When it comes to climbing the career ladder, your IQ matters less than you think. Studies suggest emotional intelligence (EI) is the biggest factor in how successful you’ll be, trumping both IQ and experience. But with little emphasis put on EI in schools and businesses, how do you develop your emotional skills? SL contributor Nina Burtok has ten practical ways to start sharpening yours right now…
Having self-awareness is one of the cornerstones of emotional intelligence. According to author Daniel Goldman, in order to be aware of other people's emotions, we need to first become aware of our own, and one of the easiest ways to do that is through meditation and mindfulness.
Try carrying a small notebook with you and recording the emotions you experience on a daily basis, including their strength from one to ten. Pinpointing how you respond to situations, like being cut off in traffic or receiving a rude email, can make you more mindful of your behaviour and help you to control it. People who understand their emotions don’t usually struggle with them and are willing to take an honest look at the areas that might need some improvement.
Identify Your Triggers
Being in control of your emotions is vital in the workplace. When our brain gets overloaded with stress and negativity, it can interfere with our ability to think clearly and make accurate assessments.
To help you stay calm when things get tough, leadership coach Maria Reynolds suggests identifying your stress triggers. Once you know what pushes your buttons, intense feelings like anger or upset won't come as a surprise or turn into a blow-up. Try to figure out the ‘why’ behind the trigger and plan what you’ll do next time it occurs – from going outside for a walk, to taking deep breaths or listening to relaxing music.
Respond, Don’t React
It's easy to react to an emotional trigger, such as snapping at our colleagues when we're feeling irritated. Responding, on the other hand, is a conscious process where you first notice how you feel, then decide how you want to behave as a result. Responding also means explaining to the person how you feel and why you feel that way, instead of simply lashing out without processing it first. Put simply, it's about managing your impulses.
When you feel an emotional reaction coming on, pause before you speak or act. Quickly distract yourself by counting to ten or focusing on pre-prepared thoughts and images, such as something funny your pet did or how much you appreciate your family. It's much harder to be angry when you’re thinking of something positive.
Develop Listening Skills
The ability to listen and to really hear what a person is saying is not the same thing. Picking up the underlying feelings and subtle meanings behind the words can go a long way in helping you connect to people and ensuring negative emotions aren't left to fester and grow.
A great way to perfect your listening skills is to take turns with a friend in talking and having the other person listen intently, then having them try to repeat back everything they heard. Results can be surprising, even to those who consider themselves good listeners.
On a Similar Note
Empathy means understanding why someone is feeling and behaving the way they are, as well as having the ability to communicate that you understand them. According to author and management consultant, Justin Bariso, developing your ability to empathise with others helps you build stronger relationships both professionally and personally.
To become more empathic, start with simple changes like avoid stereotyping and quick judgments, and putting yourself in other people's shoes. By demonstrating to someone that you understand where they’re coming from, you’ll earn respect for your selflessness and win support when you need it.
Develop People Skills
Having great people skills is a major sign of high emotional intelligence. These people find it easy to talk to those they’ve just met and they very quickly establish repertoire with others from all walks of life. Rather than focusing only on their own success, wants and needs, they tend to put helping others on the top of their priority list and always look to build the team, rather than themselves individually.
One quick way to start building your people skills right now is to express more interest in your co-workers, making attempts to connect with friends and family you haven’t spoken to for a long time, or even volunteering for charities where you can visibly make a positive impact on people’s lives.
Learn From Feedback
Feedback and criticism are not the same thing. The former is expressed in a way that attacks and belittles another person, while the latter is intended to help you grow and develop. For most people, criticism is never easy to take, but when it’s offered in a constructive way with the intention of bettering you as a person, it’s a good idea to listen.
Getting other people’s perspective on how we come across should be welcomed in most cases, as it shines a light on our ‘blind spot’ – the trait or characteristic that we may not be aware we’re displaying. It might be a good idea to ask your partner, friends or family to give you feedback on how they see you by asking them to list three of your best and worst traits. Sit back and listen, and try not to get defensive – it may be a real eye-opener!
This is the most challenging step but also the most helpful to master – taking responsibility for our own actions. Our emotions and behaviour are ours alone, they don't come from anyone else, so we alone are responsible for them.
It’s as simple as apologising if we know we’ve hurt someone’s feelings, or simply owning up to a wrong instead of blaming or denying it ever happened. Keep in mind that it usually takes at least two people to create an argument, so it’s a good idea to take responsibility and own your half, then make honest attempts to forgive others and make things right again.
Get Out Of Your Comfort Zone
Being emotionally intelligent involves knowing what to get rid of and what to keep. Most people tend to stick to their comfort zones to avoid feelings of discomfort, but amazing things happen when we leave them. The problem with comfort zones is we can get stuck in a rut and, over time, can become inflexible to any change at all. Emotionally intelligent people are aware that the only constant in life is change and they welcome new experiences and opportunities to provide them with personal and professional fulfilment.
The only way to expand your frontiers is to push yourself to do something that’s unpleasant once in a while. Remember that flexibility and adaptability are among two of the most sought-after traits employers tend to look for.
Studies show that practicing gratitude daily has amazing benefits for our wellbeing. Being thankful for what you have can alleviate sleep disorders and mental illnesses like depression, and even improve physical health. When asked what they are grateful for, people with high emotional intelligence will usually quickly come up with a long list.
One way to develop gratitude is to keep a notebook and write out ten positive things in your life each morning to help you start your day with motivation, or before you go to sleep to end your day on a high. Try creating a mantra such as ‘my life is filled with blessings’, which you can repeat in your head whenever you need a gratitude boost.