Everyone, from the best keynote speakers to company leaders or a customer service representative, can harness emotional intelligence (EQ) to build stronger and deeper connections between you and your audience.

Let’s presume most companies have similar abilities to compete within their industry. Each has the key foundational ingredients: people, process and product. There may be a difference in resources (capital, headcount or marketshare) but fundamentally, any company can become a player and vie for top positioning. Market leaders don’t necessarily dominate their lines of business by a huge margin but there are clearly winners in each industry. If all things could be equal amongst competitors and each has the same opportunities for winning, what is something that one company could harness to gain a competitive advantage? How about emotional intelligence?

Think about the best business speakers or motivational speakers you’ve ever heard. What made them so special? Was it the message they were conveying, stories they told to illustrate their point, or was it the way they spoke? Perhaps it was the way they connected with the audience – that they could read the people in front of them and connect with them during their keynote presentation.

Now think about when you’ve been thoroughly engaged in a conversation, feeling truly connected to another person. What held your attention? How did you make your thoughts clear to them, and vice versa?

In both cases, a high level of Emotional Intelligence (EQ) was likely at play. EQ, also sometimes referred to as “EI,” is the ability to identify and manage one’s own emotions and those of others — an essential factor in effective communication. EI typically requires three learnable skills: heightened emotional awareness, the ability to harness emotions for problem-solving, and emotional management and regulation, both in oneself and others.

Although past experiences will impact your mastery of EI, working on it with proper motivation and mindset will allow you to extend your connections and empathetic reasoning. If you’re looking to tap into the power of emotions in communication (as you should, since 90% of high performers possess high levels of EI), here are five of the best ways to really boost your EI.

  1. Avoid the Negatives – Starting with your Own

In any business or personal situation, before anything else, be sure you’re ready to manage your own negative emotions. Bad feelings can cloud judgment and overwhelm you, so managing them is a matter of positive thinking. Harnessing this at work is very useful and we’re already somewhat used to this in a work environment. Few of us fly off the handle at a coworker for small grievances. However, for larger systemic issues, try considering multiple perspectives of the work or person you feel poorly about. For example, if you’re waiting on someone to respond to an email, don’t fixate your thoughts on the fact that they haven’t responded in the time frame you wanted. Instead, imagine the reasons why they may have been delayed in getting back to you and consider future actions and communications for ensuring you get the work you need in a timely fashion.

  1. Make Connections

All human experience is part of a larger process that we use to learn and evolve — and the only way to do that is to make connections within your mental processes. In moments when you struggle with your feelings, take a figurative step away from what’s troubling you and think back to other similar moments in your life. Is the current block in your work something associated with lingering issues from the past, or is it something new that just feels the same? Identifying these problems as recurring or new feelings can help you find ways to overcome negative emotions. They can also help you to be more productive in your job as you are able to identify and avoid frustrating mental blocks. Erica Dhawan speaks on how to Build a Connectionally Intelligent Organization. Connectional Intelligence (CxQ) helps organizations accelerate and sustain the capability to drive breakthrough innovation and results by harnessing the power of relationships and networks.

In our new world of an embedded digital, global infrastructure that connects all of our lives, the power of connectional intelligence holds exponential and previously untapped potential for breakthroughs in ways we can barely begin to imagine in the workplace.

According to Dhawan, to harness CxQ, we have to work with the future workforce differently – because they are ahead of the rest of us in harnessing connective capacity.

Erica Dhawan shares insights into how leaders can bring out the connectional intelligence of your employees and utilize the talents that different silos, cultures, and generations all bring to the table. This is a powerful, interactive presentation for leaders who seek to break through generational friction, drive innovation, shift company culture and transform the untapped connectional intelligence of your entire workforce. Learning Objectives: -Understand the resources each employee brings to the workplace -Decode the connectional capacity of each generation and culture and use that knowledge to significantly improve innovation -Transform workforce conflicts into growth points Create processes designed to maximize the ability to connect people, ideas, and resources for breakthrough results.

Along the same lines, work to connect your feelings with your thoughts. Disengage from your feelings and hone in on what exactly you think about them. Once you’ve distanced yourself, use your best logic to establish exactly why you feel as you do, and what that might mean. Like stepping away from your computer to find a fresh take on your work, try to do the same with your feelings.

  1. Trust Others

We all have people we trust who know us nearly as well as we know ourselves. When you’re struggling with your emotions, don’t be afraid to reach out to one of those friends or family members to ask what they’re seeing in you. The same applies for solving issues at work. Oftentimes, it just takes an outside opinion to work through what’s going on in your head — and open discussions about personal topics is a great practice for honing interpersonal speaking and engagement skills. Stephen M.R. Covey is the top thought leader on this subject and his books on trust, “Speed of Trust” and “Smart Trust” provide excellent coverage on this important toolset.

  1. Don’t Act Too Quickly

Whether you’re interacting with a colleague or your own inner dialogue, don’t be hasty. Respect others by allowing others to finish expressing themselves without you interrupting, and respect yourself by completing your trains of thought. You never know what someone might just be on the verge of saying, or what you might be on the verge of concluding yourself. This will come in handy when discussing work issues with a coworker. The more you can come to understand their methodologies and processes, the easier it will be to work together effectively instead of just butting heads.

  1. Make Work Fun and Challenging

Emotional intelligence speaker, JP Pawliw-Fry suggests viewing a high-pressure situation, such as reaching sales goals, presenting in front of an executive team, or taking on a new project as a fun challenge rather than a threat. When we view a situation as a threat, our body goes into fight or flight mode, and our logical thinking is impaired. However, if we view the situation as an exciting challenge, this translates into enthusiasm and allows us to achieve a higher potential. Pawliw-Fry suggests a project manager can tell their team “I challenge you to make this your best work ever” or a sales manager can tell their sales force “Here’s the challenge, let’s see if we can do it!”.

  1. When in Doubt… Breathe

Work situations such as having difficult conversations, being thrown for a loop during an interview, or being put on the spot during a meeting can create feelings of anxiety. JP Pawliw-Fry explains that when we experience anxiety, our breathing gets more shallow, and less oxygen reaches vital organs such as your brain. While we cannot control many parts of our autonomic nervous system, such as digestion, heart rate, and body temperature, the one thing we can control is our own conscious breathing. Pawliw-Fry suggests, that to perform with maximum emotional intelligence, to practice the following breathing technique for 2 minutes a night for one week, or any time during the workday you are feeling anxious or stressed:

  • Inhale through your nose, deeply, expanding your stomach for a count of four.
  • Hold that breath for a count of four.
  • Slowly exhale through your mouth, completely, contracting your stomach for a count of 4.
  • Hold the empty breath for a count of four.

By enacting these steps in your everyday life, you’ll be able to increase your own Emotional Intelligence. And since people with high emotional intelligence are often stronger performers than people with high IQs, it just might help your career as well.