A common misconception surrounding the concept of emotional intelligence (EI) is that it can easily be mastered. Yet the reality is this: emotional intelligence is like a muscle that needs conditioning to strengthen and develop; it can’t go from lifting 10 pounds to 110 in a single day. Emotional intelligence requires practice, care and—most of all—effort. The best strategy for enhancing emotional intelligence is accepting that there is no one perfect strategy. Researching articles, listening to talks and reading books are all ways to understand varying strategies in order to define your own. So, why not start here?
In order to grow those EI muscles we need to make developing our self-control, self-awareness and empathy a daily independent, team or company activity. This might seem like a big task to accomplish in the workplace, but here are three easy ways to start:
Understand Yourself Before Developing Others.
On airplanes, they tell you to put on your oxygen mask before assisting those next to you; EI strategy is a similar concept. By taking a deeper look into what drives you (self-awareness), how you react to your environment (self-control), and how you perceive that around you (empathy), you are able to eventually support those in your team/company to do the same. If you can’t have an honest conversation with yourself, how can you expect to manage these conversations with others? Below are two strategies I use to explore my own emotional intelligence:
- Meditation. Meditation is all the rage these days but it doesn’t have to be anything daunting to incorporate into your daily routine. For example, I “meditate” at the end of every day when I’m washing the dishes. This seemingly menial task provides me a serene, quiet space in which I’m able to reflect back on parts of my day and it encourages me to think deeper.
- Journaling. I keep a journal of goals I want to achieve and make a plan on how I can achieve them. For example, one behavior of mine I’d like to change is double-booking my time: I write it down as a goal and then also note what measures I can implement to change my behavior (i.e., being more mindful of keeping my calendar updated, checking my calendar before I make a commitment, etc.)
Think Differently About What You Already Know.
In the case of Lingo Live, we decided to think differently about the Myers Briggs (MBTI) personality test. Most of our employees had already taken the test at some point in their career, and they weren’t exactly thrilled when I first invited them to attend an emotional intelligence workshop. However, instead of lecturing on the characteristics of each personality type (as expected), I asked them to tell me. By asking my co-workers to think differently, they started thinking more deeply about how they uniquely process information, make decisions, and structure their lives.
Our VP of Engineering remarked that out of his eight previous MBTI workshops, he had never experienced one as beneficial as this. Here are some examples of reflective questions that we considered during our workshop:
- What makes you shut down during a work-conversation?
- Do you consider others’ preferred type of communication before talking with them?
Developing self-awareness and trying to re-calibrate the way in which you think about things are important first steps to flexing your emotional intelligence muscle. But, in order to keep building that muscle, it’s important to be curious and inquisitive, to ask questions. Never assume that you’re an emotional intelligence expert who can now understand your team members or direct reports perfectly. Asking questions is important for either validating your thoughts or clearing up confusion.
- Perhaps you’ve had a miscommunication with a co-worker about a deadline. Don’t walk away frustrated—instead, open a dialogue with that coworker and ask, “Where do you think that miscommunication stemmed from?
- Always take a pause or deep breath after a situation doesn’t go as planned. Follow up with neutral questions that don’t make anyone feel like the “bad guy”.
Begin Flexing Your Emotional Intelligence.
Studies have shown employees don’t feel engaged with team lunches, company retreats and corporate perks. In reality, engagement springs from feeling understood, noticing that strengths are appreciated and seeing support from coworkers.
Remember, there is no one perfect way to develop your emotional intelligence. But a good place to start is by (1) developing your self-awareness through practices like meditation and journaling, (2) thinking differently about what you already know and (3) being curious and asking questions.
-Rachel Zolotarsky, Lingo Live Talent and Operations Manager