Emotional Competency

25 February 2021

It’s the ability to read emotion, to use emotion to help with decision making, to understand emotion and to regulate emotion. Higher emotional competency levels have been shown to support positive moods, help repair negative moods and result in a happier life (1)

How can I improve my Emotional Competency? 

People with high emotional competence are generally self-aware, appropriately assertive, show empathy and are good at understanding and controlling their emotions. Improving emotional competency requires understanding the triggers for various emotions, good or bad – what triggers anger, stress/anxiety, fear, guilt, joy, sadness or surprise? Most improvement strategies will involve reflection (2)

Developing self-awareness is enhanced by “mindfulness”, a technique which focuses on being intensely aware of what you're sensing and feeling in the moment, without interpretation or judgment. A simple way to improve self-awareness is to take a little time each day to reflect on your reactions to daily events. Because the intensity of an emotion dissipates over time (it should, but low emotional competence can result in prolonged negativity), it’s best to reflect at the time you experience the emotion(s), although a quiet moment at the end of the day to reflect on events and how you felt is also an effective strategy. You can build on this further by considering your own strengths, triggers, values and opportunities to develop further.

To identify and deal more effectively with your triggers, consider the following 3-step process:

  1. Identify the problem: Feeling angry after receiving negative feedback from a colleague? Negative feedback is the trigger, anger is the emotion.
  2. Describe the problem. This can be a bit tricky – was the negative feedback warranted? relevant? constructive? public? 
  3. Depending on your assessment of these and other factors, you are in a position to determine whether anger is the most appropriate emotion – is anger constructive, destructive or simply a benign response? (Keep in mind, anger is the enemy of logic). 

Take some time to reflect on the appropriateness of your emotional response and how you might deal with such situations in the future. If the feedback was unwarranted, destructive and public … anger might be the right choice (as long as you can move on – people with low emotional competence tend to dwell on the negative). If the feedback was relevant and constructive (despite being negative), anger is inappropriate and only serves to deter you from taking positive action regarding the feedback. If you were unaware of the issue raised, surprise might be a more appropriate emotion which can result in constructive dialogue and positive change. 

Top Tips for success 

  • Using a daily journal to reflect on relevant events or reactions can be a great way to become more self-aware.
  • Deconstruct the event – what happened (the facts), your interpretation of these in the context of your own values and beliefs. 
  • Your response – what you did and how you felt. 
  • Work through alternative scenarios in your head – which ones lead to the best outcomes? What would I do differently next time? 
  • Try a bit of mental rehearsal to lock in the new thinking style. 

External Resources for information 

Action for happiness: What is emotional intelligence: https://www.actionforhappiness.org/news/what-is-emotional-intelligence 

Positive Psychology: Emotional intelligence exercises: https://positivepsychology.com/emotional-intelligence-exercises/ 


Schutte, N.S., Malouff, J.M., Thorsteinsson, E.B., Bhullar, N., & Rooke, S.E. (2007). A meta-analytic investigation of the relationship between emotional intelligence and health. 

Personality and Individual Differences, 42, 921-933. Mattingly, V., & Kraiger, K. Can emotional intelligence be trained? A meta-analytical investigation.