Ever wonder what someone else is thinking? Upping your “EI,” or emotional intelligence, can help you figure it out and help you have a productive conversation about whatever is bothering them.

You know something is up with this other person. They’re acting “funny.” But when you ask what’s wrong, they say “Nothing,” then go back to sighing under their breath, or closing the cabinet doors a little bit harder than necessary, or just sending out an energy that feels, well, off.

Some people are more sensitive to these subtle clues to another person’s emotional state than others. The term “emotional intelligence” refers to the ability to perceive, control and evaluate emotions. Being able to pick up on and respond effectively to the signals another person is giving off can be the difference between resolving an issue to everyone’s satisfaction and continuing to live under a cloud of negative emotional energy.

So what are some steps you can take to improve your EI?

  • Become more aware of your own emotions. Try tuning in to your emotional state, and realizing what’s causing you to feel the way you do, more often. And don’t be afraid to dig – at first, you may think that you feel angry at your spouse because he left his towels piled on the bathroom floor again, but maybe the true cause of your distress is that you feel like he just doesn’t value all you do to keep the house tidy.
  • Practice being open-minded, flexible, and empathetic. When you’re able to put yourself in the other person’s shoes, or see why someone else has the perspective they do, you’re more likely to be able to handle conflict in a calm manner and de-escalate a potentially tense situation. If you’re able to see why they feel or believe as they do, you can also address their concerns in a positive, productive way and not get derailed by personal attacks or overwhelming emotions.
  • Be clear and assertive. Very few of us actually enjoy confrontations – which means we most likely have a natural tendency to avoid talking about distressing topics with others. Unfortunately, ignoring problems rarely makes them go away, and they may actually fester and worsen if they go unaddressed. Think through what you’d like to say to the other person, maybe even rehearsing how you want to talk about your point of view so that you know your message is clear. At the same time, think about being assertive. The goal is to meet the other person’s needs without sacrificing your own – all while doing so in a respectful, compassionate manner.

The improved communication you’ll experience as you strengthen your EI can make for fewer slammed cabinet doors, less walking on eggshells, and ultimately, closer relationships.

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