A Practical Approach to Emotional Intelligence

We hear a lot about Emotional intelligence (EI) at work. Here are some quick statistics from an OfficeTeam survey:

  • 95% of HR managers and 99% of workers believe it’s important to have a strong EI
  • The top two benefits of high EIs are increased motivation and morale (43%) and improved leadership (21%)
  • 92% of workers believe they have strong EI and 74% of them say their bosses do

You can find plenty of opportunities to “raise” your EI. You know me: I like simple and usable. Since one of the toughest times for us can be when a disagreement is brewing, let’s go there.

The Preamble to an Argument

I was walking my mother across the street to her memory care apartment after she had her hair done.

“Where are we going?” she asked.

“We’re going back to your place in this building,” I said, pointing.

She frowned. “I don’t live there.”

My logical brain kicked in. I wanted to say, “Of course you live here. You’ve lived here for over a year!”

If I said that, there’d be an argument. She didn’t remember living there. She’d probably get belligerent and not want to cross the street.

Taking an EI Moment for Others

Maybe you’re like me. When trouble is brewing, you want to stick with the facts, which you believe support your position. But when someone else is feeling fear, or anger, or sadness, or hurt, facts don’t connect with them. No matter how loud or long we utter these.

In that moment with my mother, I needed to dig deeper—rather than just be right. I took a deep breath and asked what my mother might be feeling. A good guess seemed to be fear of not recognizing this place, and maybe some anger at me for putting her in this uncomfortable situation.

I looked at her, smiled and said, “Mom: you know me. I’m not going to dump you in some place that you don’t know and doesn’t feel safe. So let’s just check it out and see if it feels familiar.”

Fortunately, it did. (I’m not sure what I would have done if it didn’t!)

Here’s what I know. Most of us wander around feeling unseen and unheard. When someone pays attention to us—and is able to name what we’re going through without a prompt from us—we feel acknowledged and cared about. So we’re more likely to put down our dukes and be willing to talk.

Taking an EI Moment for Ourselves

When it comes to emotions, one of the best lines comes from Dr. Dan Siegel, a professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine: “Name it to tame it.”

I was sad that my mother didn’t recognize where she lived. I was afraid she’d call me a terrible daughter for dragging her somewhere she didn’t want to go. I was angry that she was having an Alzheimer’s brain moment and wasn’t the mother I used to have and wanted back.

We need to acknowledge our own feelings. Then we can stop wasting energy by denying that’s what’s going on with us. This means we can better focus on what can happen next. Like getting my mother across the street and back home.

Buck the Mindless Trend

When we’re under stress—such as right before a disagreement—we generally default to one of these stances:

  • Tell people what to do and not care whether they want to
  • Drown them in information to prove our point
  • Get impatient that they can’t see our way is best and are wasting our time
  • Avoid any hint of conflict to keep the peace, and then mutter about them later

Know what you do, usually without thinking. Then ask:

  1. What’s the other person likely feeling?
  2. What am I feeling?
  3. What can I say that names their feeling without judgment?

There may be times when we get their feelings wrong, and hear, “That’s not how I feel!” Then we can apologize and ask what’s really happening with them. And listen.

The important thing is to show we really care. And when people feel this, they’re more likely to see our goodwill and less likely to want to pick a fight.