Emotional intelligence is overrated. Or is it?

As a diehard introvert, I know I could learn a few things about how to react when people talk to me, let them know I am listening, and how to be more attentive.

I've long suspected I have a problem with non-verbal cues, and being stuck at a keyboard all day by myself typing away in silence certainly doesn't help.

That's why I've started paying more attention to my emotional intelligence, something experts say can improve with effort (unlike your IQ, which stays about the same your entire life). It's particularly important for introverts like me because we tend to get so hyper-focused on work projects that we forget to pay attention to the non-verbal cues we are sending off and receiving from others during conversations.

I first noticed my problem at meetings when I realized I was folding my arms way too often. It's cold up here in Minnesota in winter, so maybe I'm trying to give myself a bear hug, but folding your arms sends a hidden messages that you are not that interested in the topic, you are closed off to new ideas, or you're too pious and smart to really pay attention to other people. I've since taken it upon myself to keep my arms unfolded at all times, trying to give the impression that I am more open. (Ironically, I feel more open to ideas, but I haven't always relayed that non-verbal message.) A few friends know I am trying to work on this, so they've nudged me when they see I'm crossing my arms again.

I've always had good eye contact, but I've also realized I need to work on maintaining it even longer. As an introvert, I tend to want to break away from conversations eventually and focus on the real work at hand, like writing or tweaking my task list. I have failed to realize that I can be incredibly productive just by conversing. Growing up, I learned a technique that sends a poor hidden message--by glancing away or thinking of a different topic during conversations, I am dismissing that person. Staying focused is a way to show them I value what they are saying, I'm interested, and I'm paying attention.

Introverts don't like to think about non-verbal cues, but extroverts always seem to (excuse the pun) embrace them. It's just a natural part of their day, reaching out to touch someone on the arm so they know you are listening, nodding enthusiastically (instead of looking down at the ground or at your watch), responding with a hearty laugh to a joke, and standing within just a few feet of co-workers creates a sense of communion.

Think of someone like Michael Strahan. There's a reason he co-hosts a daytime talk show and also happens to be on Fox NFL Sunday. It's no accident. Not many people can claim to do both types of shows, but the guy just has an out-sized personality. Watch how he operates next time he is on the air. He sits forward, listening intently. He keeps his hands and palms out and open, ready to receive what people are saying. He smiles easily. Introverts in business can learn a few of those tricks.

I'm working on these techniques myself, but I can't quite say I have raised my emotional intelligence. I'm not ready to host a TV show with Kelly. Like most introverts, I've always been a good listener, mostly because I prefer to listen to other people tell stories and relay information verbally and rely instead of the written word. And, it's OK to be comfortable in your own skin and not pretend to be Michael Strahan.

Just remember to pick up on those non-verbal cues. Stay attentive to conversations, and go ahead and let people know you are paying attention. It will work wonders.

Published on: Dec 31, 2014
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