Emotional intelligence: 6 tips to apply it in everyday conversation

Are you showing emotional intelligence in work communications? Use these tips – whether you’re giving feedback, seeking buy-in for an idea, or working through a misunderstanding.
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Communication ranks as one of the most fundamental leadership skills. It's also the most evident manifestation of your emotional intelligence – the ability to understand and manage your own emotions and respect the emotions of others.  Emotional intelligence has five characteristics, as identified by psychologist Daniel Goleman: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills. 

Today's leaders are operating amidst tremendous volatility, change, and uncertainty: Bringing emotional intelligence to bear in your interactions with peers, bosses, partners, employees, and suppliers proves essential. Emotional intelligence can help you build stronger relationships, help others navigate challenges, and influence others in the organization. 

But how can you make sure to use it in your everyday conversations?

We talked to Gill Hasson, a career coach and author of Emotional Intelligence: Managing Emotions to Make a Positive Impact on Your Life and Career and Brilliant Communication Skills for advice on how IT and business leaders can best apply EI to their work communications, whether providing feedback to an employee, attempting to get buy-in for a new idea, or working through a misunderstanding. For bonus points, think about how this advice applies to your email communications as well.

1. Confirm your understanding

In situations when emotions are running high, it’s easier to get confused or misunderstand. “It can be helpful to restate part of what you’ve heard,” advises Hasson. You may start off by saying “So am I right in thinking …” or “Can I clarify what I’ve heard” and then or “Can I just be clear…” before repeating back your understanding of what has been said.

Listen as if you were going to repeat back.

“In fact, getting into a habit to listen as if you were going to repeat back (as you do when you’re listening to someone give you directions) is a really good way to train yourself to focus your thoughts on listening,” Hasson says.

[ How strong is your EQ? See our related article: Emotional intelligence test: 5 self-evaluation tools for leaders. ] 

2. Don’t just listen: Watch

Pay attention to both verbal and non-verbal communication – for their interplay and any disconnects between the two. If someone says they get what you’ve told them but their face or shoulders say something else, follow up to find out what is going on. You might say, for example, “You said you understood, but you look unsure. Can you tell me what you’re feeling about it?”

3. Frame things positively

“When things are going wrong with a piece of work, discuss what qualities and strengths [an employee or team] have that will help solve problems and contribute to overcoming difficulties,” says Hasson. “If you can support people and encourage them when things are difficult, you’ll be inspiring them to see the best in themselves and the situation.”

4. Offer more than a criticism

When you need to offer criticism, take a moment. Before you say anything, decide what, exactly, the other person has done that’s a problem for you.

“You’re the one with the problem. What is the solution?”

Then decide what change or improvement you want to see. “Don’t just dump your criticism on the other person,” says Hasson. “You’re the one with the problem. What is the solution?” Instead of saying something was done wrong or was not wanted, instead say, “There are a few aspects of this project I’d like you to go back over,” and then explain what those things are.

5. Be more judicious with your vocabulary

“The right words make the difference,” says Hasson. Instead of using words like “incompetent” or “wrong,” you can explain that a colleague or employee “could be more careful” and then explain how. Alternatively, you can say, “It would be good if you could…” or “One thing that might help is…” to give the communication a more positive spin.

6. Avoid the blame game

Blame is a surefire way to get someone to shut down or become defensive. One way to avoid this: Start replacing “You” statements with “I” statements. Instead of saying “You need to…” say “I’d like you to…”

Also, says Hasson, “Don’t be afraid to tell the other person how you feel.” You might say, “I was upset or embarrassed when…” and describe what bothered you. “But try to avoid speaking in a tone that’s sarcastic, hostile, or condescending,” says Hasson. “Speak in a calm neutral way. This can make a big difference.”

[ Read our related article, 8 powerful phrases of emotionally intelligent leaders. ]

Stephanie Overby is an award-winning reporter and editor with more than twenty years of professional journalism experience. For the last decade, her work has focused on the intersection of business and technology. She lives in Boston, Mass.

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