What the EQ?
How many times have you heard about the importance of building up your EQ or teams that are led by women tend to lean toward a higher EQ?
It’s pretty unavoidable topic in the corporate world and became even more important during the height of the pandemic. The managers that had a really hard time “reading the room” stood out even more when they weren’t in person anymore but a flat image of shoulders and heads stuck in yet another Zoom video chat.
You could tell who was able to pick up on subtle ques, who was really dialed in, what teams were suffering, who was simply MIA and how many people were lost in their own special milieu of misery.
For people who have a high EQ or consider themselves an empath, this was completely exhasuting. I felt like every call was overloaded with everyone’s stresses from the pandemic, fear of getting sick, the racial injustice that was plaguing the U.S., the work we were trying to accomplish and the lack of meaningful human interaction we were all experiencing. And I was picking up every emotion.
Having a high EQ means that you are extremely dialed in to all of those wave lengths. You are simultaneously interpretting those emotions, trying to see how they factor into what people were saying and attempting to meet people in a way that either balances out the room or at least takes these emotions into consideration. And that was just at work. Then I did the same at home.
By the end of each day, I felt like I had run an emotional marathon.
Why care about EQ?
To me, so much about caring about the emotions of the person across from you or even the tone of the room is about translating what you actually hear with the emotions people are expressing. It’s about perspective and can completely change words into actual meaning.
Someone telling you that they really need help with a project, but you see that they are not looking their best, have a hard time looking you in the eye and can’t really focus on what you are saying isn’t about their abilities, skills or even the project, but instead what else is going on with them.
To me, the best leaders that I’ve ever had were people who were able to discern not just the context of what was being said but read the temperature of a room and the people in it to understand a fuller picture. This in turn allows you to see what’s actually happening vs what people want to admit is happening.
I found women can be especially good at this and men can be too. I don’t think it’s something innate, but instead a learned habit and women more often have to work with such a wide variety of people in different spheres of our lives who speak different “languages” and our ability to pick up on the emotions can help in our ability to understand and bring people together.
How its helped me lead during adversity
When things are stressful, this superpower kicks into high gear, helping me to see the context, subtext and temperatures of all involved as layers to one story. I can start to seperate out what is occuring at times, helping me to further understand what’s going on. So many times it has allowed me to see through what someone wants me to know and understand at more of a base level the emotions behind a decision.
So much of this is learned through a lifetime of being in a big family full of strong personalities, varied cultural experiences and different primary languages. My parents had a very different experience to what my siblings and I were going through as a first generation Americans. There was a lot of “translating” of emotions and experiences that seemed out of place at face value.
Many other first generation kids have experienced something similar, where you not only feel like “your parents just don’t understand” but that in reality your experience is culturally so different from their own that you have a hard time bridging the gap. And my kids are probably experiencing a bit of this themselves right now as Third Culture Kids. This can be perfect training to a heightened EQ and sense that not all emotions or communication can be easily understood through words or nonverbal cues alone.
What happens when there is seemingly no need for your superpower? (The bat signal is dark)
Stepping out of your usual work routine makes you question whether some of these skills that are oh so important in the traditional work world have relevance outside of the corporate halls. Are these transferable skills or just needed when you are constantly being confronted with impossible tasks, pressing deadlines and a group of people that must work together to get it done?
This is one skill that definitely transfers and I would say is more needed outside the work world than in. It’s much easier to hide within the corporate world, relying on the rules of a company, bosses, HR managers and others to help regulate the work environment into somehting that resembles a world where adults are supposed to be well…adulting.
Once you leave that environment, it’s the wild west.
In fact, I clearly remember how much I particularly loved going back to work after I had kids, because at least at work there was some logic that you could follow. You might not like why people were making a particular decision, but there was usually a given reason. Not like when you have kids and they are just crying cuz it’s Tuesday. But if you stretch yourself, there too you’ll find the crux of the issue, its just may be harder to find beneath the legos and casually thrown Cheerios.
But perhaps we need only look to nature to see how much the natural world leans on non-verbal cues to communicate and in fact so do we.
How is EQ different in Singapore?
Now that I am living a life where every day I am meeting new people from all over the world, this super power is working overtime. There are so many aspects of being able to read a face, understand a mannerism, when people smile, when they don’t, what they say and how they say it, that’s very different from culture to culture.
One of our first lessons in this was when we took an international business class upon arriving. Depending on a cultures dependance on politeness, assertiveness, timing of responses or need to allow something to play out before truly responding, you may walk away with the exact wrong impression of a conversation or interaction. Did this mean my superpowers don’t work here?
Oh no Batman!
It was actually the contrary. My EQ has helped me to start this journey abroad, but the more I learned of how other cultures communicated, the greater my understanding grew. The funny part is that it wasn’t “what” people were saying or even “how” they said it. I found the most telling part to be in the pauses that people took, mannerisms, timing and ways they leaned on story telling to express their true meaning.
For example, when I asked someone from the Phillipines how they were, they would always respond the same,“I am doing well”, but when they weren’t well, they would take a long pause, while looking me in the eye before they answered vs. responding right away. So much was communicated in that pause. In fact, that pause was the whole story.
On the contrary when asking someone from Australia how they were, you would hear exactly what was on their mind, sometimes with a few explatives thrown in for fun… and then some.
In another example, I’ve been delighted to see how much people lean on idioms, fables and allegories to get their point across different languages or cultures. It’s something that I was used to hearing from my own upbringing and remarkable how some of these stories are a thread that can bind us across cultures.
How my EQ helps me when the sun in shining
I’ve always been able to enter any room and feel a sense of confidence that I am able to speak to anyone there and find a topic, hobby, or current event that we could converse about. It’s helped me enter so many rooms, that I may had thought I had no business entering, but in turn opened up so many opportunities in my life.
In my 20’s and 30’s it was mostly about the gift of the gab and making someone else feel comfortable to speak about themselves (*side note: if you are ever at loss for a topic, literally everyone loves to talk about themselves)
Thankfully what comes with age (besides the wrinkles and greys) is confidence in what I bring to the proverbial table. I am much more interested in the reciprocal nature of relationships vs. feeling a need to please. It’s a matter of age, experience and a genuine need to fill my time with meaningful relationships instead of lots of relationships.
Power down to recharge
Having this heightened EQ can be wonderful yet exhausting, especially when the world is going crazy. Can I walk around picking up everyone’s frequencies, content and manage my own without falling apart?
I’ve learned to turn it off and take much needed breaks from people to be able to be really present when I need to be. For the most part, this is a gift, but like anything, you can have too much of a good thing.
How to build yours??
So the GREAT news is that although some people just naturally have a higher EQ than others you can build & develop your EQ with some well tried habits. Here are 3 ways that I’ve uncovered that you can try:
Take a temperature check: What’s the intesity of the room or the conversation? Is it quick and frenetic? Slow and kind of hard to get information forth coming? Calm but there’s just something off? All of these are your clues and your chance to perk up and really pay attention. So often we are all racing through life interactions as we multi-task our lives away, that we miss what’s right in front of us. Life is in the details, pauses and all of the non-verbal communication. Next time things feel a bit off, check the room to see what’s happening below the words. And it always helps to begin from a place of assuming positive intent.
Take yourself out of the equation for a moment: When we are in the midst of interactions, we take a very binary appproach. They are wrong, you are right, they said left, you said right. But that’s the makings of a Twitter war, not real life with all of its beautiful and narly complexities. Very often, especially when emotions are running high, getting to an understanding is not that simple and taking that step back to look from the outside in helps you take your ego out of it, if for just a minute.
Ask more questions: We assume that we know way too much in our conversations and end up zipping past what is really going on. The best way to upnpack what might be happening is to take a pause and ask someone to go into more detail. It can be as simple as saying “say more about that” OR “can you give me an example of that?” OR “how does that work in practice”. Getting anyone, from a client to a friend, to think deeper and get more detailed in what they are thinking is the best way to get to the bottom of their thoughts and rationale. We don’t live life in a straight line and many times conversations don’t go in a linear fashion either.
For more insights on how you can develop and improve your EQ, check out some of these great articles and podcasts below.