How can you increase your own emotional intelligence, or EQ? By being more like yourself. That surprising idea comes from Stephen Joseph, PhD, professor of psychology, health, and social care at the University of Nottingham in England. In recently published research, Joseph, along with psychology researcher Ornella Tohme, found authenticity to be correlated with higher emotional intelligence and also with greater mindfulness in 197 volunteer subjects.
This may seem counterintuitive, because most of us have encountered people who are being themselves and "letting it all hang out" and yet are strikingly lacking in emotional intelligence. The older male executive who makes a leering comment to a younger female associate may seem like he's being his authentic lecherous self, for example. But behavior like that isn't real authenticity, Joseph argues in a post about the research at Psychology Today.
"Authenticity isn't about just saying what you think or doing what you want," he writes. Instead, authenticity was defined by renowned psychologist Carl Rogers as becoming more accepting of everyone, both others and yourself, and thus more empathetic. Rather than a state in which you do or say whatever's on your mind, authenticity is "defined by emotional and psychological maturity," Joseph writes.
Interestingly, he notes, most of us are pretty bad at knowing how authentic or inauthentic we are. "One of the problems in talking about this topic is that the most inauthentic people, because they don't know themselves well and therefore lack insight, often think that they are more authentic than they are," Joseph writes. Conversely, the most authentic people recognize their own struggles to be honest with themselves and others and may judge those efforts harshly. Thus, they believe they're less authentic than they really are. This is why the Authenticity Scale, a more objective measure that Joseph and Tohme used in their research, is an important tool for measuring how authentic people actually are. (You can see sample questions here.)
We already know that greater emotional intelligence brings many benefits, including stronger relationships and increased business success. So if authenticity will increase your EQ, how can you become more authentic?
1. Practice mindfulness.
Mindfulness also correlates with authenticity along with emotional intelligence, the researchers found. Interestingly, they report, mindfulness seems to increase with internal measures of authenticity, such as disagreeing with the statement "I don't know how I really feel inside." Whereas emotional intelligence correlates with external measures of authenticity, such as agreeing with the statement "I think it is better to be yourself than to be popular."
So it's not surprising that experts say increasing your own mindfulness can make you more authentic -- and boost your EQ as well. This makes sense because the more often you're able to stop whatever you're doing for a moment to be in the moment and check in on what your senses are experiencing and how you yourself are feeling, the better you'll be able to pick up on what others around you are expressing, perhaps with nonverbal cues.
Practicing mindfulness meditation is only one of several paths to increasing mindfulness. Something as simple as stopping a few times a day, especially in stressful situations, to simply take a few slow, deep breaths is also an effective way to increase mindfulness.
2. Look for discrepancies between what you believe and what you do.
In an insightful Psychology Today post, Tchiki Davis, PhD, of the Berkeley Well-Being Institute suggests noticing these discrepancies as a way to increase your own authenticity. For instance, let's say one of your core values is to spend as much time as you can with your family and to get home in the evening before your children's bedtime. But when a colleague invites you out for drinks after work, you accept the invitation and stay out late.
Why did you go? It could be that you acted against your own values because you wanted to fit in, a basic human desire that can work against authenticity. Or it could be that you recognized the outing as a networking opportunity that could serve one of your other values, which is to run a successful business and provide for your family. Or perhaps the person who asked is a close friend who's going through a difficult time and you wanted to support that friend, thus fulfilling another value.
There could be many authentic or inauthentic reasons why you agreed to go for drinks. The important thing is to ask yourself the question and try to find the honest answer.
3. Get in the habit of being truthful.
This is another suggestion from Davis. Most of us lie so often that we're barely aware of it, and we do it for all sorts of reasons -- to spare other people's feelings, to make ourselves look better, or in pursuit of an objective, such as during a negotiation. And then there are many instances where kindness and courtesy almost require us to lie, for example when your aunt asks if you like the sweater she knitted for you.
It's impossible for most of us to completely eliminate lying, but we can get in the habit of telling the truth as often as possible. Next time you're about to tell a "white" lie, stop yourself for a moment and ask if it's really necessary to do so. Is there a way to tell the truth that won't be hurtful? If telling the truth will reveal something you aren't proud of, is that a risk that you can take?
The answer may be no. But asking yourself the question before you tell a lie gives you the chance to at least consider being more authentic. And that's always a good thing.