Yes, you can teach yourself this stuff.
At this point, most of us recognize that emotional intelligence — defined by Psychology Today as “the ability to identify and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others” – is a lot more than just a buzz word.
Modern digital knowledge work increasingly relies on close communication and collaboration within a team (this is why Slack is worth $9 billion). That makes emotional intelligence, or EQ, a vital skill in the modern workplace.
Unfortunately, most of us assume that EQ is something innate. You’re either born with it, or you’re not, and that’s that – which leaves many people in the dust.
If you believe that to0, I have one piece of advice for you:
I don’t care what anyone tells you, emotional intelligence can be learned. With intentional, diligent practice, you can train yourself and make meaningful gains in your EQ.
Here’s how, in three simple steps.
Step 1: Meditate
Mindfulness meditation has probably passed the full height of its trendiness, but it’s still an incredibly powerful practice. In addition to wonderful things like reducing your stress and having a mood-boosting effect as powerful as starting an anti-depressant, mindfulness meditation can be the first step towards making huge strides in emotional intelligence.
Mindfulness meditation trains your brain to identify what’s going on in the moment, helping you become cognizant of elements of your experience that you’d otherwise ignore. And guess what — if you struggle with emotional intelligence, chances are you’re unconsciously ignoring your emotions.
Starting up a practice of meditation helps you learn to notice your emotions, which is the first step towards improvement. If you’re not sure where to start, try using a guided meditation program like Headspace. Their 10-day free trial is a great intro to mindfulness meditation.
Step 2: Name That Feeling
After you’ve been meditating for a little while, it’s time to start using your growing mindfulness abilities to take stock of your emotions throughout the day.
Try setting a few automated reminders for yourself throughout the day to stop and take stock of your emotions. When one goes off (or whenever you think to do this), stop for a moment and check in with what feelings you’re experiencing. Try to name all of the emotions you feel, and go beyond just “happy, sad, good, bad.” Do you feel anger? Melancholy? Remorse? Guilt? Optimism? Joy?
Here’s the important part — your job is only to name, and never to judge. Emotions are not “good” or “bad” in a moral sense, they just are. We experience them. That’s that.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with feeling anger, and getting down on yourself for feeling angry, or melancholy, or guilty, or any other emotion only makes things worse. Instead, focus solely on non-judgmentally identifying your emotions. You don’t have to change them, you don’t have to place a valuation on them. You just have to name them.
Keep this up for a while. While it may be hard to name your emotions at first, as you practice more and more, you will get better. With enough practice, you’ll start to get a more intuitive feel for understanding your emotional experience. That’s good: that is actually your emotional intelligence expanding.
3: Identify the Causes, See the Outcomes
Ok, so now you’ve gotten pretty good at naming and understanding your emotions. Excellent.
Let’s take it a step further.
Now, when you name your emotions, ask yourself what’s causing them. Is it a situation you’re going through? A comment someone made about you? Is it just the way someone phrased something when they spoke with you?
In addition to looking for the causes, try to see how certain emotions affect the way you act.
When you feel anger, does the tone of your communication change, even if you’re not angry at the person you’re communicating with? When you feel sadness, are you less likely to think ahead on projects and reach out to team members?
Again: the key here is to be non-judgmental. No matter what your emotional habits may be, you are not a bad person for having them. You just have them. That is all.
The point is to understand them. Only by understanding can you improve.
So there you go: you can improve your EQ. I don’t care how emotionally inept you may feel, if you follow these steps, you can learn to better manage your emotions and meaningfully improve your emotional intelligence.
And I promise you, that’s one of the most powerful things you can do to make yourself a more effective person. It doesn’t matter how organized your inbox is — if you don’t have a functional EQ, you are not reaching your potential.
So what are you waiting for? You know the way, and the first step only takes 10 minutes.
Oh, and also: