Want to Build Emotional Intelligence? Start By Answering One Simple Question

The term “emotional intelligence” has been around for decades, and the concept—that we have the ability to understand and manage emotions—has been around for centuries. Still, every week I get tons of emails from readers telling me that the term is new to them…and they want to learn more, because they can clearly see the need to better manage their own emotions.
So…if you’d like to start building your emotional intelligence, where should you start?
Try asking yourself a single question:

When and how do my emotions work against me?

For example, did your temper cause you to say or do something you regret? Or maybe you were in an extremely joyful mood, and you agreed to do too much?
Also think about how you’re affected by unpleasant emotions like fear or anxiety. These emotions aren’t all negative—they can help keep you out of danger. However, they can also prevent you from making a decision, taking action, or trying out new experiences.
Your emotions can also work against you when it comes to your relationships with others.
For example, maybe you lack empathy. Don’t take that the wrong way: Most of us lack empathy at times, and the empathy muscle is one that takes hard work to strengthen. Our ability to show empathy is also hindered by something we call the perspective gap, which we’ll talk more about in the future, and which we address in depth in EQ Applied, the book.
But for now, it’s important to know that an inability to understand the feelings and motivations of others can cause you to become calloused to their problems. This can be extremely damaging to your relationships at home or at work.
On the other hand, you may be suffering because you show too much empathy. In other words, you relate too closely to the feelings of others, leaving you emotionally exhausted. In essence, you’ve overworked your empathy muscle.
If you struggle to answer the question, When and how do my emotions work against me, try asking for help. Find someone you trust, who knows you well, and ask them to share instances where they’ve seen your emotions get the best of you.
Brace yourself, though: You may be surprised with the answer you get.
But don’t worry. Remember that emotional intelligence is a spectrum. Meaning that, like everyone, you have emotional strengths and weaknesses. Learning to ask yourself and others this key question puts you on a path to developing self-awareness, which is the first step in building emotional intelligence.
Once you’ve reached a certain level of self-awareness, you can start working on a plan to leverage your strengths and mitigate those weaknesses—that’s what I call making emotions work for you, instead of against you.
And the fact that you’re reading or listening to this right now?
It’s a sign that you’re already ahead of a lot of people.

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