, San Diego: Talent Smart: 2009,