How to Raise Your Emotional Intelligence in 3 Steps
Three steps and questions to lead with greater emotional intelligence.
A pervasive myth still exists, one that stifles wellbeing and performance at work. The myth is that emotions don't belong at work. That workers can flip a switch and shed all of their fear, joy, sorrow and hope at the door of work. This myth leads many to believe professionals should be cold and stoic.
Not only is feeling feelings part of being human, but research shows that when coworkers drop their polished professional presence, those around them experience a boost in trust, kindness, performance and connection. Divorcing ourselves from our personal lives is not only unfortunate, but it's also bad business.
This is why emotional intelligence will be the hallmark of the most successful leaders and organizations of the future. In my recent article, 5 Reasons Why Emotional Intelligence Is the Future of Work, I highlight how technology, Generation Z and neuroscience are all contributing to emotional intelligence being the future of work.
The ability to identify and manage one's personal emotions and the emotions of others will be an advantageous skill for leaders as mental health concerns, depression and loneliness continue to rise in the modern workforce.
If leaders can't get comfortable wading into emotional waters, they run the risk of never fully solving the problems of their team or customers because empathy, a core pillar of emotional intelligence, is required to fully problem solve. As Bill Gates stated in his 2014 Stanford University commencement speech, "If we have optimism but we don't have empathy, then it doesn't matter how much we master the secrets of science. We're not really solving problems; we're just working on puzzles."
Emotions aren't a problem to solve but a tension to manage. How leaders successfully manage that daily tension is with emotional intelligence.
According to Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, emotional intelligence is a better predictor of academic success, job performance and life success than someone's intelligence quotient (IQ). And, unlike IQ, people can increase their emotional intelligence throughout life. Here are three steps to become more emotionally intelligent.
1. Find balance on the emotional spectrum
A line exists between sharing our feelings that build trust and oversharing which erodes trust. Oversharing can undermine influence, elicit discomfort in others and demonstrate a lack of self-awareness.
Most people either let their emotions drive the car of their life or they lock their emotions out of the car. Neither is ideal. Emotions help us navigate the world. They shouldn't be driving or locked out but rather in the passenger seat where they are visible, included and used for guidance.
Emotional expression is a wide spectrum. At one extreme are under-emoters, people who prefer just the facts or have a hard time accessing their feelings. At the other extreme are over-emoters, people who are constantly sharing their feelings. Neither of these extremes is healthy. Those who are prone to oversharing, consider editing. Those who are more reserved, look for moments to open up and be more vulnerable or relatable.
Emotional intelligence is about finding the balance on this spectrum. Recognize and manage feelings without being controlled by them.
Strike the right emotional balance with selective sharing. Open up while still prioritizing psychological safety and stability for both yourself and others. Selective sharing can be achieved in the following ways:
- Flag feelings: If a feeling is non-work related or isn't associated with a particular individual, then flag the feeling without going into detail by telling the individual that you are having a tough day and it has nothing to do with work or them.
- Need identification: Identify the need behind the emotion. If a looming deadline has you feeling anxious or worried, the need behind the emotion might be to ask your team to put a plan in place that ensures the deadline is met.
2. Strive to be relatable rather than vulnerable
Emotional intelligence seems to be inextricably linked to vulnerability. Although vulnerability can be a valuable tool, too often — for leaders especially — it can position someone as weak and erode confidence among a team. Leaders should instead strive to be relatable.
By definition, being relatable establishes a social or sympathetic relationship with others. Asking yourself "Am I relatable?" or "What's it like to be on the other side of me?" force you to consider the circumstances of the person you're interacting with, which creates an opportunity to empathize.
Here are two ways others can relate to you as a person, not just a professional.
- Tell your story: Replace the polished professional presence with relatable stories of discomfort, doubts or delight in a way that is authentic and in service of others. People listen autobiographically to storytellers, so when you tell a personal story, others are listening through the lens of their own life. Share where you've been, where you are and where you're going in order to become more relatable.
- Ask to hear a story: People long to be seen, heard and belong. Ask thoughtful and open-ended questions of the people you serve that allow them to respond in a story. Often the stories we ask to hear are much better than the stories we tell.
3. Actively listen to understand and identify
Famed entrepreneur and author Jim Rohn said: "As a leader, you should always start with where people are before you try to take them where you want them to go." Too often people listen for an opportunity to insert their comment, point or argument. Instead, emotionally intelligent leaders will actively listen to understand and identify the emotion behind the story or behavior.
Here are a few phrases to assist with active listening.
- Tell me more. Fight the urge to insert your insight or advice into a conversation and instead simply state, "Tell me more." This provides the necessary margin for people to continue to share and further communicate how they feel.
- How did we get here? Experienced FBI negotiators don't tell the culprit what to do or not to do. They first seek understanding by asking, "How did we get here?" This question is helpful in evoking a story or more context about the current situation.
- What drives you to show up every day? This is a helpful question to explore with an entire team. Answering this question among a team will establish trust.
Are emotions messy? Yes. Are emotions inescapable? Yes. The choice to sweep them under the rug or steward them to success is up to leaders.
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