If you’re looking to develop particular Emotional Intelligence (EI) strengths, it helps to consider areas for improvement others have identified along with the goals you want to achieve — and then to actively build habits in those areas rather than simply relying on understanding them conceptually.
Start by asking yourself three questions:
1. What are the differences between how you see yourself and how others see you?
The first step is to get a sense of how your self-perception (how you see yourself) differs from your reputation (how others see you).
For example, most of us think that we’re good listeners, but very often that’s really not the case. Without this external reality check, it will be difficult for you to identify the ways that your actions affect your performance. Getting feedback from others can also provide proof of the necessity of shifting our behaviors and an impetus to do so.
2. What matters to you?
When you find areas that need improvement, also consider what your goals are — how you want to get better at what you do now, or where you want to go in the future. When it comes to cultivating strengths in EI, you’re at a huge disadvantage if you’re only interested because a colleague, your boss, or someone in HR said you should be.
The areas that you choose to actively work on should lie at the intersection of the feedback you’ve gotten and the areas that are most important to your own aspirations. For example, let’s say you get feedback that you are not a great listener — but you think you are. Instead of taking this assessment as an attack, or simply dismissing it, step back and consider your goals: Perhaps you’ve said that you want to better connect, understand, and communicate with impact. How could listening well help you to do those things? Seeing the feedback in this light can help you position it as an opportunity for developing toward your goals, rather than a threat.
3. What changes will you make to achieve these goals?
Once you’ve determined which EI skills you want to focus on, identify specific actions that you’ll take. If you’re working on becoming a better listener, for example, you might decide that when you’re conversing with someone you’ll take the time to pause, listen to what they have to say, and check that you understand before you reply. Keep it specific. That helps you change the target habit.
You should also take every naturally occurring opportunity to practice the skill you’re developing, no matter how small. You’re trying to train your brain to react differently in common situations, and the principle of neuroplasticity tells us that as a given brain circuit gets used more often, the connections within it become stronger. And the brain does not distinguish between home and work when it comes to changing your habits: Practice at home as well as at work, with your partner or teenager as you would with your boss or direct reports.
By answering these questions and starting to change your routine reactions, you’ll be well on your way to figuring out the old habits that aren’t serving you well and transforming them into new, improved ones that do.