In this final post of our emotional intelligence series, good news abounds. We’ve spent the last two posts driving home the importance of emotional intelligence and exploring all the various reasons why the legal industry doesn’t have enough of it, but today we bring a message of hope. To those of you who believe you may be suffering from an EQ deficit, it can be overcome.
You can learn to be emotionally intelligent. And in this post, we’re going to give you some tips to get started.
Challenging the Idea That Your IQ is Fixed
It seems generally accepted that the ”traditional” form of IQ—the one that is measured with IQ tests—evolves continuously through childhood. Some studies suggest that certain types of training can impact/improve IQ during childhood, but regardless, it will become fixed in late adolescence or the early 20’s. IQ will remain largely constant for the majority of adulthood, with some elderly people experiencing IQ decline as the result of cognitive diseases.
When we talk about IQ in this context, what we’re referring to (within the Goleman framework of multiple intelligences) are linguistic and logical/mathematical. The use of IQ tests has aggressively reinforced the idea that these are the “high value” intelligences. After all, “IQ” stands for “intelligence quotient,” which Mensa (the largest and oldest IQ society in the world) defines as “an indication of how well one performs on mental tests, compared to others.”
(Without getting into the weeds, we do recognize that there is controversy surrounding Mensa, both with respect to the types of intelligence it prioritizes as well as perceived cultural biases in how tests are administered.)
Emotional intelligence, on the other hand, is not fixed. It can be helpful to think of EQ less as an inherent quality we are born with, and more as a set of specific skills that we can develop and strengthen over time. That’s not to say that it doesn’t come more naturally to some people than others. But while your IQ might not budge, your EQ can soar.
Before You Can Improve, You Have to Understand
In previous blog posts, we briefly covered the components of EQ. We’re going to dive a bit more deeply into each facet of EQ before exploring specific exercises that can develop them.
Self-awareness is fundamentally about understanding yourself. This means being able to identify, acknowledge, and assess your weaknesses, strengths, motivators, values, and your impact on other people. In other words, tapping into the forces for good intuition. In practice, this would look like self-confidence and being open to constructive criticism.
If you’re a manager, you might know that tight deadlines bring out your less-than-ideal qualities. A manager demonstrating self-awareness would properly plan not only their time, but also the time of their team, to get the work done in advance of deadlines and avoid negative emotional outcomes.
Self-management is the ability to control and redirect disruptive impulses and moods; think of trustworthiness, integrity, and comfort with change. Self-management means not letting your emotions cripple you, but instead marshaling your positive emotions and aligning your emotions with your passions.
For example, if a team botches a presentation, the team leader ought to resist the urge to scream—even if yelling is the leader’s overwhelming first instinct. Instead, the leader should take a deep breath, consider possible reasons for failure, explain the consequences to their team members, and explore solutions together. By controlling an initial instinctive response, the leader can guide their team towards a positive outcome.
Empathy, i.e. awareness of others, means understanding other people’s emotional makeup. It means considering others’ feelings; in the workplace, this is especially true when making decisions. Some trademarks of empathy include expertise in hiring and retaining top talent, an ability to develop other people, and sensitivity to cross-cultural differences.
Say one of your talented employees has an angry outburst at work towards a coworker. Assuming it’s fairly out of character, instead of immediately disciplining that employee, try to find out if there’s an underlying reason, and be prepared to refer that employee to the appropriate resources, as appropriate.
Social skills grant the ability to interact well with other people and build quality relationships. In a sense, social skills are kind of a culmination of the previous three facets of emotional intelligence, and the most challenging piece—so don’t beat yourself up if this doesn’t come easily, despite working on everything else.
Instead of getting bogged down with the weight of building quality relationships up front, focus instead on the little things you can do. Smiles, greetings, and remembering names are all things that create positive interactions with others.
Motivation is the most internally-focused aspect of emotional intelligence, because it has the least obvious impact on other people. It represents our ability to set goals for ourselves. More accurately, when we talk about motivation in the context of EQ, what we really mean is self-motivation, as opposed to extrinsic motivation.
Why does motivation matter? If you’re able to tap into what drives you intrinsically at work, you can become a more positive coworker or leader. And that rubs off on others.
Exercises to Build Emotional Intelligence
Obviously, we can’t provide an immersive training program in a blog post, and we wouldn’t try. A true investment in building EQ is a long-term, big-picture investment. Still, there are a few simple things you can do to get started.
• Engage in honest self-reflection, and make a list. Strengths might be easier to identify than weaknesses, but do your best to be real with yourself. This is easier said than done—but we encourage you to try.
• Practice pausing before reacting. In a triggering situation, take some deep breaths before saying or doing anything. During those breaths, take a step back from the situation and identify your reaction before having it. Is it the reaction you should have? Taking a few moments can de-escalate a situation dramatically.
• The foundation of empathy is paying attention to other people, which is something that we do far less of than we realize. Tune into other people: observe their facial expressions and body language, pay attention to their tone, and listen to their words. You might be surprised at how often you spend more time thinking about what you want to say than actually hearing what the other person is saying.
• Taking empathy one step further: Be genuinely curious about other people! Every person has a unique experience, perspective, and story from which we can learn and grow.
• Social skills can be hard to master, but here’s a basic principle: Navigate the world as a person whom YOU would want to interact with. Smile. Remember names. Hold the elevator door. Don’t be a jerk.
If you can master these basic exercises, you’ve already come a long way towards developing a level of EQ that will serve you well in your career—and in life. Good luck!
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