What does it mean to have emotional intelligence? No one ever asked that question until 1995 when psychologist, Daniel Goleman, wrote his landmark book, Emotional Intelligence. Since then, much has been written and discussed about this idea. In this article, I won’t try to summarize or overly simplify the ideas. Rather, I will share five things you can do today to become more emotionally intelligent and be happier and more successful in your interactions with others.
The Components of Emotional Intelligence
Google the phrase or pick up the book and you can learn far more about these components. I share them here only as the reference point for the practical suggestions that follow. The five components of emotional intelligence as outlined by Goleman are:
- Social Skills
A Big Observation
While each of these are important to the overall concept of emotional intelligence, if you ask most people to talk about what this idea means, they will most frequently talk about the last two components – the outward focusing components. While empathy and social skills are the outward manifestation of emotional intelligence, trying to focus solely on those two is like putting a Band-Aid on a broken arm – you haven’t treated the root cause of any problems that might exist.
Increasing Your Emotional Intelligence
Given that observation, perhaps not surprisingly, my five suggestions focus on the first three components.
Slow down. When we are living life at full speed in real time, we operate from our habits. If you want to get better at anything, you must recognize where you are and then consciously work on changing your approach. This certainly applies to emotional intelligence. When interacting with others, slow down enough so that you can respond rather than react. Recognizing the power of this approach then choosing to do it can immediately improve results. If you have ever instantly reacted to someone’s comment or action, you know that doesn’t always go so well.
Take time to reflect. If you want to get better at anything, being willing to learn from your past actions is critical. Doing that requires that we reflect. I have written about this skill often, including here, here, and here. When we look back at what we did and how it went, we will learn something. When we recognize our role in those results, we may become more self-aware and better able to adjust our behavior in a similar situation the next time.
Ask yourself key questions. Reflection is about more than replaying the video tape of a situation. Effective reflection includes asking yourself (and then answering) questions like:
- What worked?
- What didn’t work?
- What did I do to create the results?
- What could I have done differently to create a better result?
- What could I have done to be more interpersonally effective?
Notice that these reflective questions focus on us and our role in a situation. Until we are ready to take responsibility and understand our accountability for our results, we can’t become as emotionally intelligent as we might wish to be.
Montior your stress level. Few would argue that there is a level of stress above which their ability to effectively interact with others is diminished. That should be reason enough to monitor our stress level. Once we are aware enough to monitor it, we can then take steps to reduce it if necessary. At the very least, we can reduce our personal interaction until our stress level is reduced. You know what I mean. You have said or done things in a moment of high stress that you later regretted or at least recognize you could have done better. When you are aware of your stress level and can adjust your behavior accordingly, you will become more emotionally intelligent.
Switch your focus. The most emotionally intelligent people are other focused. They have better social skills because they want others to be successful. For example, it is hard enough to be a good listener, but to do it when your focus is completely on yourself is nearly impossible. Interpersonal skills are nurtured by a focus on helping, understanding, and valuing others, and wanting the best for them. As you switch your focus to the needs of others, you begin your path towards greater emotional intelligence.
These five activities are simple to state and easy to understand, but getting good at them is a lifelong task. Getting on that journey improves the chances you will be a more emotionally intelligent person.