Can I tell you a quick secret?
I'm not a superstar of emotional intelligence (EQ) and body language. I'm a writer, a confirmed introvert, and have an analytical nature, but my number one gifts are not related to picking up non-verbal clues in every conversation. That said, I'm highly aware of what works and how people who do have these gifts always seem to do intuitively. Fortunately, if you're like me and you don't have an incredibly high EQ, you can still learn one tip that comes up over and over again, the true differentiator that makes you a superstar.
In my experience, it's an incredible gift that involves highly attuned physical attention and presence that adjusts on-he-fly. It's like one of those sticks you use for finding water. It recalibratea as the person talks; someone with really high EQ leans in during intense conversation. They put their elbows on their knees. They reach out and brush the arm of the other person. They smile in a warm and open way. As the conversation evolves, the EQ superstar adjusts in lock-step to the flow. It's amazing to watch.
I've been doing that for 29 years, by the way. My wife is an expert conversationalist, a gifted counselor, and a wise friend. She has a way of constantly responding, adjusting, staying attuned, and being attentive during a conversation. When people talk to her--at a coffee-shop, during a dinner, or even in the line at Walmart--they always walk away happy. Why?
For her, it's a gift. You could say, after 29 years of marriage, that I've had a chance to analyze it in depth and even understand and model it. I'll even say that I've learned more about empathy from her than anyone else. (I'd say she has also learned a few tips from me on analyzing things and making decisions about life, but that's another topic entirely.)
Let's say you're having a conversation at Starbucks with a friend. The person speaking gets a little emotional about the topic. He or she is going through a divorce or has a personal challenge at work. You put your hand on your chin and lean forward a little more. In a different conversation, the person speaking to you tells a funny story. You lean back and cross your legs as a casual posture. A friend of mine has a great full-throated laugh--he leans his head all the way back and chuckles at a high pitch. When he does that, it makes me want to tell more jokes--he has a very high emotional intelligence.
It's all about the response. Lean-in, laugh, adjust your posture, smile at exactly the right moment. As an introvert, I'm learning to lean forward a lot more, to show empathy to people as they talk and stay more attuned to what they really mean. I've had to unlearn a lot of emotional un-intelligence--dismissing people by looking away as they talk or glancing down, showing a posture like crossing my arms to show I'm not that interested. In some of my mentoring at a college lately, I've powered down my laptop and phone during conversations to avoid getting distracted by the dings and chimes they make.
What about you?
If you are not quite a superstar of EQ and body language, join the club. It seems to be an elite group of people who are born to show empathy and concern, a way they were raised (or, in some cases--a response to how they were raised without empathy). A head tilts in a certain direction, they show expression on their face as the conversation changes.
It's a mystery that is not easy to model but still possible to model.
Even for mere mortals.