The Seven Practices of An Emotionally Intelligent Person

Your boss sends out an email in which she appears to dismiss your work and openly criticizes it.

Your friend ignored your text message asking to go to dinner and made plans with others instead, which you know because you saw them check in together on Facebook.

The person you are dating just broke up with you after 3 months by sending you an email.

You feel lonely at night and wonder why you can’t meet anyone to love.

All of these situations can stir up emotions in us that are raw, unexpected, and, in retrospect, irrational. At the time, we feel the need for justice, to say what we feel, to defend our reputations or our actions, or to save what we have lost. Something deep within us tells us that it would be better to wait, to think on it, or to go to bed. But we don’t listen to the small voice, and instead we lash out, text a nasty message, “reply all” to our team with a defensive message, or call our ex lover evil names. Later, we come to regret our words and actions because we see that they were overly reactive, defensive, immature or unsympathetic. In many cases, we didn’t understand all the facts or the motivations of the person on the other end that, most of the time, have little to do with us. In cases of loneliness or depression, we become hard on ourselves, and throw a pity party for our sad state.

Daniel Goleman and other leadership development experts have demonstrated how important emotional intelligence is in the workplace, and at home. The key difference in the promotion of managers and executives to the highest levels is not competency or knowledge, but emotional intelligence. That is, becoming aware of your self, and then how you are in relationship with others. There is much to say here, and I offer whole seminars in this topic for organizations who are seeking to improve their employee and team interactions. But here are seven simple but not easy steps that will help you get control of your emotions and act in ways that are emotionally intelligent in any situation:

1. Take nothing personally. I love this second Agreement of The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. Most people have a central motivational style that drives their personality and behavior. In every interaction, they are trying to achieve satisfaction or ego gratification in some way. Some will do it through order, others through helping and others through achievement. But we all are trying to achieve some gratification, and conflict results when something gets in our way. Most often, the things we are tempted to personalize are not about us at all, but rather about that person trying to accomplish their motivational goal. They also may just be having a bad day. Or perhaps they were unloved as a child. Or they are in a difficult marriage. Or their job is on the line. But it’s rarely about you — try to understand the other person. As Brene Brown says in her new book Rising Strong, always remember that the other person is probably doing the best they can. Default to trust, and assume the best about the other person’s intentions for you.

2. Stop doing whatever you are tempted to do. If you are getting ready to fire back a sarcastic or nasty text message, don’t do it. If you have just drafted the best email arguments for yourself since the Declaration of Independence, save it in your draft box and don’t send it. If you feel the need to “reply all,” reply to yourself only. If you want to call a person on the carpet, save it for another day. To say it another way, any time that you feel that you must or need to respond immediately, that’s a good indication that it is the exact wrong time to respond.

3. Breathe. It is amazing how much some quiet mediation and breathing can help to calm the nerves. It is a discipline because we would rather work ourselves into a lather, or eat some potato chips, or write a Facebook status message that describes the nasty behavior. Put those temptations aside, and breathe. Sit upright in a chair, cover your eyes with your hands, and breathe fully, in and out of your nose, paying attention to your breath. Inhale for four counts, hold for seven counts, and then exhale for eight counts with pursed lips like sucking on a straw. 4-7-8. Repeat no more than four times.

4. Exercise or sleep. Vigorous exercise is a very effective way to blow off some steam and get some perspective if you are feeling angry or frustrated. For depression, loneliness or sadness, I’ve often found that going to bed is the best solution. Rather than staying up to host the pity after-party, just go to bed. Depression and loneliness often are the result of too little sleep or exhaustion, and a good night’s rest can usually remove the sharpness of these feelings. Sleep also is a perfect antidote for anger and frustration, and often provide much needed perspective. You’ll be glad that you didn’t send the email or text message when you wake, or if you do still choose to send them, they will be heard and received much better because they will not communicate neediness or defensiveness.

5. Account first for your own behavior before you blame others for theirs. Once you do this as a practice, you will be amazed how much your relationships with others will change. Whether we like to admit it or not, we usually attract certain behaviors and situations into our lives because of our own bad thoughts or behavior that present it with a welcome mat. Our temptation to defend ourselves or blame others usually is a poignant indicator that we have failed ourselves or others in some way, and blame is much easier than to apologize and correct our own contribution to the situation. Jesus said it best long ago, “Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults— unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging. It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbor’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own.” (Matt. 7:1-3, The Message). For more on this practice, see my series on Leadership and Self-Deception here.

6. Monitor Your Self-Talk. Self-talk is what we say to ourselves. We either can think “hot” thoughts, or “cool” thoughts. For example, instead of allowing yourself to think or say to yourself, “I can’t believe he has the nerve to talk to me that way,” say to yourself, “He is not obligated to do everything I ask.” Instead of, “He doesn’t care about anybody but himself,” say “He must be having a bad day or need something that I can’t give right now.”

7. Become your own consultant. Get on the balcony of the situation, and look down upon yourself in your interaction or situation. If you were to say or do what you are feeling, what would a consultant, therapist or coach say to you? Would they recommend the behavior you feel like doing? In any situation, stop for a moment and ask yourself, “What would I do if someone were paying me money to serve as a consultant to solve this situation?”

Here is another list for leaders published in FastCompany.


One Response to “The Seven Practices of An Emotionally Intelligent Person”
  1. Liz says:

    This is brilliant and exactly what I needed to hear today. I’m settling the ‘feisty’ side and following your steps 🙂 thank you!

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