Society’s love affair with assessments and quotients may make it seem like intelligence is generally static. In this myopic perspective, you’re either above average, mediocre, or below average… for better or for worse.
Contrary to popular belief, though, intelligence isn’t fixed. Albert Bandura, who created the first IQ test, once wrote that with enough “practice, training, and above all, method,” anyone could substantially improve their intelligence. It’s the same with emotional intelligence (EI).
In business settings, mastering soft skills and having excellent EI can make all the difference. The higher your EI, the more effectively you’ll be able to influence, inspire, and lead others. The key is to maintain sustained effort and have a good strategy for how you plan to work on your EI.
This, however, is where so many people fall short. Without a good strategy for how you plan to improve your EI, you’ll be taking blind stabs in the dark; you won’t get very far. For that reason, here are three strategic steps to improving your EI.
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Improving your EI may seem like a deceptively simple, even unnecessary, endeavour. The corporate world, especially, has long aggrandised the idea that the best leaders are those who are cold and emotionless.
To successfully improve and apply good EI, then, you need to understand why it’s so hard. Changing how you process and regulate your emotions is difficult enough; most of us have ingrained habits when it comes to how we think and express ourselves. On top of that, changing how you interact with others and tap into emotions to bring about the best in them is a whole new ball game.
Additionally, each one of us has our blind spots. We may, for example, think we’re good listeners, but others might beg to differ. Improving your EI takes time, willpower, and a constant openness to feedback. If you succeed, though, the impact it can have on your career and life is enormous. Hence, first and foremost, you need to be fully committed to and engaged in the cause. It isn’t enough to do it for the sake of doing it.
Goleman’s research may have shown how critical EI is for workplace success in general, but you need to understand why it’s important to you in your particular context at work. Knowing exactly how you and others around you will benefit from higher EI is essential in this regard.
Instead of telling yourself “I’ll work on managing my emotions”, it’s much more helpful to be focused on developing particular EI competencies. According to Goleman, there are 12 dimensions of EI, divided across four domains:
Different people fare differently on each dimension. Given the particular constraints and demands of your situation at work, deciding which competency to focus your efforts on can be the decisive factor in whether or not you improve your EI. If, for example, your priority is figuring out how to deal with stress and job burnout in high-pressure environments, you may want to focus on changing your outlook.
Self-awareness is the bedrock of EI. If you can’t be honest with yourself about which EI competencies you lack the most, you won’t make much progress. At the same time, being introspective isn’t all there is to improving your EI. While it’s necessary to engage in honest self-reflection to pinpoint your areas for improvement, it’s not enough.
According to organisational psychologist Tasha Eurich, there are two types of self-awareness:
Introspection only helps in improving the first type. To understand how others see you, though, you need to be open to constant feedback. How would you know what others think of you if you’re unwilling to listen to or accept what they have to say?
For example, you might think of yourself as a very helpful, supportive boss. Your subordinates, however, might not think so. They may feel that your efforts to provide constant guidance and direction constitute micromanagement. They may even think that it undermines trust and ownership.
Negative feedback is hard to hear, but it’s also necessary for growth. Ultimately, if you don’t ask and don’t want to listen, you won’t know, and so you won’t grow.