Developing Emotional Intelligence

4 keys to connecting, professionally and personally.

Professional and personal success usually requires both cognitive and emotional intelligence. The latter is the ability to say and do things that get others to like you or do you what you’d like.

Too often, emotional intelligence is seen as an ineffability that’s suffused through lucky people’s DNA. Or emotional intelligence is the subject of a long course.

Here, I attempt to distill emotional intelligence’s essence into a blog-length post.

There are four keys to being emotionally intelligent:
Make people feel good about themselves. Nearly everyone wants to feel good about themselves and, conversely, to avoid feeling embarrassed. Yes, occasionally other factors outweigh, for example, when you feel it’s wise to offer important advice. But usually, you’ll want to say and do things that make people feel good about themselves. So look for opportunities to solicit their ideas, for example, “How do you think we should handle this?” and where true, say things like, “Good point” or nod in agreement.

When you need to tweak someone’s assertion, an emotionally unintelligent response would be, “It would be better if (insert your enhancement.)  A more emotionally intelligent response “Good idea. Do you think it would be enhanced further if we X?”  Why is that more emotionally intelligent? First praising the person’s idea, presenting the enhancement as a question for approval, and using “we” helps ensure that you’ve made the person feel good about him or herself while getting your point across in a way that’s more likely to obtain assent.

Learning and then satisfying their prime motivator(s.)  All of us are especially motivated by one or more prime motivators. Common ones include: money, family, health, career, praise, or a political stance. With each person with whom you’ll have substantial involvement, try to discern their prime motivator or two. How? Listen for what they talk about or do when they have a choice in the matter. Still unsure? Ask questions such as, “What are you thinking about these days” or “What are you looking forward to?”

Once you’ve identified a person’s prime motivator(s), look for opportunities to satisfy those. For example, if you sense that your boss cares deeply about moving up the ladder, ask questions such as, “You have a full plate dealing with administrivia. How can I make your life easier so you have more time to work on your boss’s priorities?” Or, if the person is family-centric, ask a question(s) such as, “You told me that you and your wife differ in how strict to be with your kids. Any progress?”

Balance speaking with listening. In a two-person conversation, a rule of thumb is to speak 25 to 75 percent of the time. If you speak less than 25% of the time, it can make the other person feel pressured to fill the conversation, which can make them feel less-than. Conversely, if you speak more than 75% of the time, it risks making the person feel unimportant. 

While you’re listening, it’s okay and almost impossible not to think about how you might respond, but also try to really listen to what’s said and any feeling behind it. For example, if a person sighs, raises their voice, or furrows their brow, it may mean nothing or something. You might ask, for example, “I’d think that’s stressful. True?”

Ask a moderate number of questions. In the preceding examples, the points were usually made as questions rather than as statements. That leaves wiggle room if you’re wrong, ensures that the interaction is two-way rather than a lecture, and empowers the other person. Emotionally intelligent people use tactful questioning, but in only moderate amounts, so it doesn’t seem like interrogation.

If you follow just those four keys, your emotional intelligence will exceed that of most people, which should benefit you professionally and personally