‘How Can I Build Emotional Intelligence?’ Try These 7 Essential Techniques
Put these techniques to work, and make emotions work for you, instead of against you.
Emotional intelligence is your ability to identify emotions (in both themselves and others), to recognize the powerful effects of those emotions, and to use that information to inform and guide behavior.
Learning how emotions affect you and others is the first step, and it’s an important one. But how do you move on to the next level? In other words, how do you start putting that knowledge into practice?
The thing is, we can’t control our instinctive feelings, and you don’t really want to. For example, if you see something that makes you angry, you should get angry; that anger can protect you or move you to positive action. But you also have to be careful, because your anger can also get you into trouble–if you give into uncontrollable rage.
The key, then, is to control the reactions to your feelings–to make sure you’re not acting in a way you’ll regret later on.
As you can imagine, this skill takes practice. It begins by focusing on your thoughts.
Every action begins with a thought. If you can learn to control your thoughts, you will learn to manage your emotional reactions as well.
To illustrate, I like to compare your ability to manage your thoughts to the control center of a media player. Consider how each of the following techniques can help you focus your thinking and actions:
1. The pause button.
The pause could be as simple as taking a moment to stop and think before you speak or act. It can help you resist feeding internet trolls (which only gets you more upset) and keep you from making inappropriate jokes at work. The pause is especially helpful when we’re in an emotional state, because it helps us to think things through, rather than acting purely on how we feel.
But remember: The pause is easy in theory, difficult to practice.
Added stress or unusual circumstances can surprise us, and override our ability to use the pause. Practice consistently, though, and you’ll turn the pause into a useful habit.
2. Volume control.
Self-awareness is the ability to recognize when emotions are beginning to run high. Volume control is the ability to dial those feelings back, or get them under control.
For example, let’s say you’re in the middle of a disagreement with a friend or family member. As the discussion gets heated, it’s natural for you to raise your voice, and your partner will respond in like.
But if you learn to recognize that your emotions are running high, or your voice is getting louder, you can dial it back, so to speak–and keep the discussion more calm.
3. The tuning dial.
Have you ever spoken to someone who isn’t really paying attention? How did it make you feel?
Yet, we often do the same thing, unintentionally. Maybe we’re scrolling through our phone while they’re trying to tell us something. Or, we’re thinking of what we want to say next, instead of truly listening.
Instead, tune into others as they speak to you, with the goal of understanding and empathy. Doing so will help you build stronger relationships.
In addition to tuning in, you should also practice hitting the mute button on yourself. In other words, resist the urge to interrupt, and let the other person have his or her peace.
5. Record and erase.
If your conversation partner says something that’s new to you, it may take time to process and fully understand the meaning behind their words. Therefore, it’s helpful to mentally record what they’ve said so you can think about it later.
This doesn’t mean you should replay hurtful words over and over, or bring back things that were said in the heat of the moment. In these cases, you can use your erase button.
Erasing hurtful words or actions may not be easy, but it’s essential to learning to forgive, forget, and move on.
While taking a pause can help you and others calm down, serious problems won’t just go away.
It’s important, therefore, to use playback–by returning to the topic at a later time. With a little forethought, you can pick an ideal location and time to speak, providing the best chance for a more calm and reasonable discussion.
7. Fast forward.
In certain situations, we may be tempted to act against our own values. Caught up in the moment, we let emotion get the best of us and do something we know we’ll probably regret.
If you find yourself in this predicament, take a moment to fast forward. Forget about how you right now.
Instead, ask yourself:
How will this decision affect me in a month? A year? Five years?
How will it affect my work, or those who care about me?
As the saying goes: Never make a permanent decision based on a temporary emotion.
If your feelings are starting to take over, press fast forward to help you regain clarity–and resist making a decision that will haunt your future.
Emotions are part of what make us human. You shouldn’t suppress them, or try to “remove” them from the equation. Instead, you should embrace your emotions, learn from them–so that you gain more control over your thoughts and actions, and avoid becoming a slave to your feelings.