Even though cognitive intelligence matters for your success, it’s not the only ingredient that determines whether you lead the pack or follow. Emotional intelligence–EI, EQ, the ability to recognize and react to feelings in yourself and others–is another big piece of the puzzle, right along with sheer determination and passion. And there’s some really good news. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic and Michael Sanger of Harvard Business Review point out that, as a set of personality traits, EI is something you can mold and improve.
1. Take a hard look at your strengths and weaknesses.
Chamorro-Premuzic and Sanger claim that people often derail because there’s a disparity between how they see themselves and how others see them. Subsequently, a first step to improving EI is becoming more self-aware about what your assets and liabilities are. Take a second look at your performance reviews, ask for honest feedback from friends and family and examine your everyday habits. The goal isn’t to be perfect. It’s to understand yourself realistically so that you can better direct your reactions to whatever is happening in your life.
2. Look outward to others with selflessness and patience.
We all need to look inward and practice some self-care once in a while. But if you always focus on you, say Chamorro-Premuzic and Sanger, it’s hard to see things from others’ point of view. Look at their strengths and weaknesses in the same way you do yours. Engage them in conversation with the goal of listening without interrupting and learning, rather than formulating a response. Chamorro-Premuzic and Sanger recommend that, as you talk with those around you, you balance confidence with humility–people want strong guidance, but they don’t want to feel “less than”, either. Share your knowledge or resources without an expectation that you’ll get anything back, as building relationships requires you to act in trusting, selfless ways.
3. Destroy your stress.
From the scientific perspective, emotion fires much faster than logic. Additionally, when we experience stress, the logic centers of our brain begin to temporarily shut down. This is an ancient protective mechanism–if you thought through what to do as a predator charged, for example, you’d be lunch. This means that, when you’re going through something tough, it can be difficult to think about the needs or perspectives of others. Interpersonal effectiveness and professional communication coach Preston Ni thus recommends you get rid of negative emotions so they don’t affect your judgment. Giving yourself multiple options, for example, can help you avoid the stress of disappointment. Other simple strategies, such as reducing your workload, meditating, getting more sleep, limiting caffeine, exercising or even spending an hour with a good friend all can help you kick away clouding anxiety.
4. Get off technology.
This one can be excruciatingly hard, given how integrated tech is in business. But when you use chat clients, email or social media too heavily, you miss critical emotional clues that come from vocal tone, body language and expression. Tech-based conversation can also feel distant and impersonal, which can make it harder for others to open up and trust you. This doesn’t mean you can’t use tech tools. It just means they shouldn’t overshadow face-to-face interaction.
5. Keep a diary.
According to Dr. Danielle Harlan, founder and CEO of the Center for Advancing Leadership and Human Potential, knowing what you’re feeling at any given point is a big part of EI. Writing down what happened and the emotions you’re experiencing, she says, can help you recognize behavioral patterns not only in yourself, but others, too. And once you know what those patterns are, you can be proactive about breaking them or make better choices about how to respond.
6. Check in with yourself.
In the hectic pace of modern living, simply being present and in tune with ourselves can be difficult. We miss what’s going on in our minds and bodies and operate on autopilot. Psychiatrist and public speaker Dr. Norman Rosenthal thus recommends taking time to reconnect. To do this, ask yourself
- How do I feel today?
- When I have I felt this way before?
- What physical sensations am I having at this moment?
- What am I perceiving through my other senses?
- What do I think about what’s happening?
It’s also acceptable, Rosenthal says to try some free association. Through this process, don’t judge or edit your feelings. Just accept the experience for what it is, even if the feelings are intense.
You have control over few things in life. Emotional intelligence, however, is something you can direct. It is the heart of good relationships, and good relationships are the heart of business. For yourself and your company, use these strategies and get started.