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I Wrote A Book About Emotional Intelligence. It Taught Me an Important Lesson.

We're all far more alike than we are different. The differences simply give us a chance to learn.

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Photo by Charles

Emotional intelligence, the ability to identify, understand, and manage emotions, can take many different forms. It’s the ability to actually take negative feedback and grow from it, rather than allow it to ruin your day (or month). Or it could be the ability to “disagree and commit,” to go all in with someone you love and trust, even when they’re leading you down a path you never would have chosen yourself.

But I also encourage you to look for the various ways emotional intelligence manifests itself in your day-to-day life.

Maybe it’s through your favorite barista, whose smile and conversation skills always put you in a good mood. Or, maybe it’s in the friend, family member, or colleague who is always ready to lend an empathetic ear. 

You might see it in the actions of a small child, like I did the other day. Noticing I wasn’t myself, my little boy sat down next to me, gently placed his arm around my shoulder, and looked me straight in the eye before saying, “I love you, Dad.”

Four simple words, but powerful enough to change my mood in an instant. 

As you continue the emotional journey, you’ll realize that in many ways our feelings are a contradiction. All of us have experienced both love and hate, joy and sadness, courage and fear. This common ground should bond us as humans; however, those same emotions often create conflict, separating us in the end.

But if there’s one thing I’ve learned through the years, it’s this: We are all far more alike than we are different. The differences simply give us a chance to learn. 

Consider my friend Jill, who’s known for her tendency to say the first thing that comes to her mind–which sometimes leads to a bad first impression or an apparent faux pas. Often, Jill doesn’t recognize the impact her words have on others, and that lack of social awareness certainly hurts her at times. 

But Jill’s impulsive communication style is also a strength. If there’s something difficult to be said, Jill has no problem saying it–like telling a person to go find a breath mint if they need it. She also isn’t afraid to wear her heart on her sleeve, which produces a curious result: Others are drawn to her. Many appreciate Jill’s authenticity because it’s usually expressed with good intention. They feel comfortable with her, knowing they can let their guard down as she does with them. 

Over time, I realized that these traits give Jill an incredible ability to reach people in a way few others do, a power to motivate and influence. Almost everyone who gets to know Jill adores her and is happy to follow her lead. 

As someone who naturally struggles with confrontation, I’ve learned a lot from Jill. She’s taught me the value of speaking up for the greater good, even if doing so initially makes others uncomfortable. And while I continue to extol the benefits of thoughtful communication, Jill has taught me not to overthink my words and actions. 

This is the lesson you must strive to keep in mind: Emotional intelligence comes in all different packages, shapes, and sizes. Man or woman. Quiet or loud. Brash or meek. Leader or follower. 

As you become aware of your own emotional tendencies and weaknesses, endeavor to learn from those who are the most different from you. 

Because in many cases, it’s those people who can teach you the most. 

This article is an adapted excerpt from EQ Applied: The Real-World Guide to Emotional Intelligence.

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.

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