Emotional intelligence is the key to executive advancement and overall leadership success. This was again brought to light for me when I was recently coaching an executive. Despite delivering reliable business results every time, his people-results suffer, including engagement, approachability, team dynamics, interpersonal relationships and retention. To prevent stalling out in his current and future career positions, he must strengthen his emotional intelligence.
He expressed some frustration about this. He knew he needed to improve his emotional intelligence, and he wanted to work on it; he just didn’t know how to get started. So, I shared with him the one question I, myself, have used and the one I encourage my clients to ask themselves to build their emotional intelligence:
‘How do others react to me?’
Daniel Goleman, who popularized the term “emotional intelligence” in his groundbreaking book Emotional Intelligence, identified five key aspects of the skill: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills. Here’s how the question “How do others react to me?” addresses each aspect:
The first component of emotional intelligence is understanding and recognizing your own emotions. This goes beyond correctly identifying your feelings. I believe a critical part of self-awareness is understanding what Susan Scott, author of Fierce Conversations, termed your “emotional wake”: the effect of your actions, emotions and moods on other people.
How the question helps: Asking how others react to you and taking the time to thoughtfully consider the answer helps illuminate blind spots in our understanding of ourselves. By noticing how others are reacting to us, we can identify patterns and make any necessary adjustments to our behavior to improve our relationships.
Self-regulation essentially means finding the right time, avenue and place to express your emotions. Rather than making rushed or emotionally driven decisions, verbally attacking others or compromising their values, people strong in self-regulation find the best time and method to express themselves.
How the question helps: Considering how others react to you helps you take responsibility for your actions and understand how you influence others. If you often explode verbally, then others will react to you poorly (even when they are not the targets of your outburst). Observe how you influence others and notice what emotions they are expressing. This will provide you with information you need to maintain self-control.
While money and social status can be motivating factors for some, emotionally intelligent motivation refers to a sense of being motivated by enjoying what you do, consistently working toward goals and setting high standards for yourself, even when surrounded by obstacles.
How the question helps: Leaders who display low motivation tend to cause others to react with cynicism or disbelief. Often they come across as pessimistic or disengaged. If you find that others are reacting to your ideas and pronouncements with a sense of weariness, or if they seem to feel the need to constantly cheer you up, it’s time to examine your motivation. Think about why you are doing your job, set goals that energize you and find something to be positive about.
The ability to put yourself, emotionally, into another person’s situation is a critical component of emotional intelligence. It allows you to develop your team, give constructive feedback, provide an ear to those in need and challenge those who are acting unfairly. Demonstrating and acting out of empathy will earn the loyalty and respect of your team because it will show them (as opposed to telling them) that you care.
How the question helps: Simply asking how others are reacting to you provides an empathetic viewpoint. It encourages you to look for a deeper understanding than facial cues can provide. When you consider the reactions of others, you also want to know why they are reacting that way. Accomplishing that means considering your behavior from the viewpoint of another. Gaining an understanding of how others react to you can help you respond to their feelings and more effectively communicate.
In the context of emotional intelligence, social skills refer to your communication skills, conflict management, rapport building and your ability to be a good team-player. Another aspect of social skills is how able you are to tune into another person’s feelings and understand how they think about things. Leaders with high social skills resolve conflicts diplomatically, provide feedback often and lead by example.
How the question helps: When we tune into other people’s reactions to our behavior, we are practicing our social skills. Watch the reactions of others to help you understand their feelings about your behavior. In doing so, you gain insights into how they feel about other things as well. Huge increases in overall emotional intelligence can be had when you ask yourself this question during conversations and then change your approach as needed.
As a leader, your main goal is to maximize the potential of your team by aligning them toward clear objectives. When you consistently tune in to how others react to you, you are poised to be a great leader who delivers both business and people results. Try asking yourself this key question at least once a day for one week and watch your emotional intelligence grow.