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  • Writer's picturePaolo Pironi

4 Exercises You Can Practice To Improve Your EQ Today

Updated: Jun 13, 2020

As I wrote in a recent article, scholars agree that your Emotional Intelligence (“EQ”) is the biggest predictor of your future success and happiness.


The good news is that you can train your EQ. So here you’ll find 4 techniques that you can start practicing today!

EQ, Executive Coaching and Consulting for Startups

One side of EQ is the ability to understand how others feel & manage relationships. To develop this “muscle”, try the following:

1. Genuine Appreciation

To recognize someone and to appreciate someone are two completely different things. Recognition is when you do a good job and your boss compliments you on it. It makes you feel good. Appreciation is when your boss thinks highly of you, whether you just did the right thing or you just made a mistake. It makes you feel satisfied, at ease and in control. To use a sports metaphor, Recognition means you’re only as good as your latest game. Appreciation means you’re a superstar, even if you’re having a bad day. We think we want Recognition, but really we want Appreciation.

And here’s the trick: others also want Appreciation. If you can show them genuine appreciation, they will love you and will always want more of you.

To become good at showing others Appreciation, you want to practice the following technique, which I learned from Dale Carnegie’s iconic book, “How to Win Friends and Influence People”.

Carnegie recounts a story of when he visited the house of an elderly woman. They sat down in her living room, and as they were talking, Carnegie noticed that the cabinet behind her hosted an impressive collection of china and pottery. The china had clearly been picked out for its elaborate design and was arranged meticulously to make the display look beautiful. The woman evidently put a lot of attention, effort and passion into this collection. Carnegie sincerely complimented the china collection; the woman was visibly excited and later on thanked Carnegie for noticing – she wouldn’t forget that he did.

This exemplifies the technique to instantly improve your rapport with others: compliment them on something they care about. Now, the best part: THIS DOES NOT WORK IF YOU’RE BEING A PHONEY. That’s why I love this technique: you can’t lie. You can’t be manipulative. It has to come from the heart.

So next time you meet a stranger, instead of asking them “what do you do?”, try and:

  • Notice and compliment something about them that they clearly put a lot of thought into: a stylish haircut or well groomed beard (that looks awesome, what barber do you go to?), a flashy scarf (love your style, I never saw a scarf with that pattern / that color before), interesting jewelry (that looks like craft: is there a story behind it?); or

  • As it’s difficult to pick up on something just by looking at a person’s apparel, ask them about their hobbies (tip: everyone loves travelling these days so ask about past / bucket list trips, or if they’re fit ask them whether they’re runners / yogis / etc., or if they are sharp dressers ask them if they’re into fashion, etc.)

  • Finally remember: only talk about topics that genuinely interest you, so if you don’t want to learn anything about fitness, don’t ask them about their workout routine, just pick another topic

When you train this technique, people will love you for it. And you will probably also enjoy seeing all of these beautiful things that you weren’t noticing before :)

2. Active Listening

This one took me years to fully comprehend. You probably heard the Active Listening mantra already, “you should listen to understand, not to respond”. This is difficult because we’re always tempted to give our opinion; even if we shut up and just listen, we instinctively begin to formulate our response in our head (and thus stop paying attention to what the other person is saying). 

To master this technique, here is what you must do:

  • When someone is talking to you, just listen

  • If you think of something that you want to say in response, discard that thought and choose that you will never mention it (read this bullet again, this is the key to everything)

  • Instead, keep listening and identify a detail that makes you curious: it might be a certain intonation, or an unusual word choice or turn of phrase, something unclear or unexpected, etc.

  • When the other person is done talking, ask a question on that detail that made you curious

You will never get to say what you wanted to say. That’s hard but it’s a good thing: thanks to this technique, you will get to understand the other person much better. Also, the other person will be grateful to you and will like you and trust you much more as a result.


Another crucial aspect of EQ is the ability to understand your own feelings & manage your happiness. This can be achieved by practicing these exercises:

3. Control Your Controllables

This technique is a classic in Happiness Management literature. In every situation, there are things you can control and things you can’t control. For example YOU CAN’T EVER control:

  • Other people’s actions (as much as you’d like to, you simply don’t and you never will)

  • The weather

  • Traffic

  • The stock market

  • Time

  • etc.

Conversely, YOU CAN ALWAYS control:

  • Your own actions and reactions

  • How you plan for the weather (wear warm clothes, carry an umbrella, choose to stay indoors, etc.)

  • How you plan to be on time despite possible setbacks (e.g. depart extra early)

  • How much risk you take (e.g. don’t invest all your savings and diversify your portfolio)

  • How you choose to spend time

  • etc.

So it’s simple: ignore the things you can’t control. It’s ok if that thought makes you a bit angry inside. In classical psychology, Anger is one of the steps towards acceptance (Denial > Anger > Bargaining > Depression > Acceptance, to be precise :)

Even if there are things that you can’t control, you can always control HOW YOU REACT to them. I’m not advocating suppressing your feelings (that’s not ideal), but don’t over-dramatise things either.

If something happens and you tell yourself that it’s the end of the world, it will feel like it is. Think about the last time you felt that way… has the world actually ended? Conversely, if you tell yourself that life goes on and you’ll figure it out, the world will seem brighter already.

Imagine this: the accounts payable department was too slow at handling a customer’s refund. You chased them several times but the refund still hasn’t been processed, your customer is very angry and threatens to leave you as a supplier. Your boss understands that it’s not your fault and you apologised to the client. The client is angry and might still stop doing business with your company, which sucks. Should you still go home tonight to spend quality time with your favourite hobbies or your loved ones? Absolutely! You did all you can and your boss knows, so your job is safe. You controlled your controllables and you did it well. So control your mood, don’t get angry, and enjoy your favourite things and your favourite people tonight :)

4. Positive Enforcers

Prominent family therapist and author Virginia Satir pioneered the metaphor of the Self Confidence Pot. Some of the people in our lives are Pot Fillers who pour more water in the Pot and help boost our Self Confidence. Other people are Pot Drillers who open holes in our Pot, draining our energy and sabotaging our happiness. 

You probably have or had Pot Drillers (also known as “energy vampires” or simply “negative people”) in your life: these can be very old friends that you don’t have the heart to abandon or more recent acquaintances that the good samaritan in you has let into your personal life. I’m not advocating that you abandon the sad family member that genuinely needs you, it’s important to help those who need us! But consider the negative people who don’t need your help and realise that they aren’t helping fill your Pot. I recommend that you try and reduce the Pot Drillers in your life, if possible. Or at the very least, increase the number of Pot Fillers that you hang out with. Remember that at any point in your life, you’re the average of the 5 people with whom you spend the most time.


If you feel ready to improve your EQ, why don’t you pick 1 of these exercises and give it a try? I suggest starting with the one that seems easiest for you to implement, whether due to your natural disposition or daily schedule. Then try applying it for 3 weeks and pronto, it will become second nature!  

Feel free to comment or PM me to know how you get on and if you have any questions that I might be able to help you with!

Also if you want to improve your EQ as a manager, or help your team improve theirs to boost employee performance or retention, then you can also get in touch with me and have a chat,



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