If you’ve recognised the importance of emotional intelligence (EQ), then—like millions of others across the world—you’ve probably asked: “Am I an emotionally intelligent person?” If the answer to this question has been supplied through means of a test, you may relax about the matter—unless of course the result wasn’t a good one. So you have low EQ… What now?
Low EQ isn’t something to get all worked up about. Emotional intelligence can be cultivated and strengthened as you progress in life. This is something that should never end. It’s a journey of sorts; an adventure that will bring much self awareness and relationship satisfaction. It’s important to exercise your emotional intelligence the same way an athlete trains his or her body.
This article will direct you on this journey of EQ development. Here are nine ways you can hone your social skills and grow your emotional intelligence little by little.
- Ask the right questions
A wise first step in improving your EQ is by asking relevant questions. These questions will highlight which areas of your interaction with others need to be worked on. Most of these questions relate to your feelings, so it’s important to be honest with yourself and face any difficult realisations head on.
Questions you should regularly ask yourself include the following:
- Do you work better on your own, or as part of a team?
- When it comes to other people’s arguments, do you consider yourself a peacemaker?
- Does change make you uncomfortable, or are you up for new and challenging situations?
- Do you often take note of how you are feeling in certain situations?
- Do you ask yourself why you are feeling a certain way once you’ve recognised an emotion?
- Are you a person who sets short term, mid term and long term goals for yourself?
- Are you empathetic to the feelings of others?
- Are you often able to see others’ points of view in conversation?
- Can you easily persuade someone to do something?
- When you get angry or sad, do you stay that way for long or do you recover quickly?
- Do you find it easy to admit when you’re wrong, or are you rather defensive?
- Meet new personalities
One of the best ways to develop your emotional intelligence is to surround yourself with different kinds of people. Humans differ in temperament, views, and of course emotional intelligence. Learning about different types of people will expand your understanding of various personalities and how to deal with them.
There are many ways you can do this. For one, take a look at the people you work with. There are probably people you speak to every day because you either get along with them or because you have to work with them. Consciously train yourself to direct your attention to others in your office—or the office next door? Make a point of getting to know people on a deeper level. What are they passionate about? How do they see things differently to you? What emotional value can they bring to your life? Reach out to people and you will be amazed at how connected you begin to feel with others.
- Go out of your comfort zone
In order to meet new people you need to move outside your usual comfortable routine. Expand your circle wider than your work place and family life. Go out to events and meet new people as often as you can. For people who struggle with emotional intelligence, engagement with others is uncomfortable. This is the time to break out of your comfort zone and force yourself into social situations.
Learn to say ‘yes’ more often. If you’ve been invited to a social event, instead of making excuses why you can’t go, rather just shut your eyes, clench your teeth, and go! You will be forced into social situations that call for one-on-one or group engagement. This will not only give you the opportunity to meet new people, but will also help you learn about yourself and how you engage socially. As you begin to recognise social aspects in others, you will also begin to learn how to analyse those same aspects within yourself.
- Start to take a genuine interest in others
While you engage with new people—and people you’ve known for long periods of time—you will begin to notice social characteristics about them. However, it takes a concerted effort to notice subtle aspects of someone’s personality and character. Make this effort, and begin to identify with people on their own level.
It takes all kinds to make the world. Some aspects you are likely to notice include the following:
- Some people will use humour in uncomfortable social situations in order to feel included. Laugh at their jokes and make them feel at ease when they’re around you.
- Others will be shy and be better at listening than voicing their own opinions. Ask these people questions and affirm their views as valid.
- Outspoken people will have no problem with confidence. They will look others in the eye, force themselves into others’ personal space, and interact with them effortlessly. If you’re the opposite kind of person to this, watch and learn to pick up social habits from these kinds of people.
Once you’ve recognised a personality type, it’s easier to socialise with that person on their level. With any luck, they will do the same for you. At this point, it’s helpful to learn more about the person through questions. Find out what their interests are, what motivates them, what lights up their eyes, etc. People will feel connected to you if you ask them about themselves. That’s because most of us love talking about ourselves for the sole reason of wanting to be heard.
- Read and use body language
There’s more to observe than the words people say. Body language is a dead giveaway to how people are really feeling and you can use this to benefit communication with others. Many of us don’t realise that it’s almost impossible to hide our true feelings in a social situation. If you’re uncomfortable, people will pick up on it. If you’re uninterested in the conversation topic, people will know. Body language externalises your true emotions. Your arms, legs, hands and feet all tell a story about how you are feeling. So what are you saying to others, and what are they saying to you?
Once you understand how to read the subtle messages of others, you will begin to know how to react to those people in a way that makes them more comfortable. When people are comfortable around you, they will be more likely to open up and trust you. This is a sure way to connect with people who would otherwise remain strangers.
It’s equally important to be aware of your own body language. You are sending subconscious messages to the people around you, and it’s an essential part of emotional intelligence to recognise what messages you are conveying. If you’ve often felt that people struggle to relate to you, it’s very possible that your body language is to blame. An essential part of emotional intelligence is recognising the way you feel, and dealing with the reason why that feeling has surfaced.
Taking the time to research this enables you to gain a wider understanding of how to read the body language of others and use your own body language to help relationships grow.
- Disagree without being disagreeable
Not everybody you meet will have the same opinion as you. While having views in common is a great way to connect, it’s important to embrace those who see things differently. You can do this without sacrificing your own opinion. It’s called disagreeing without being disagreeable. Some people struggle with this because they feel strongly about certain topics; but those who have mastered this stance are happier people because they aren’t frustrated by the falsely perceived ignorance of others.
Remember that other people have had different upbringings, different relationships, and different experiences from your own. They see things differently to what you do and have their own perceptions. More often than we’d like to admit, we have a tendency to try and force our opinions on others. This is a big mistake in any relationship. Accept the views of others, voice your own in a non-aggressive way, and move on without any hint of discrimination. In fact, people are more likely to explore your views when they don’t feel forced to do so.
- Listen to understand, not to respond
In relationships, disagreements will arise. A major part of emotional intelligence is not avoiding conflict, but handling it correctly. It goes without saying, however, that you will never resolve conflict to the satisfaction of both parties unless you are a good listener. The problem with many people is that they listen in order to respond, rather than to recognise the other person’s point of view. Good leaders are experts at resolving conflict among themselves and others because they know how to listen in a constructive way.
When someone takes the time to confront you about a disagreement, listen closely to what they are saying. Their concerns must make an impression on you or they will not feel heard. Most people won’t take the time to listen to your side of the argument unless they feel that you have heard them out. It takes a lot of patience to see a situation from someone else’s perspective without wanting to push your own perspective to the front of the queue; but this is the secret to conflict resolution. It takes time and practise, but learning this habit is well worth the effort.
- Ask people how they feel
We’ve already discussed how body language and conversation are telltale signs of someone’s emotions. Another great way to figure out how people are feeling is to simply ask them openly. When you ask people how they feel about a situation or a conversation, they immediately feel as if you are taking an interest in them. The question, “How does that make you feel?” is a powerful social tool.
Asking people how they feel in a situation also helps that person recognise their own emotions. This will assist them in recognising the emotion as nothing more than a feeling, and subsequently help them deal with it correctly. This social tactic is excellent at calming down those who are prone to anger. It’s also a great way to help people through sadness, depression and fear. Once you help someone recognise their current emotion, both of you will be fully equipped to handle it properly.
- Test your EQ once a year
As you continue to work on your EQ, make a point of evaluating yourself on an annual basis. If you’re serious about improving your emotional intelligence, you will be encouraged when you see progress. There are lots of online tests you can take which will score various EQ areas. Do these tests once a year and see where you’ve improved.
Testing your own EQ regularly will also highlight areas you still need to work on. Focus on these areas and you’ll soon see your relationships improve—at work and at home. Self evaluation is powerful. It will remind you of why you’re trying to improve, and emphasise how those improvements should be made.
Work and family provide adequate arenas to develop emotional intelligence, but being around strangers is so much more enriching in this regard. Social and emotional intelligence don’t come naturally for everyone. For some of us, it’s a skill we need to work on daily. Hopefully these points will motivate you to begin the journey of improving and maintaining your EQ. Go easy on yourself, and take it one step at a time. Before you know it, many of these points will become habits that come naturally.