The decisions you make today will be heavily influenced by your emotions. Sure, hard data and rational thinking may help you reason and draw conclusions, but it’s how you feel about those conclusions that will determine whether or not you actually take action…along with when you act, and how much effort you put in.
That’s just one reason why emotional intelligence, the ability to identify, understand, and manage emotions is so important. Put simply, emotional intelligence is the ability to make emotions work for you, instead of against you.
If you’d like to build or sharpen your EQ (emotional quotient), where should you begin?
It all begins with self-awareness.
Self-awareness is the ability to identify and understand your own emotions and how they affect you. This means recognizing how emotions impact your thoughts and actions (and vice versa) and how your feelings can help or hinder you from achieving your goals. Self-awareness includes the ability to recognize your emotional tendencies, strengths, and weaknesses.
But that leads us to the next question…
How do you build self-awareness?
All of us are influenced by unconscious bias and limited by our perspective. We often go through life reacting, never taking the time to think about how or why we respond the way we do. This method of operation limits the control we have over our actions and tendencies.
But there’s a better way. In my new book, EQ Applied: The Real-World Guide to Emotional Intelligence, I outline exactly how to build greater awareness of self–an understanding of the “why” behind our feelings and behavior, as well as how we are perceived by others.
One of the best ways to do this is by asking the right questions–to both yourself and others.
By asking the right questions, you broaden your perspective and can begin to see yourself through the eyes of others. As a byproduct, you’ll gain insight into their thinking and feeling processes.
What questions should you be asking? Here are a few to get you started:
- How would I (or you) describe my communication style? Am I direct? Brash? Clear? Ambiguous? Subtle? Tactful? How would others describe my communication style?
- What effect does my communication have on others?
- How would I (or you) describe the way I make decisions? Do I tend to make decisions slowly or quickly? What factors influence me?
- How does my current mood affect my thoughts and decision-making?
- How would I (or you) rate my self-esteem and self-confidence? How do these qualities affect the decisions I make?
- What are my emotional strengths?
- What are my emotional weaknesses?
- In what situations do I find that emotions work against me, or cause me to do or say something I later regret?
- Am I open to other perspectives?
- Am I too easily swayed by the opinions of others?
- Should I be more or less skeptical? Why?
- Do I tend to focus on the positive or negative traits of others? Why?
- What traits in others bother me? Why?
- Do I generally give others the benefit of the doubt? Why or why not?
- Do I find it difficult to admit when I’m wrong? Why or why not?
Don’t view this list as comprehensive, and don’t try to answer all these questions in one day. Instead, block out some time to answer a few questions; then, ask someone you trust for their perspective. Try it again with a different question or two a week later.
The goal is to cultivate a growth mindset. Asking these questions will inspire you to ask more questions, leading to greater learnings about yourself.
Once you better understand your emotions and how they impact your thoughts and actions (and vice versa), you can use that insight to inform strategies that will help you keep your feelings under control. For example, you can train yourself to hold back in an emotionally charged moment, so that you don’t say or do something you later regret.
Accomplish that, and you’ll go from being “emotional” to “emotionally intelligent.”
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.