You’ve likely encountered someone in the workplace who lacks emotional intelligence. Maybe they’ve told an awkward joke or made an inappropriate response. Perhaps they’ve had a difficult time empathizing with what you’re feeling during a tough time. The fact is, most people have dealt with someone who could stand to improve their emotional intelligence in some capacity. According to a survey from Harvard Business Review, 99 percent of people said they have worked with someone who lacked self-awareness, while almost half said they worked with at least four such people.
But what if you were the one who wasn’t self-aware?
It’s definitely a possibility. Another study from Harvard Business Review found that while about 95 percent of people believe they have self-awareness, the number of people who were actually self-aware was only 10 to 15 percent. In other words, even if you think you have the skills, you likely can stand to become more emotionally intelligent.
That process begins with developing the right habits that can lead to high emotional intelligence. Through these habits, you can enhance your self-awareness and understand the emotions of others, as well as yourself.
A Quick Review of Emotional Intelligence
Emotional intelligence (often referred to as EI or EQ) began as a concept by Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer back in 1990. The basic idea was that emotionally intelligent people possessed certain skills that allowed that person to honestly evaluate others’ emotions. At the same time, someone with emotional intelligence could also regulate their emotions effectively. This wasn’t just some skill reserved for someone who displayed charismatic leadership—this was something everyone could develop.
Psychologist Daniel Goleman would go on to popularize emotional intelligence, highlighting four areas EI encompassed:
- Social skill
The ideas behind emotional intelligence have since gained more acceptance in the business world. Research has shown that people with a high emotional quotient (EQ) are more successful since they can navigate the stresses and complexities of work life better. More people in managerial positions have placed an emphasis on becoming more emotionally intelligent at work, with one survey finding that 40 percent of leaders believe EI to be a must-have ability.
With that in mind, it’s more important than ever to develop the habits that will improve your emotional intelligence. The following are just a sampling of the habits you can begin to practice today.
5 Passive Habits People With a High EQ Practice
1. Take Time for Thoughtful Contemplation
“Silence is a source of Great Strength.”Lao Tzu
Due to a fear of silence, many fill quiet moments with noise as quickly as possible. This can lead to poorly thought-out responses and brash reactions that can make others feel uncomfortable. As tempting as it may be to give a quick response, the solution to this problem is thoughtful contemplation. Think about what you say before you say it. That will display a high level of emotional intelligence.
Some business leaders like Steve Jobs and Elon Musk demonstrate this aspect of emotional intelligence. One particularly good example happened in 1997 shortly after Steve Jobs returned as head of Apple. He was asked a pointed and, some might say, abrasive question. Watch his response:
Notice the silence after the question. Does it feel awkward? Maybe a little. But it shows how seriously Jobs took the question and how much he valued giving the right answer. There’s nothing wrong with contemplation, even if it leads to silence. Doing so will help you give an emotionally intelligent response in every situation.
Don’t always respond right away. Take the time to collect your thoughts before you answer. This will ensure your answer is always thoughtful, comprehensive, and direct. Don’t be afraid of silence, either. Thoughtful contemplation often requires a moment of reflection as you process how best to respond.
2. Establish an Emotional Connection
“When I discover who I am, I’ll be free.”Ralph Ellison
Emotionally intelligent people aren’t always the way they are naturally. It takes a concerted effort and constant practice to develop emotional intelligence, and it all starts with understanding your own emotions. In a sense, this means becoming more aware of your feelings and everything going on inside your head.
If someone has ever said something to you that suddenly made you angry or upset, then you have an idea of what it’s like to be ruled by your emotions. Research has found that 65 percent of workers have experienced anger in the office at some point. According to the American Psychological Association, anger in the workplace can lead to intense disruptions in the office. It can also negatively affect health and work performance.
But anger is just one part of the spectrum of emotions. Whether it’s annoyance, happiness, sadness, or something else, becoming emotionally intelligent requires getting in touch with your feelings. Step back and examine your emotions throughout the day. What caused them to change? Do you control them, or do they control you? Establishing an emotional connection can give you the ability to recognize emotions and bring them under control.
Improving your self-awareness in this way can help increase your emotional intelligence. While it may take some practice at first, eventually it can become a daily habit. Try doing some of the following activities to help you manage your emotions.
- Breathing exercises
- Setting goals
- Drawing or painting
- Visualization exercises
Don’t let your emotions control you. Create an emotional connection by examining what triggers certain emotions. You can then prepare for those moments and create a more emotionally intelligent response.
3. Control Negative Thoughts
“It takes but one positive thought when given a chance to survive and thrive to overpower an entire army of negative thoughts.”Robert H. Schuller
If you’re having trouble with constant negative thoughts, you may need a blue dolphin to control those white bears.
If that last statement sounded bizarre, let’s back up a bit. The “white bear” theory involves suppressing a specific thought. The more you attempt to not think about something, the more often you’ll think about it. The phrase comes from Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky, who wrote, “Try to pose for yourself this task: not to think of a polar bear, and you will see that the cursed thing will come to mind every minute.”
When your white bears consist of negative thoughts, they can feel like they dominate your life. According to a study conducted by professor Raj Raghunathan, 60 to 70 percent of the participants’ thoughts were found to be negative. Other studies show up to 80 percent of our thoughts are negative. As the research has shown, we tend to dwell on these white bears.
To combat this and improve emotional intelligence in the process, you need a blue dolphin. The blue dolphin rule is a practice where you control your negative thoughts not by suppressing them but by replacing them. Essentially, a blue dolphin replaces the white bear. This is your chance to replace a negative thought with a positive one.
For example, when you’re preparing a major report, you may naturally think to yourself, “Don’t screw up.” Instead, replace that negative thought with, “I’m going to nail this because I know exactly what I’m doing.” It may seem like a little thing, but using blue dolphins prevent emotional exhaustion and contribute to more emotional awareness.
Control negative thoughts by replacing them with positive ones. This will help you fight off negative emotions and instead surround yourself with more positivity.
4. Limit Phone Use in Social Situations
“We’re highly social animals—I’m told by scientists that what makes us different from other animals is an acute social awareness, which is what has made us so successful.”Alan Alda
While self-awareness involves being aware of your own emotions, social awareness involves other people. Someone with high emotional intelligence will be able to recognize nonverbal cues from others and determine what they may be feeling at the time. It’s one of many social skills that emotionally intelligent people can use to create a connection with other people.
To practice this, you need to be present in the moment at all times. Zoning out is simply not an option. Unfortunately, being mentally and emotionally present is a hard thing to do in this day and age. The main reason behind this challenge is the fact that we constantly have a smartphone at hand, which can cause distractions.
The problem with cell phones is only getting worse. According to Reviews.org, 47 percent of people say that they’re addicted to their phones. That means even in social situations, we tend to be on our phones looking at social media and checking text messages or emails. That can harm our ability to establish strong relationships and increase our emotional intelligence.
Research from Pew backs this idea up. A recent survey found that 89 percent of people had used their phones the last time they participated in a social activity. However, 82 percent of people said that they believe using cell phones in a social gathering hurts attempts at conversation. Somewhat striking is the finding that 75 percent thought that their own use of their phones didn’t take attention away from the people they were with.
These numbers suggest a couple of things. The first is that people, in general, rely way too much on their phones when they should be focusing their attention on those who they’re with. Second, people seem to be deluding themselves into thinking that they don’t have a problem. The survey indicates that while they recognize having a phone can hurt social interaction, they seem to believe their phone use is an exception.
Whether at a party, conference, or the office, put away your phone and concentrate on those around you. Don’t just listen to what they say—notice how they say it. Focus on their nonverbal tells. This is how you can improve your social awareness and, by extension, your emotional intelligence.
Be mentally and emotionally present in a social setting. Put away your phone so you can devote all your attention to others. In this way, you can understand them better and connect with them on an emotional level.
5. Maintain a Positive Outlook
“There is too much negativity in the world. Do your best to make sure you aren’t contributing to it.”Germany Kent
This habit ties closely with controlling your negative thoughts. Emotionally intelligent people embrace a more optimistic view of the world and their lives. It’s easy to dwell on the negative and think about everything that’s going wrong at the moment. Think of your job right now. What are the first thoughts that come to mind? If it’s a negative outlook, you’ll need to turn things around quickly.
As you accept a more positive outlook, you’ll find that it benefits your mental health. One study found that simply thinking positively can reduce the anxiety you feel. If upcoming responsibilities lead you to worry, start thinking positively to ease the stress.
Another study found that success follows a more positive attitude. While we may think that success leads to happiness, this study discovered that the reverse was true—happiness led to success. In other words, someone with high emotional intelligence was more likely to be successful.
Becoming more positive isn’t always easy, but there are some things you can try to change your outlook. Showing more gratitude, such as in a gratitude journal, will help you appreciate what you have. Additionally, positive self-talk can lift your spirits and give you the motivation to excel. Focusing on solving problems instead of the problems themselves can also help you have confidence in your abilities. As you do this, you’ll improve your emotional intelligence and turn into an ideal team player.
Negative outlooks can weigh you down. Embrace more positive thinking to reduce your anxiety and experience success in your life. Start by showing gratitude and finding solutions to problems.
The Importance of Creating Habits
Developing these habits for your emotional intelligence is not something that happens overnight. It takes sustained daily effort to form them so they become second nature to you. James Clear makes the case for following this strategy in Atomic Habits. He writes, “Success is the product of daily habits—not once-in-a-lifetime transformations.” You can try to make a transformational change in a short amount of time, but that change isn’t likely to stick.
Start by setting yourself a daily goal you can measure each day. Begin tomorrow with something like “replace three negative thoughts with positive ones.” Go over your progress at the end of the day, and note where you may improve. Over the course of weeks and months, you’ll make significant progress and incorporate even more goals into your daily life.
It’s through the little things that you can bring about significant changes in yourself as you grow in emotional intelligence. Keep your goal in mind as you take these first steps. “Every action you take,” Clear writes, “is a vote for the type of person you wish to become.” But it needs to happen now. You can’t put it off until next week. If you hope to develop the habits that will turn you into an emotionally intelligent person, you have to make the commitment to change now. Then you can start down this path.
Read more about Atomic Habits.
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