Individuals Who Undertake This Highly effective 3-Phrase Behavior Have Very Excessive Emotional Intelligence
This is a story about an unusual mental trick used to improve emotional intelligence. It’s something I’ve wanted to try for a while so that I can include it in the next edition of my free e-book. Improving Emotional Intelligence 2021. (You can download the current issue here.)
What is special about this exercise is that while it is simple and straightforward, it also requires a lot of courage and self-confidence – regardless of whether you are brave enough to discuss it later.
Let’s go over a quick background and then get straight to the trick.
Unwrap the words
One of the most efficient ways I’ve learned to improve emotional intelligence is to focus on the language. Really unwrap the words and phrases that you reflexively use and ask yourself with a clear eye if they really mean what you think mean.
Sometimes you will find that the meanings differ a few degrees from your intended effect.
As a classic example, people are sometimes quick to say, “I know how you feel” when trying to express empathy. But unwrap this sentence and you can see why it suggests almost the exact opposite at times.
In short, most people know in their guts that it is really exhausting to really understand someone. So if you cut to the “I know how you feel” or “I completely understand” point, you are suggesting that you really haven’t done the work of understanding.
You may not even understand what is wrong with you.
It’s subtle, but it’s there. Better alternatives might be sentences that make an effort to understand without implying that you have already finished the job, such as, “Tell me more about it,” or “I can hear the excitement in your voice; I would like to learn more. “
That’s only an example. Well worth knowing. But the three-word phrase I want to examine today is much more powerful.
Don’t say it out loud
It’s so powerful, in fact, that I admit I’m nervous about sharing it. Also (very important!) I am not going to suggest that you say it out loud.
Just tell yourself silently before or before conversations where you want to practice showing more emotional intelligence.
Ready? The sentence is: “I love you.”
I couldn’t stick to it 100 percent, but for the last month or so, before doing lots of conversations, zooming calls, and online exchanges – even very brief interactions at the grocery store – I’ve tried to come up with this phrase before I speak.
You see why I don’t suggest saying it out loud all the time, do you? Things would get weird quickly.
However, it’s scary how just thinking about your relationship with people improves things as a result.
For my sanity and vanity in this article, I need to make it clear that I am not talking about romantic love. I didn’t fall in love with the grocery store cashier, and I don’t want anyone reading this column and getting the wrong idea about focusing romantic attention where it’s not wanted.
Instead, I am speaking of a general platonic love for fellow human beings. I found that this usually triggered several natural behaviors – all of these are the things that people with high levels of emotional intelligence do.
Let’s start with something that results from the sheer comedy of this exercise. Sometimes I almost laughed out loud when I remembered thinking “I love you” before interacting with people. My thought process went something like this:
- “OK, here we go again. (Still, remember): ‘I love you.'”
- “That’s ridiculous, you hardly know anything about this person.”
- “Hmmm, good point. I wonder what we can find out about her. Let’s see she works in a grocery store here. It’s probably been a long day so far. It’s kind of cold here; I wonder if she’s cold.” “I wonder what it feels like to stand on your feet like this all day?”
I’m telling you, if you’ve spent a few seconds going through this thought process before the cashier even asked you if you want paper or plastic, something will change.
You will be more patient and conscientious. Even if you don’t ask about the things you were thinking about while quickly focusing on the other person – polite, attentive, and welcome, as I emphasize – they will likely see that they have your attention. They convey that you care.
It is the key characteristic of emotional intelligence, and its perception of you will be much more positive as a result.
Patience and silence
Next, let’s talk about not talking. Emotionally intelligent people know the value of patience and calm. When you have prepared yourself to have even a small amount of platonic love for people before interacting with them, patience and silence make it very easy.
I think there are two reasons.
First, when we lose patience, it’s usually because we either feel challenged or need to fill a gap in the conversation. Both of these circumstances affect the dynamics of your relationship with the other person.
But if all you were literally saying to yourself is, “Remember, I have platonic love for this person, so I’ll treat them accordingly,” this can short-circuit this whole dynamic. Insults, challenges, and even the need to fill the silence can evaporate.
Second, unless you feel threatened by a challenging statement or action, pause to find out rather than react immediately. Rather than adopting a negative motivation, look for a positive one.
It is the difference between:
- “Wow, Joseph cut my idea off quickly in this meeting. He has to think we’re competing and don’t want me to advance. (And maybe I need to do something quickly to keep up.)”
- “Hmmm. Joseph cut my idea off quickly in this meeting. I wonder if he thinks he’s saving me from putting my foot in my mouth. Let me better think this through.”
I think there is an additional element too. Even if you never say these three magical words out loud (remember, just about yourself) – and even if the other person probably never said them to you – part of your subconscious naturally assumes that you are feeling good about yourself to them they are reciprocated.
Active interest and listening
I think you will find that engaging in active listening techniques is a lot easier and more natural once you’ve done this little exercise.
It’s probably related to the “focused attention” I discussed above, but it’s a little different. This element is all about harnessing the natural curiosity that inspired you within yourself. This is about developing a real interest in what the other person is thinking or having to say.
This will lead you to use other centered, emotionally intelligent phrases – the kind of things that cause you to have what some people call “support reactions” as opposed to “shift reactions”.
I’m talking about sentences like:
- “Tell me more about it.”
- “Let me follow up on what you said earlier by asking you …”
- “Can I just repeat this to make sure I follow?”
- “I want to understand, but I’m not sure if I do.”
- “I’ll think about what you said.”
And so on. This is one of the keys to having emotionally intelligent conversation: removing reflections about ego and emotions that can bother you, and realizing how the other person’s ego and emotions can make you act and respond.
“I want to remember …”
After doing this for a while, two things became clear to me. The first is that for me the seed of the idea goes back more than a decade when I spoke to a fairly young army officer as a reporter in Iraq.
This was a very calm, thoughtful man who had seen a lot of fighting both there and in Afghanistan. He had been separated from his wife and children for a long time, and in all honesty, it seemed to me that he had been to hell and back more than once.
We had a long chat and talked about why he didn’t quit the military. I remember him saying the main reason was, “At the end of the day, I love Joe.”
(“Joe” is general-purpose slang for any soldier in a military unit.)
Granted, the military during a war is an extreme place to work, but I remember thinking about how things could be different if the main reason people went to work every day was because they were all of their employees loved – and weren’t afraid to say it.
The second thing I realized is that “I love you” in this context is an acronym for things like “I want to remind myself to act emotionally intelligently” or “I need to remember here in a way too.” act “is that will evoke positive feelings. “
And since we are practical about this and are likely to be thinking about how enhanced emotional intelligence can help in a professional or business setting, “I want to remember to act and react in ways that will get us closer to our goals.”
I don’t know if I could continue this exercise in the long term. For one thing, things are sometimes better left unsaid, to yourself to yourself, and for another, being “on” so often and being overly sensitive to the nature of your relationship with so many people you meet is quite stressful.
But honestly? That’s fine. We’re all human.
And if an exercise like this trains you to be emotionally smarter, a bit more automatic, then I think that means the trick is working.
Don’t forget the e-book, Improving Emotional Intelligence 2021. You can download the current version here.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.