There's a saying in the military: "Check 6."
It means, basically: Remember to look behind you. It comes originally from the idea of a pilot checking the six o'clock position, directly behind a plane or bomber.
But you don't need to be a veteran to adopt it. In fact, for people with high emotional intelligence, this phrase means something more.
It means getting in the habit of using six key communications tricks to ensure that you don't let emotions interfere unnecessarily with what you hope to achieve.
Let's break it down.
1. Check your language.
This is the first and easiest to habit to adopt. In short, if you find yourself using phrases like this to begin any key point you want to make, stop immediately:
- "It's not hard..." (Suggesting that anyone facing a complicated problem should just adopt your controversial solution.)
- "Can't you just..." (Suggesting that the problem confronting the other person is no big deal at all, if he or she would only do what you want them to do.)
- "Look, I get it..." (After which people generally summarize a small portion of another person's position, mostly the parts that would be easiest to undermine.)
Each of these phrases is designed to do one of two things: Either to make it seem that yours is the only reasonable position, or else to boost your self-worth while putting the other person down.
If someone says them to you before suggesting a course of action, do you feel that you've been heard, or that you're being dismissed? That's why emotionally intelligent people check to ensure they aren't using them.
2. Check your direction.
This one is easier to identify in retrospect than in the moment, so it might require practice. In short, check to see whether you're falling into traps like these:
- Using phrases like, "oh, that' reminds me" to launch into unrelated points or stories under the guise of conversation. For example:
"I've been thinking of shutting down my startup and trying something else."
"That reminds me: Did you hear about Company X that closed down?"
- Catching yourself in a "oneupmanship contest," where instead of responding to another person's statement or points, you instead find yourself sharing anecdotes that are similar, but larger.
"We lost power for a week."
"Really? We lost power for a month!"
- Making yourself the center of attention, when your goal should be to learn about the other person's wants and needs.
Philosophically, this is about considering where you want the conversation to lead, and whether your conversational structure is likely to get you there.
Emotionally, people understand that it's the difference between using language that constructs a parallel conversation, in which each side simply expresses opinions, or a convergent one, in which each person listens, thinks, and tries to find a way to come together.
3. Check your goal.
Here's an easy trap that people fall into all the time: Getting caught up emotionally with a strategic goal to the point that you lose sight of your overall objective.
- A company tries hard to sell a particular product to a particular type of customer but can't seem to break through. Discouragement arises. But is the ultimate goal to sell this product? Or is it maybe better to pivot and find another opportunity that works better?
- A parent wants to spend a great day with his or her children, so they organize a great day together, only to find that the kids aren't interested in the activity. Do they allow the disappointment to stop them from finding another way to spend time together?
- A student wants to get a great education and embark on a rewarding career. But they don't get accepted at their first-choice university. Of course it's disappointing, but in the long run, do they allow that rejection to prevent them from finding other rewarding paths?
Actually, there's another generic example I love, which is basically when you want to convince someone of something, and you succeed, but for whatever reason the resolution feels hollow.
Do you get caught up in the emotions, or do you accept that you've accomplished what you set out to do?
4. Check the escape route.
Not your escape route. The other person's escape route.
In short, emotionally intelligent people recognize that you should find ways for other people to save face when you're trying to convince them of something.
- Allow them to agree with you, even if it's hard: "I have to admit, that's not a completely terrible idea."
- Or else, even if it evidences frustration: "If you'd just let me speak, that's what I was going to suggest!"
- Or otherwise, simply to save face. "I hope that you understand that it took a lot of courage and hard work for us to try this other course of action first, even if it didn't work out in the end."
The point is to allow the other person to back down or come around to your way of thinking while also giving them an emotional escape route so that they can agree without feeling defeated.
5. Check your impressions.
Remember that old quote: "You never get a second chance to make a first impression."
That's true, but it's also true that when you're communicating an important point, you're also communicating secondary impressions. So many things affect the likelihood (or not) that emotions will interfere with what you're trying to accomplish:
There's your tone of voice. There's the timing of the conversation. There's the question of where and when you choose to have it (or sometimes, when you're forced to have it).
I've written here before about one of the best examples I've seen personally: when my accountant (who has been one of my best friends since long before he became a CPA) sent me a Bible in the mail and then asked me to swear on it that I wouldn't wait until the last minute to file my taxes in the future.
But things don't have to be that dramatic. Emotionally intelligent people know to check the environment and the impressions they're making, whether they mean to or not.
6. Check yourself.
This is the final point, and I'll try to demonstrate it myself in this article. In short, check that you're not saying more than needs to be said.
- Embrace the power of silence in conversation. (Other people will often rush to fill it.)
- Embrace the obligation to listen fully. (Otherwise, how can you truly claim to try to understand anyone?)
- And embrace the ability to "take yes for an answer." (When you win an argument, stop arguing.)
On that note, let's just point out that of all the leadership growth tools that business leaders say they want to work on, emotional intelligence is at the top of the list.
That's why I've compiled a long list of simple tricks you can use to improve emotional intelligence in my free e-book, 9 Smart Habits of People With Very High Emotional Intelligence.
And it's why simple changes like the Check 6 Rule can make a big difference in how you lead -- and whether other people are likely to follow.