Emotional intelligence, also known as EQ, describes a person’s ability to recognize his or her own and other people’s emotions, to understand the powerful effect of these emotions, and to use that information to guide thinking and behavior. Since it helps you to better understand yourself–and others–EQ greatly increases your chances at achieving success.
So what is the first step in building emotional intelligence?
Learn to listen effectively.
Each of us has a perspective that is influenced by a myriad of factors, including how we were raised, where we grew up, and who we choose to associate with. That perspective is primarily formed subconsciously.
But often, we don’t realize that other people view us much differently than we view ourselves, and vice versa. It’s not about right or wrong; it’s simply understanding how perceptions differ, and the consequences those differences create.
But what if we could learn to see ourselves more like others see us? And what if we could communicate in a way that gives our message the best possible chance of being received well?
There is a way. And it all starts with becoming a better listener.
Truly listening results in learning. It means learning more about how others see you, and how they see themselves. You can then use that knowledge to adjust your dealings with others.
How do you do make sure you’re listening effectively? Make sure to do the following.
1. Don’t interrupt.
When we interrupt, not only do we cut short the learning experience, but we risk not learning anything at all.
Think about it: If you’re already thinking of what you’re going to say, while the other person is speaking, you’re surely not listening to (or learning from) them.
But what if you’re dealing with someone who is disgruntled or negative? They may even attack you: I can’t believe you let this happen!
Resist the urge to fight back. Remember: The minute they stop talking is the minute you stop learning. And that limits the information you have to improve the situation.
Have you ever tried to speak to someone who is obviously distracted?
I once had a colleague who had the annoying habit of looking around when I was speaking to him. We talked about it, but he never stopped–until he got married. (Guess she didn’t like it, either.)
Of course, it’s not easy to give someone full attention when you’ve got a meeting in a half hour (and three phone calls to make in the meantime). If you’re distracted, explain this to your partner and ask if you can schedule a time when he or she will have your undivided attention.
When that time comes, make sure to deliver. Above all: Put away your phone.
3. Don’t agree just to make them feel better.
You won’t always agree with the person you’re speaking with. But out of habit, you might say something like “Right, right” or “Yeah, that’s true”. In the other person’s mind, you’ve just validated their points. This type of conversation leads to gross miscommunication.
Instead, use phrases like: “I see what you mean.” Or, “I can understand why you might feel that way.” This confirms that you’re listening, without taking sides.
Once you’ve fully explored their point of view, express any disagreement tactfully.
4. Ask good questions.
When you show genuine interest in others, they’ll respond. Ask them questions about their background, their goals–current and future. If they’re frustrated, don’t jump to conclusions. Ask for details.
Of course, the other person shouldn’t feel interrogated. Let them know, your goal is simply to learn.
Good questions will teach you much about yourself as well. If you’re the boss, employees may find it difficult to be candid. Which only increases the need for your to receive genuine feedback.
Work on creating an environment where others feel comfortable giving you constructive criticism–at the right place and time.
5. Resist the urge to provide a solution.
As a husband, it’s taken me years to learn this one. (And I’m still working on it.)
Immediately offering a solution often sends the wrong message, such as: “This problem is easy to solve; just do this.” The other person will likely feel that you’ve oversimplified things, and you probably have. Remember point two: You need to ask questions to make sure you fully understand the situation. This takes time.
Remember, emotional intelligence begins with understanding emotions–your own as well as others’. By getting in the habit of mindful listening, you develop the ability to see those emotions from different vantage points.
As a wise friend once told me: No one ever learned anything while speaking.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.