One of the most effective tools for building emotional (and social) intelligence is learning to listen. When you listen well, you pick up not only the content of what someone is saying (e.g., details about the project, names of people who might help you, itty bitty details like deadlines and bottom line budget figures) but also the emotional tone behind the content. That is, while they’re telling you about the logistical issues they’re having pulling together a complicated technical report, you might just notice the edge of anger or sadness or hopelessness in their voice and be able to take steps to mitigate the emotion.
Sadly, the ability to listen seems all too rare in today’s hectic world. Take this minor example: At a recent social gathering in my town, I met a man who’s hell bent on changing something rather significant in our local school district. I support his project and, as someone who is active in my local school district, I could have provided him with contacts, a little history on what he’s tackling, even guidance on how to tap into the PTA’s of schools in our town. But alas, the guy would not stop talking long enough for me to get a word in edgewise.
Actually, that’s not entirely accurate. As I was walking away from him, I did manage to say, “you know, I could introduce you to some people in the district who could help you,” and he said, “oh I know who to talk to.”
Now, I’m not saying I’m the go-to person on this project. I’m definitely not. But I know the go-to people, which might have been helpful for this man. A more perceptive (i.e., emotionally intelligent) person would have been receptive to another person’s ideas and also would have noticed the flicker of frustration in the other person’s eyes as she tried, again and again, to give some feedback. A more perceptive person might also have realized he was about to lose valuable information and maybe even a valuable volunteer by talk-talk-talking so much.
Next Up: Just what is good listening?