Build Your Interpersonal Intelligence

The importance of interpersonal intelligence is clear, along with its relevance to increased productivity and success. So it’s no surprise that many people have asked me to say more on methods for acquiring and enhancing what many call “emotional intelligence.”

Here, then, is a brief rundown on some ways you can kick up your base level of EQ:

Take a Moment

Regardless of how much emotional intelligence you may be able to call upon at any given moment, you can’t make full use of it unless you give it a chance to operate.

That’s why one of the best ways to behave with more emotional intelligence in difficult and important situations is to give yourself a moment before you say or do anything. Waiting a moment is akin to giving a thermometer enough time to adjust itself and provide an accurate reading of the surrounding temperature.

The goal when emotions are running high or conflicts are imminent is never to react impulsively or precipitously. Instead, you’ll get more out of your EQ if you first try to assess each person’s mood, thoughts, position, and goal within the situation.

With these “readings” in mind, you can begin to think and feel what might be your best options for what you can most effectively say and do.

With practice, you may become more closely in touch with your EQ, and thereby get a much quicker “reading” on what’s going on in a given situation. But it never hurts to take a breath, collect your thoughts and feelings, or even mentally run through a number of possibilities before you settle on what you believe to be the best analysis of the situation before you.


You can get a better sense of each person’s mood, thoughts, position, and goal within a difficult situation when you delve beneath the surface. Your early, intuitive perceptions are valuable. But you’ll likely develop an even more accurate picture after you ask pointed questions and listen hard to the answers.

Without playing detective, you can nevertheless try to guide the conversation toward such topics as:

  • What people are perceiving and feeling about the situation.
  • What people think their options for choices and actions might be.
  • What people expect from themselves and others in the situation.
  • How these perceptions, feelings, options, and expectations vary from whatever people would prefer.

In difficult situations, it’s common for some people to feel reluctant to reveal what they are honestly feeling, thinking, willing to do, and hoping for. That’s a big reason EQ can be so helpful, because it provides a filter and a way to focus on underlying truths rather than superficial assertions or appearances.

Consider Others’ Viewpoints

Whenever you encounter a difficult interpersonal situation, it’s tempting to consider it solely from your own vantage point, and try to get others to go along with whatever makes the most sense to you. But in many cases, that’s not smart.

Why? Because it’s notoriously tough to get people entangled in difficult situations to accept or even acknowledge anyone else’s point of view.

A more fruitful approach to intervention and problem solving in difficult interpersonal situations, although it may be more complex, is to help people see the advantages of a particular solution from their own point of view.

This is easier when you can empathize, step into other people’s shoes, see where they’re coming from, acknowledge what they want, and help to develop a way forward that provides a fair amount of satisfaction for each of the people involved.

The solution that’s best for everyone is rarely best for any one person. But with empathy and good will all around, it’s sometimes possible to negotiate some form of agreement that everyone can buy into.

Dig In

There’s a reason it’s called emotional or interpersonal intelligence, rather than “intuition” or “guesswork”: it frequently requires thoughtful analysis and consideration of all you know about the situation, as well as how the individuals involved – and people in general – tend to behave.

Once you have a strong enough sense of what’s going on in the situation, take some time and reflect on the individuals involved, their relationships with each other, possible alliances or conflicts that may be operative, how you fit into the situation, and any options for action that may be open to you.

This is where it’s usually helpful to play for time, so you can contemplate longer and think through the difficult situation in more detail.

As you know, working with others is inherently tricky. But the rewards that become possible when you help people focus on positive components of their relationships will very often make practicing and developing your interpersonal intelligence a valuable attribute in every part of your work and your life.

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