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5 Ways to Tell You’re More Emotionally Intelligent Than You Think, Backed by Considerable Science



Like most lasting ideas, the importance of emotional intelligence seems obvious in hindsight. Research shows developing greater emotional intelligence can lead to higher performance and pay, as well as better professional and personal relationships.

The better you can understand and manage your emotions — and the emotions of people around you — the greater your chances of success.

Which means most of us feel like we’re at least somewhat emotionally intelligent. (Except for maybe me; I once took an emotional intelligence test and found out I’m kind of a jerk.)

But you might be surprised to learn you’re more emotionally intelligent than you think, especially if any of the following are true.

1. You appreciate (even if you don’t enjoy) negative feedback.

No one likes to be told what they can do better. Research shows most people rarely seek feedback when they think it will be negative.

And if they do receive constructive criticism, they rarely use it to improve their performance. (In fact, within days we tend to totally forget the negative feedback we receive.)

Emotionally intelligent people keep their feelings in check and embrace — or at least put aside — the discomfort to find ways to improve.

Instead of suppressing feedback that threatens your how you currently perceive yourself, you use it to improve how you will someday perceive yourself.

Smarter, more skilled, more talented, more inclusive… more of whatever you someday hope to be.

2. You often praise other people, especially those you’re not “supposed” to.

Do you feel you don’t receive enough recognition and praise? Science says you’re not alone. Two out of three employees surveyed feel they don’t receive enough praise, and nearly three-fourths say they receive some form of positive feedback less than once a week.

Clearly that doesn’t feel great.

Emotionally intelligent people recognize that what they want — or need — is what they can give to people they know. A kind word. A sincere thank you.

Plenty of people you know — employees, vendors, customers, friends, family, etc. — deserve a kind word. A sincere thank you. 

But you also recognize people you don’t know. A store clerk. A delivery person. A customer service rep.  Because praise that is unexpected — like the gift that is given “just because” — is often even more powerful.

3. You ask for advice, not feedback.

Here’s the thing. You may embrace receiving the feedback you need. But that doesn’t mean other people embrace giving you the feedback you need. Research shows when feedback is requested rather than volunteered, it tends to be too vague. Too fluffy. 

Too, “I don’t want to hurt your feelings so I’ll just be nice,” to be of any value. 

But when you ask for advice? Harvard Business School researchers found asking for advice resulted in respondents providing 34 percent more areas of improvement, and 56 percent more ways to improve, compared to those who were to provide feedback. 

In short, emotionally intelligent people realize that asking people for feedback — saying “How did I do?” — puts them on the spot. Asking for advice — saying “What can (or should) I do?” — is flattering. Asking for advice implicitly shows you respect their knowledge, skills, experience, etc.

Then two awesome things happen. One, you get the input you need. Two, the other person feels valued, trusted, and gets to feel good about providing guidance they know will help you.

4. You readily admit your mistakes.

As Daniel Coyle writes in his book The Culture Code, Navy SEAL Dave Cooper feels the most important words a leader can say are, “I screwed that up.”

That might sound strange. Leaders should project unshakable confidence. Admitting weakness risks creating more weakness. 

Nope: emotionally people realize strong cultures can only be built when people feel safe enough to tell each other the truth — and that starts with moments when leaders admit they’re not perfect. The result is a vulnerability loop. One person allows themselves to be vulnerable and admits a mistake or a shortcoming; that allows another person to do the same. In time, that leads to more open exchanges that build trust and drive performance.

And helps people focus on how they can get better, together.

5. You skip the small talk.

You’re at a conference. You just met someone. Whip out the small talk, right?

Nope. A series of studies published in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that more awkward and uncomfortable a conversation with another person sounded, the more they tended to bond with the other person. The more they liked the other person.

Participants felt less awkward, more connected, and a lot happier after those conversation than they expected to feel.

Emotionally intelligent people realize that the deeper the conversation, especially with someone they don’t know, the more likely they both are to enjoy it.

Keep in mind “deep” doesn’t have to be too deep. When researchers asked people to come up with what they considered to be “deeper” questions, the most common were pretty straightforward:

  • “What do you love doing?”
  • “What do you regret most?”
  • “Where do you see yourself in five years?” 

As the researchers write, “Our research suggests that the person next to you would probably be happier talking about their passions and purpose than the weather or “What’s up?”

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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