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Develop Emotional Intelligence by Learning How You Sound to Others

Patrick Allan

Sometimes what we say doesn’t go over very well, regardless of our intent. There’s a difference between what we mean when we say something and how it comes across to other people. Learning that difference is an important aspect of becoming emotionally intelligent.

Emotional intelligence can help you be more aware of how you and others really feel about something. It allows you to adjust your behavior and adapt to situations so that others find you emplikable. In turn, it can help you build better relationships in your personal and professional life. Muriel Maignan Wilkins at the Harvard Business Review explains that being emotionally intelligent involves being aware of the gap between intent and impact:

Those with weak emotional intelligence often underestimate what a negative impact their words and actions have on others. They ignore the gap between what they mean to say and what others actually hear… Regardless of what you intend to mean, think about how your words are going to impact others and whether that’s how you want to them to feel.

Before you say something, stop, and take a moment to think about how it might sound. Ask yourself how you would feel if someone told you the same thing. Are you making the kind of impression you want to make? Remember, even if you mean well, make sure it sounds like you mean well.


6 Ways to Increase Your Emotional Intelligence

What makes someone successful? Is it book smarts, street smarts or a combination of the two? Maybe it is someone who is naturally gifted in their field? You might be surprised to learn that the most successful people are those that know how to manage their emotions.

Knowing how to remain calm in the face of adversity and collected and focused despite external challenges is known as emotional intelligence, and it is the quality that makes people happy and successful.

That is good news because unlike being naturally-gifted, emotional intelligence is a skill that can be learned, practiced and improved.

In a study on emotional intelligence, a group of participants given emotional intelligence training were better able to handle difficult situations and manage their emotions than the group that received no training at all. The study also showed that the one-time training lasted well beyond the experiment. This means the work you do now will benefit you well into the future.

Here are 6 ways to develop your emotional intelligence:

Be Self-Aware

The first step to increasing your emotional intelligence is to understand your emotions by becoming aware of them. We are often told to hide our feelings but to tap into your emotional intelligence you need to feel.

Start by observing what you are feeling during one given day. Stop yourself and let yourself feel whatever it is you’re feeling.

Feel it and then describe it. When you describe it, you are becoming more aware and will begin to understand your emotional triggers and patterns.

Adapt Your Emotions

Now that you are becoming more aware of your emotions start looking for patterns and triggers. Look back at a situation where your emotions got the best of you and think of what you would do differently, if you had remained calm and collected.

This mental exercise isn’t about beating yourself up; it is about learning from your past experiences to better prepare you for the future. The best place to be when reacting to a situation is in a place of calm. Once you begin to recognize the patterns, you can talk yourself out of overreacting and begin to react with more intention.


Forgiveness is often misinterpreted as letting someone off the hook. The reality is forgiveness is about taking back emotional control over your feelings and releasing the control someone else has over you. Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself.

Forgiveness is acknowledging that the action happened and how it made you feel. There is nothing there that can be changed. You can choose to reside in the feelings of the past or choose to move through them. Moving through it and letting it go is the one the healthiest and most beneficial things you can do for yourself.

Girl on swing at sunset


Be Empathetic

Understanding your feelings is only half the equation, the other half is understanding and being able to imagine how others feel. Empathy connects you to another person through shared feelings.

By nature we are selfish beings; we want what we want. And that works just fine until you have to interact with another selfish person. It is through shared feelings that we begin to find our true, authentic self. Our ability to empathize with people gives us the courage to live outside of ourselves.

Manage Criticism

We are critical beings, and one of the best and easiest ways to increase emotional intelligence is stop taking everything so seriously. In other words, lighten up.

How you manage criticism you receive, can impact every area of your life. If you are holding onto critical statements and carrying them with you throughout the day, that negativity is infecting everything you touch.

It’s important to realize that most criticism that evokes negative feelings in us is usually designed for that purpose by the other person. When we react negatively to criticism, whether constructive or not, we are reacting out of our fears and insecurities.

Go back to becoming more self-aware and adapt your emotions to the situation. When you begin to react to criticism from a place of calm rather than anger, you begin to see the criticism as a valuable tool for improving your performance and showing someone’s true colors.

Stand Up for What Is Right

When you begin to develop your emotional intelligence, you are just trying to get better acquainted with your feelings and how to adapt them to serve you better. Every interaction comes with emotions from everyone involved, and now it’s time to take your emotional intelligence to a new level by standing up for what is right.

Gossiping is a prime example. When you are in a conversation that includes gossip, you might not have the most positive feelings yet you let the gossip go on. There are a million reasons why you do: you don’t want to offend anyone, you want to be part of the crowd, or you don’t know how to take a stand.

By not doing what is right, which is speaking from your experience, you are not adapting your emotions to the situation, you are giving in to them. Do what’s right and take a stand for your truth. It is not always easy swimming upstream, but the effort always pays off in the end.

Developing and growing your emotional intelligence is something that anyone can do. It doesn’t require a high IQ or access to higher education, it simply requires you to become vulnerable enough to listen and learn from your feelings.

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Are You Too Hard On Yourself? Read This


I used to have a habit of correcting people’s grammar. Friends, boyfriends, strangers — if their verb and adverb didn’t agree, they’d hear about it! This was likely very irritating for most people who spoke with me, although I’m sure somewhere during a job interview an ex-boyfriend is thanking me …

But my criticism didn’t stop at “wells” and “goods.” I experienced my being and my world through uber-judgmental glasses. I could find a flaw faster than I could find my left hand.

I thought the Mona Lisa, and, well, the rest of Europe, were really underwhelming. I thought I was disgusting every time I looked in a mirror. I had unrealistically high expectations for everyone and everything. Always judging made me miserable to be around, and, well, miserable.

I was miserable because judgment is at the root of all our pain: Judging ourselves causes depression; judging others puts a wedge between our relationships; judging our experiences or future experiences causes frustration and disappointment. Judging our feelings causes shame.

Often, what’s at the root of our pain is self-criticism. We judge ourselves, we judge others. We judge experiences. We judge feelings. In response, we feel disappointment, frustration, discouragement, anger, and anxiety. In fact, studies have shown self-criticism is linked to depression, anxiety, and eating disorders, among other ailments.

Although I’ve significantly changed my relationships to the world and myself over the past few years, I’m human and of course still catch myself judging. Like when I check out my boyfriend’s selfie-filled Instagram feed of super-babes. Or I catch my reflection in a window when I’m in a particularly self-loathing frame of mind. Or I lose my debit card for the 4th time in a month.

Those are times when I notice that critical, judgmental voice. Of course, then I judge myself for judging (Megan, you hypocrite! You’re supposed to be compassionate and nonjudgmental!)

But then I become aware of judging myself for judging, and empathize with my experience. After all, judgement is deeply imbedded into us. We are taught from a young age to develop strong critical thinking skills. To be rational. Independent. Self-sufficient. to analyze and criticize. Thus, trying to detach from judgment can be very challenging.

I of course still catch myself judging, but here are six steps I’ve found have liberated me from the shackles of perpetual (self) criticism:

1. Notice yourself judging.

The first step to change is awareness, so focus on that for now. This can be challenging for those of us with high expectations for ourselves, as we tend to want to see results immediately.

However, like many of our unserving thoughts, judgment can become so automatic we don’t even notice we’re doing it — like breathing. So, your first task in becoming less (self) critical is to notice when you’re judging.

2. Be curious. You can’t be judgmental and curious at the same time.

Try to perceive your world with a beginner’s mind, an open mind. Replace criticism with wonder; replace judgement with curiosity. Here are a few examples:

  • Be curious about your emotions. For example, you could ask yourself: What is this sensation that I’m feeling? What is it trying to tell me? Can’t figure out? Don’t judge yourself for not being able to interpret it. Get curious about that! Have I felt this before? I wonder how long it might stick around? I wonder what the adaptive quality of this emotion might be.
  • Be curious about people’s stories and behaviors. Some ideas to consider: What she been through? Has he had his heart broken? What are they feeling right now? What possessed her to make that rude comment?
  • Be curious about your thoughts. Some ideas: How is thinking that I’m ugly/fat/foolish benefitting me? Where do these ideas come from? or I wonder why I’m judging that person for posting a selfie right now. Am I jealous? Threatened? Triggered in some way?
  • Be curious about your experiences, especially if you find yourself comparing them to others. For example, I wonder what this performance will bring? rather than This Cirque De Soleil better be as good as the last one!
  • Be curious about the future. Some fun ways to go about this: I wonder where I’ll be in 5 years. There are so many different directions life could go! That’s a gentler route than telling yourself things like, In 5 years I will be married with 2 children and a stable career, or else I will consider myself a failure.
mirror mirror

3. Soften your language.

Language is emotionally evocative. Consider how you feel when you say, “the trip was horrible” or “the weather is shitty.”

Now think about how you feel when you say “the trip had its challenges” or “it’s been raining for 32 days.”

Think of how you feel when you say, “I ate [or drank/slept/flirted] way too much — that’s so bad!”

Compare that to telling yourself this: “The amount I [or drank/slept/flirted] did not serve me.”

One is going to make you feel shame, while another is going to give you a bit more space to step back and review your experience with compassion and with less distress.

You get the point. Try to use neutral language, rather than words and descriptors that bring about strong feelings. Softening your language can help you detach from judgment.

Try to reduce your usage of words like bad, good, right, wrong, fat, skinny, ugly, pretty, stupid, smart.

Instead, use words like helpful, unhelpful, serving, unserving, comfortable, uncomfortable, interesting, unexpected, challenging, etc.

Play with your vocabulary a bit and see what connotations different words bring up for you. If they leave you feeling ashamed, angry, worthless, or disappointed, try to find different words to describe your experience.

4. Cultivate empathy.

When we step into the suffering of ourselves or others, we have a harder time being judgmental. Continuing to use your curiosity, try to understand what the person you’re judging might be feeling and experiencing.

If you’re working on becoming less self-critical, try to practice empathy toward yourself for having the thoughts and feelings you’re having, and/or for engaging in whatever “bad” behavior you’re judging yourself for. As with being curious, it’s very hard to be critical and empathetic at the same time.

5. Practice, practice, practice.

You know how when you’re meditating, and you notice your mind has inevitably wandered, you’re taught to congratulate yourself for noticing and bring your attention back to your breath? Same goes for when you notice yourself inevitably judging.

Instead of beating yourself up, label it “judging” and try to approach the situation with tolerance and compassion. You’re creating new neural pathways, and improvement won’t happen overnight.

6. Find (or influence) your people.

Consider who might be a toxic or negative influence in your life. Who in your world might be contributing to a culture of judgment? There’s a difference between talking about another with respect, concern, or wonder, and callously trash-talking. There’s a difference between compassionately expressing you’d like to lose a couple pounds and verbally abusing yourself for existing.

If you notice you’re in the habit of bashing, whether the object of this negativity is another or yourself, try to steer the conversation in a less critical direction. Or spend more time with people who live (fairly) nonjudgmentally and compassionately. Oh, and stop reading tabloids and Perez Hilton-esque sites! They both normalize and perpetuate criticism and judgment.

Try it for a few days. See what happens. For me, shame, anxiety, and disappointment don’t come around as often. And for my friends, neither does the Grammar Police.