5 Ways to Improve Emotional Intelligence in Communication

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The School of Life" by The School of Life. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Want to know how to connect authentically with others? How can improving emotional intelligence in communication help?

Emotional intelligence in communication means the ability to intelligently bond with someone by understanding the emotions behind their words or actions. If this sounds desirable, The School of Life offers several methods for strengthening your emotional intelligence in communication.

Read on to learn five ways to strengthen your emotional intelligence in communication, according to The School of Life.

Emotional Intelligence in Communication

The School of Life is an educational organization that offers books, courses, and psychotherapy to support personal growth. They also collaborated to write the book, The School of Life, which offers advice on gaining emotional intelligence about yourself, others, relationships, and work. In this article, we’ll specifically examine what the book says about emotional intelligence in communication and how you can be more emotionally intelligent in your interactions with others. The authors provide five ways of doing this. 

#1: Act With Vulnerability and Warmth

One of the best ways to improve emotional intelligence in communication is to be vulnerable and warm with others, claim the authors. Vulnerability is effective because when we hear others vulnerably share their problems, unhappiness, or worries, we feel validated in having those ourselves. We feel less alone and less alien, which endears the sharer to us. 

(Shortform note: In The Power of Vulnerability, Brené Brown also mentions that vulnerability builds trust, which is another way we become more connected to people. Brown contends that you can’t trust someone unless you understand their motives, feelings, and personality—in other words, unless they’ve opened themselves up to you.)

Another way to connect to people is to be a warm person. The authors define warmth as addressing others’ hidden insecurities and worries through kindness and vulnerability—like by heartily welcoming a newcomer to a class you’re taking or by telling them you also struggled to master concepts at first. Warm people don’t insist on formality in social interactions because they know humans need more than small talk and intellectual dialogue to feel comfortable. 

At the same time, a warm person can relate to the problems of others and doesn’t pretend they and everyone else are always happy and carefree. They make room for people to express unhappiness and pain and can empathize with them. 

(Shortform note: Another way you might look at being warm is as being a comfortable person. In The Power of Positive Thinking, Norman Vincent Peale defines a comfortable person as someone others feel comfortable and at ease around. Arguably, the traits of a warm person tend to make others comfortable: When you try to assuage others’ worries and avoid excessive formality, you’ll likely make them feel at ease. And when you recognize and accept that people often have negative thoughts and feelings, you’ll further make them comfortable being themselves around you.)

#2: Tease Others as a Form of Bonding

Good-natured teasing is another way to use emotional intelligence in your communication with others, assert the authors. We like teasing because it addresses our adult desires to be less serious. We all crave the chance to be playful, goofy, and childish and appreciate people who let us do that. 

A good teaser also knows exactly what aspect of their friend to tease about. These are usually the small shortcomings their friend would like to fix. For instance, if you know your friend would like to be less of a neatnik, they’ll appreciate it if you gently tease them about their impeccably organized living room. 

(Shortform note: You might creatively conceive of gentle teasing as giving words of affirmation, a concept popularized in Gary Chapman’s The 5 Love Languages. Chapman defines words of affirmation as supportive words that make the other person feel loved. Teasing arguably lets the other person feel loved and supported in their quirks and shortcomings.)

#3: Give Others the Benefit of the Doubt

When others seem to be struggling or acting out, you can use emotional intelligence in your communication to ease the tension by giving them the benefit of the doubt, write the authors. This means assuming there’s an emotional or childhood wound underlying their current behavior and not holding them solely responsible for hurtful or destructive actions. Try to understand why they’re behaving badly, rather than judging them for it. The advice goes the opposite way, too: If you sense you’re acting out, try to understand why you’re doing so and communicate this reason to others. 

(Shortform note: Giving others the benefit of the doubt is good for you, too. Research shows that people who habitually assume others have bad intentions are less happy in their relationships and less happy in general. This is called having a hostile attributional style. Conversely, people who habitually think the best of others (who have a benign attributional style) are happier. You can take steps to change your attributional style to be more benign—perhaps by trying to understand others’ motivations more, as the authors suggest.)

Though it may be hard, give even people who openly attack you the benefit of the doubt, recommend the authors. People who insult others only do so because they themselves are in pain. Use this knowledge to become less injured when someone attacks you and respond to them with care, not outrage.

For example, if your boss begins berating you for small mistakes, assume there’s an underlying reason for this and perhaps even try to ascertain what it is. Maybe you notice they leave the office often for doctor appointments—they might be upset because they’re facing a health problem. 

(Shortform note: To respond effectively to attacks, you may also need to consider if you’re interpreting others’ words as attacks. The authors of Difficult Conversations argue that we interpret others’ speech based on how it impacts us. For example, if we’re offended by something our boss said, we believe they intended to offend us, even though that might not be true. This is yet another reason to develop your self-knowledge: You’ll better know when something happens to be rubbing you the wrong way.)

#4: Communicate With Politeness and Diplomacy

To use more emotional intelligence in your communication with others, the authors also recommend communicating with politeness and diplomacy. For the authors, politeness consists of these behaviors:

  • Avoiding blunt speech because this can be hurtful
  • Respecting that others have different opinions and preferences and asking for those
  • Offering validation and kind words because humans can be emotionally fragile
  • Giving everyday kindness through small gestures
  • Not taking impulsive, decisive action toward others because we may be wrong

Today, we view politeness as synonymous with inauthenticity and snobbishness. But the authors argue that this view is incorrect and that politeness—rather than frankness, which they contrast it against—would help us all get along better. 

#5: See the Positive Side of Every Quality

Emotional intelligence in communication also means learning how to deal with negative emotions when they arise. When you’re irritated by others’ negative qualities, consider how that negative quality can sometimes be a positive quality, advise the authors. Say you find your friend annoyingly bad at making simple decisions, like deciding what to eat at a restaurant. Their extreme considerateness becomes an advantage when they must make a bigger decision, like where to move next: They’ll take into account every minor factor and make the most informed choice. Acknowledging this duality makes it easier to cope with the unpleasant manifestations of others’ traits. 

(Shortform note: Ancient Chinese philosophy has a name for this dual nature of all things: yin and yang. The idea is that everything has both a positive and a negative nature (you can also think of this as having a female and male nature, or a dark and light nature) and that one side can’t exist without the other. Yin specifically is described as a negative, dark, calm, feminine energy. Yang on the other hand is positive, light, hot, masculine energy. Drawing on this philosophy might make it even easier to acknowledge and deal with the difficult sides of another’s personality.)

5 Ways to Improve Emotional Intelligence in Communication

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Emily Kitazawa

Emily found her love of reading and writing at a young age, learning to enjoy these activities thanks to being taught them by her mom—Goodnight Moon will forever be a favorite. As a young adult, Emily graduated with her English degree, specializing in Creative Writing and TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language), from the University of Central Florida. She later earned her master’s degree in Higher Education from Pennsylvania State University. Emily loves reading fiction, especially modern Japanese, historical, crime, and philosophical fiction. Her personal writing is inspired by observations of people and nature.

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