“Your face – you’re just so expressive. Every thought or emotion is written on it. You should work on that.”
Recently, during an Ent Young Professionals meeting, the question was posed to some Ent leaders, myself included, “Can you share a piece of advice you were given that has stayed with you?” The quote above was my response.
Years ago, when I was a manager with Accenture, after interacting with a client, one of the partners leading the project shared that advice with me. I wasn’t surprised. My whole life I had been a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) who emoted all the things. With that gift of feedback, I reflected for perhaps the first time on how to balance my “authentic self” with what I now know is emotional and social intelligence. All these years later, I have come to deeply appreciate the ability to practice emotional and social intelligence – and highly value these intelligences in others.
Intelligence, by definition, is not just the acquisition of knowledge but the application thereof – meaning intelligence is valuable only when we use it. The concept of emotional and social intelligence, two cousins who hang out together, is incredibly valuable not just when we understand what they are and why they are critical but also how to cultivate and apply them.
Many thousands of years ago Aristotle opined “man is by nature a social animal.” More recently, neuroscientists, psychologists and related experts suggest humans are, in fact, hardwired for connection. Our brains fire away when we interact with others as we mirror their emotions and behaviors.
To connect is to belong. To connect is to understand. To connect is no less than to love and be loved. And, to connect we must develop our emotional and social intelligence.
We humans express our thoughts and feelings in verbal and nonverbal ways. We respond to these expressions by “reading” underlying meaning or gauging messages in the unstated. Highly emotionally and socially intelligent people communicate more effectively, genuinely empathize with others, and manage emotions and responses in a positive and healthy way. The emotionally intelligent person is self-aware and can then self-regulate. The socially intelligent person can ease into conversations with a wide variety of people and respond with understanding and tact. Ultimately, the ability to apply these intelligences results in a happier life by reducing stress and enabling healthy conflict resolution.
When it comes to how we lead others, the very best leaders also demonstrate these intelligences. After all, leadership is based on conversations, interactions, building relationships – in other words, connections. Like so many things related to great leadership, and just being a good human, these intelligences are not things we are born with but rather skills we can hone.
So, based on practical and personal experience, and on-the-job learning, here’s my emotional and social intelligence how-to list:
- Know thyself (more Greek philosophy)
- Know your limits, understand your own boundaries. Understand what energizes you and what drains you.
- Take care of yourself and don’t be afraid to advocate for your own needs. To give to others, you must give to yourself.
- Listen with intention
- To connect with empathy is an interactive process with active engagement between at least two humans. Connection, thereby, requires mindful listening. Listen to support and empathize first, not to respond. Mindful listening, like yoga, is truly a practice.
- Hone these intelligences
- Mindfully practice these intelligences by monitoring the room, watching for social cues, seeking out nonverbal signals from others – and then regulate your responses to adjust to the moment. Ask a friend or confidante for feedback on how you respond and be open to self-regulation.
- Create psychologically safe spaces
- Safety and trust are table stakes for connection. To build safe spaces, open up and share your own stories, struggles and joys. When you show glimmers of vulnerability, you help others do the same.
- Recognize others
- Recognize when others are struggling. Ask questions about their wellbeing in a thoughtful way and respond in a thoughtful way.
- Make others feel special, heard, appreciated. Simple ways to do this are often the most impactful – a hand-written card left on a desk, a quick text to say thank you, a hallway pause to cheer someone on, a glance during a tense meeting to show you understand.
- Let go
- Negative emotions, thoughts, and feelings will draw you into a dark hole – and we have had enough of dark places to deal with over the past year. Find healthy ways to let go of the bad stuff – journal, go for a walk, call a loved one. Find your happy place. Find ways to release.
- Even when it is hard to connect with someone for whatever reason, seek out attributes about them you can connect with. By doing so, you will create space to appreciate the diversity everyone brings.
- Be accountable
- Be accountable for your impact on others. Apologize genuinely when needed. Own your responses to situations and your ability to change an approach or reaction.
Connective tissues bind structures together and can be fragile. Developing connections and strengthening the tissues that bind us together, leading with emotional and social intelligence, understanding the impact our behaviors have on others – these actions allow us to thrive and help others do the same.