STRESS levels are on the rise in today’s workplaces, with more to do and fewer resources to do it with.

Good social skills and emotional intelligence — or emotional quotient (EQ), as it is popularly known as — can help people feel less overwhelmed by these mounting challenges. People will be able to perform under pressure, motivate others and creatively solve problems.

What is EQ?

EQ is the ability to understand and use your emotions in a positive and constructive manner. It is also about engaging others in ways that bring out the best in them and building strong relationships.

However, many of you have learnt not to trust your emotions. You are often told your emotions distort the more “accurate” information your intellect supplies. Even the term “emotional” sometimes means being weak, out of control and even childish.

The fact is, intellectual intelligence (IQ) is usually less important than EQ in determining how successful people are. There are academically brilliant people who are unsuccessful because they are socially inapt.

EQ allows you to communicate effectively with other people because you are able to read non-verbal cues such as facial expressions and tone of voice to understand not only what others say, but also what they don’t say.

Nurturing EQ

EQ comprises a set of personal and interpersonal skills people learn in early childhood. Your primary caregiver, usually your mother, creates the first relationship that is known as “the attachment bond” and is important for your mental, emotional, physical and intellectual development.

This first relationship creates a template for your emotional behaviours that you automatically rely on throughout life. This behaviour is learned, but the brain is able to change this, as you continue to acquire EQ skills in adulthood.

Here are five strategies to boost your EQ and improve relationships:

1. Reduce stress

Your ability to think is impaired when stress hits your nervous system. Stress triggers automatic “fight-or-flight” responses that make us feel like running or fighting.

Directive communication psychology calls this your reptilian response — your survival instinct. When this happens, rational thinking goes out the window.

The best way to reduce stress is through the senses: sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. Each person responds differently to sensory input, so you need to find what is soothing to you.

Certain kinds of music, a fragrance or a picture of your loved ones can calm you down. Find out what soothes you best, and make sure you have it on your desk or in your office.

2. Connect to your emotions

Anyone who has experienced early-life traumas, such as loss, abuse or isolation, has been displaced emotionally. You can distort, deny and numb the painful emotions, but you cannot eliminate them.

Unfortunately, without emotional awareness, you are unable to fully understand your own motivations and needs, or to communicate effectively with others.

To be emotionally healthy, you must reconnect with your core emotions.

3. Improve non-verbal communication skills

Non-verbal communication is emotionally driven and answers the questions: “Are you listening?” and “Do you understand and care?”

Answers to these questions are expressed in the way you talk, listen, look, move and react.

Your non-verbal messages will either produce a sense of interest, trust, excitement and desire for connection, or they will generate fear, confusion, distrust and a lack of interest. Studies show that more than 55 per cent of all communication is non-verbal communication.

4. Use humour to deal with challenges

A sense of humour lightens your burden and helps you to keep things in perspective.

A good hearty laugh reduces stress, elevates mood and improves brain functioning. When people laugh together, communication is more relaxed, effective and memorable.

5. Resolve conflict positively

Conflict in work relationships can be a serious blow to teamwork and camaraderie.

Resolving conflict in healthy, constructive ways can strengthen the trust between people.

When conflict isn’t perceived as threatening or punishing, it fosters freedom, creativity and safety in relationships.

There is a world of difference between knowing how you want to react and actually responding that way.

When you are stressed and under pressure, you often act instinctively. Your brain becomes overwhelmed and limits your actions to running, fighting or freezing.

If you want to respond differently under pressure, your learning process must include EQ skills. You will learn to master your emotional responses and use sensory clues — what you see, hear and feel — to engage other people effectively.

As American poet Maya Angelou says: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”