Casual conversation can be a powerful thing. It's how we share information and connect with each other—often more deeply than we can by digital means. It's the social glue that binds us together and determines how well, and at what level, we're able to relate to each other.
That's just as true in the workplace as it is in our personal lives. At work, conversations create bonds that make for strong working relationships and effective teams. And since communication operates on an emotional level as well as an intellectual one, high emotional intelligence helps us communicate more effectively.
Here are seven habits that highly emotionally intelligent people use to have more powerful conversations—and how you can put them to good use.
Emotionally intelligent people understand their own feelings and how that affects their conversations with others. They can use this information to manage their emotions before going into a conversation. This way they don't let their feelings get out of hand and take charge of the conversation.
Sometimes this means delaying or stopping yourself from saying something that might sound harsh or judgmental—even if you don't quite have your emotions completely in check. But you need to know how you're feeling before you can know how to interact with someone else . . .
. . . which of course matters, too. Those with high emotional intelligence are also capable of checking in to sense whether something's amiss from other people's points of view. Their empathy and sensitivity can help others feel comfortable sharing what's going on with them. Usually you can pick up on this information nonverbally. Stay alert to the tone of words, facial expressions, and body language—these can be powerful clues to understanding how another person is feeling.
It can take time to build trust—even in the space of a single conversation, and even with someone you've interacted with previously. Any time you're speaking with somebody because you want something from them, take the time to ease into the technical aspects. Emotionally intelligent people always take time to find out what's going on with the other person emotionally—right there in the moment. They don't rush into laying out their own needs. This paves the way for smoother and more successful conversations for everyone involved.
Have you ever had a three-way (or more) conversation where you felt totally ignored by the person speaking? Did they direct their conversation entirely toward one or more of the people they were talking to? The best conversationalists are more inclusive. They're aware of their environment, which includes the other people in it—even those who may be keeping their mouths shut.
To open up the conversation, simply take turns—and start with eye contact. Go around and look at everyone you're speaking to, then keep returning their gaze when they're speaking. (It's not rocket science, but it's something many people still forget to do.) And while you're focusing your attention toward whoever you're addressing your comments to at a given moment, don't lose track of the fact that others are involved. This way, you can loop them in before they start to feel left out.
It's been pointed out before that the best conversationalists often listen more than they speak. Highly emotionally intelligent people understand this. They take the time to listen actively—as opposed to just mentally preparing a response while the other person is talking.
If their message or intention isn't clear, it's never rude to simply ask for clarification; it can be as simple as a polite, "What do you mean?" The reason here, too, is obvious but often overlooked: If the person you're speaking to doesn't feel heard, they won't much like speaking with you. Listening carefully to someone doesn't mean agreeing with their every remark. It's simply about letting your guard down enough to encourage the speaker to continue opening up and sharing their ideas freely.
That can make for something of a balancing act, though. In order to have meaningful conversations, you do need to find some measure of common ground—even if there's little agreement about what is being said. If you rank high for emotional intelligence, chances are you're good at picking up the subtleties of what other people mean, even if that isn't perfectly expressed in their words.
This helps the conversation continue respectfully despite any differences in opinion. When those differences do crop up, don't take on others' emotions. Instead, continue to manage your own (see No. 1 above!) so you can influence the tone and mood of the conversation, even if the subject matter hits rocky terrain.
After all, meaningful conversations should include disagreement. If you share identical ideas, neither of you are likely to learn anything new or expand your own viewpoints. People with strong emotional intelligence understand they need to express their views without getting personal. Don't put anyone down for voicing an idea you disagree with. Don't be dismissive.
Remember that the whole point of face-to-face communication is to form connections and relationships with people with a wide range of perspectives and ideas—especially in the workplace. That's one reason why emotional intelligence is a powerful job skill for leadership roles involving mediation and team building.
If you can manage your emotions as well as others', you'll be able to navigate all the nuances that can derail conversations and lead to conflict and hurt feelings. So tune into those feelings rather than trying to contain them. They're your best bet when it comes to supporting people, understanding them, and making them feel heard and appreciated—no matter how much you actually agree on.