It’s been almost 30 years since psychologist Daniel Goleman introduced most of the world to the concept of emotional intelligence. The belief that a person can learn to identify, understand, and manage emotions has proved to be a powerful one–impacting the way we think about intelligence and influence.
For the past several years, I’ve helped countless individuals and organizations develop their own emotional intelligence. (I even wrote a book on the topic.) Time and again people ask me:
“What are some simple things I can do to build my own EQ?”
Here’s what I tell them.
1. Embrace “the rule of awkward silence.”
When someone asks you a deep or challenging question, don’t answer right away. Instead, follow “the rule of awkward silence.” Pause and consider carefully before responding. Don’t be afraid to go five, 10, or even 15 seconds before offering a reply.
In doing so, you get your emotions under control and relieve pressure. Because you’re calm and able to take your time, you can think things through and produce better-quality answers.
2. Use “the three-second trick.”
“There are three things you must always ask yourself before you say anything,” comedian Craig Ferguson once said in an interview.
- Does this need to be said?
- Does this need to be said by me?
- Does this need to be said by me now?
It takes only seconds to go through this mental dialogue, but it can prevent years of regret.
3. Try to control your thoughts.
You may not be able to prevent a certain emotion or feeling from rushing in, but you can control your reaction to that feeling–by striving to control your thoughts.
For example, consider the current climate. The coronavirus pandemic can be cause for plenty of negative emotions. But dwelling on those negative feelings, or wishing things were different, isn’t very productive. In contrast, if you can refocus your thinking on what you have control over, you can make the best of a difficult situation.
4. Listen to feedback.
Nobody wants to be criticized. But it’s important to realize that almost all feedback is valuable. That’s because, right or wrong, it gives you insight into how you’re perceived by others.
Of course, if someone gives you negative feedback, it’s tough to take. That’s why you shouldn’t respond right away. Instead, give it some time, until you get your emotions under control. Then, ask yourself how the person’s feedback can make you better. Or how it can help you better understand others.
5. Make your feedback constructive.
Delivering feedback, on the other hand, is a different story. Focus on commendation and sincere praise, as this will motivate people to keep doing the things they are doing right.
And if they do something wrong, don’t focus on the negative. Rather, frame your feedback as constructive, by, for example, sharing how you used to make a similar mistake until someone pointed it out to you. That way, the other person will see you as a partner who is trying to help, not an opponent trying to harm.
6. Disagree and commit.
There will be times when you and your team, your partner, or someone else important to you disagree on how to handle a situation. You’ve thoroughly discussed the pros and cons, and no one wants to budge. What now?
Disagree and commit.
When you disagree and commit, you recognize that the only way to move forward is for someone to give in, so you make yourself that someone. But rather than now try to sabotage the decision, you make a sincere, 100 percent commitment to making it work.
By going all in, you communicate trust–and encourage your partners to do the same for you in the future.
7. Show empathy.
I know–easier said than done. But to get better at showing empathy, resist the urge to judge others’ situation, and focus on their feelings.
It starts with listening, and not interrupting with a proposed solution or dismissing the other person. In other words, don’t say: “Well, that’s not such a big deal. I’ve dealt with that before–just do this.” Instead, ask yourself: “When’s the last time I felt like that? How would I want others to treat me?”
Empathy doesn’t equal agreement. Rather, it’s about striving to understand and relate to the other person–and that leads to stronger relationships.
8. Ask for help.
If you’re facing a difficult situation, pride may dictate that you try to solve things on your own. But pride can be destructive.
When you reach out to others for help, you show that you value them and their abilities. In effect, you say: “I can’t do this without you.” Or, at the very least, “I’d rather do this with you.”
By giving them an opportunity to help, you make them feel good. And by giving them a chance to participate, you turn them into a partner who is invested in your success.
9. Help others.
By the same token, one of the best ways to positively impact others is by offering to help them. Don’t wait for them to ask. If you see a need, offer to assist.
Or even better, just jump in and take action.
By showing a willingness to get down and dirty with others, you build trust and inspire.
Have you said or done something that you wish you could take back? It’s not easy to say sorry, but doing so demonstrates humility and draws others to you.
Remember also that apologizing doesn’t always mean that you’re wrong. It simply means valuing your relationship more than your ego.
What if it’s the other person who did something to harm you?
Whether they meant it or not, it’s not doing you any favors to continue to dwell on it. In fact, if you allow resentment to make you bitter, it’s much like leaving a knife inside a wound–never allowing it to heal.
In contrast, scientific research indicates that practicing forgiveness improves your physical, mental, and emotional health.
12. Be yourself.
It can be tempting to say things we believe others want to hear, even when we don’t 100 percent believe them ourselves.
But taking this route erodes trust. People will eventually begin to see through you. And trust is a lot harder to get back once it’s gone.
So don’t be afraid to be yourself. Say what you mean, and mean what you say.
Not everyone will appreciate that. But the ones who matter will.
Enjoy this post? Check out my book, EQ Applied, which uses fascinating research and compelling stories to illustrate what emotional intelligence looks like in everyday life.
A version of this article originally appeared on Inc.com.