Emotional intelligence definitions differ. To keep it simple, leading scholars say it's having the ability to "recognize, understand, and manage our own emotions and recognize, understand, and influence the emotions of others."
A tall order for many. Still, when you master being aware of your emotions and the emotions of others, you can connect and empathize with peers and co-workers much more cohesively to reach solutions faster.
Like many things in life, increasing your emotional intelligence and becoming a more effective human being takes practice. You can start with these eight action items on the road to success.
1. Kill the negative self-talk.
Are you a negative person? If you're at the point where you're seriously looking to shift to the positive, step one is to alter your perception of your current situation by killing the negative self-talk.
We all have that voice of criticism in our heads that spins negative things that may not be true. To deal with the inner critic, challenge negative thinking with a simple exercise suggested by renowned psychiatrist Daniel Amen: "Whenever you feel sad, mad, nervous or out of control, write down what you're thinking. Then question your thoughts. Is it true? Just those three words can cause a revolution in your life."
Getting our thoughts right and short-circuiting a negative spiral by questioning our thoughts can have a transformative effect on our outlook, relationships, and work performance.
2. Stop judging others.
Since judgmental people criticize anything and everything as if it were a hobby, they shouldn't expect anyone to come to them for advice or problem-solving (others know it's a total waste of time to do so).
What a judgmental attitude will do is alienate colleagues at work. If this is you, your best plan of action is to stop jumping to conclusions before hearing all the facts and start listening intently to improve your communication skills.
Make this a priority, and watch your peers slowly gravitate toward you as you make it safe for them to do so. Remember this: When we judge, we invite judgment upon ourselves.
3. Live by your values.
Values motivate us and keep us in check for doing the right thing. To live by your values, an exercise of clarifying what they are is your first step. Make a list of what is non-negotiable in how you operate in business, work, relationships, marriage, parenting, etc. Are these values being fulfilled in your life right now? Once you get that straightened out, prioritize those values. Check the list: What are the five most important values on it? Are you spending a significant portion of your time living from them?
4. Lean on your intuition.
Do you think too much before pulling the trigger on a decision? Sure, a few hours or couple of days is normal. But three months? If this sounds familiar, you have "analysis paralysis."
If you're thinking too much, you're probably stuck in your head and intellectualizing things too much. The most important decisions you'll ever encounter will always be based on your feelings -- it's a heart thing, not a head thing.
This is the practice of being sure by leaning on your intuition. Not sure if you can rely on it yet? Fine-tune it by documenting every decision you make over the next three months. Look over which decisions were spot on because you chose to rely on that "small, still voice."
The better the outcome of those decisions, the more accurate your intuition is becoming. Learning to use your intuition is a much more effective way to make decisions than to get stuck in analysis paralysis. It's empowering, and your peers and close friends and family will look at you in a whole new way.
5. Learn to grow from your failures.
This includes getting into the habit of "failing forward." In other words, as you experiment, fail, try again, and learn from your mistakes, accept that it's all part of the process to grow, without any shame attached. We need to redefine failure and making mistakes through new lenses and see it as a critical part of learning a new way of life.
6. Heal from past hurts.
Yes, we all have issues, we're all wounded in some way, and nobody is perfect. But if you're still processing that toxic relationship from three years ago with your co-workers, you're not over it.
Deal with your baggage by seeking professional help and stop treating your colleagues like they're counselors and shrinks. They're not. Respect their emotional space, and know when you're overstepping professional boundaries.
7. Practice forgiveness.
Before you deem it some sort of religious fluff, practicing forgiveness in the workplace, research has shown, has a positive impact. In one study involving more than 200 employees, forgiveness was "linked to increased productivity, decreased absenteeism (fewer days missing work), and fewer mental and physical health problems, such as sadness and headaches."
Forgiveness, according to the research, raises our awareness about potential outcomes when the people we work with hold on to negative feelings after a conflict. If they can't cope by forgiving, they are likely to be disengaged, lack collaboration, and act aggressively.
8. Acknowledge your blind spots.
The most courageous thing you'll do to start this process of increasing your emotional intelligence is to acknowledge your blind spots. It may not come from you, so be brave enough to consider that what others speak to you is truth. And as the saying goes, the truth will set you free.
Look at this as an opportunity to address whatever is holding you back. Now you can do something about what others are saying is a problem. Take heart in knowing that this is for your own greater good. It will make you a truly better person in service to others.