Emotional intelligence (EI or EQ) is marked by a person’s ability to recognize and understand emotions (both his or her own and those of others), and to use that information to guide decision making. It includes demonstrating extremely complex qualities such as empathy, sympathy, and compassion.
Of course, these qualities help us to be better people. But they can also give you specific communication advantages, so that others receive your message in the best way possible.
We develop some pretty bad habits when it comes to communicating. Have you said something recently that you wish you could take back? For many, the tendency is to speak too quickly, without thinking things through.
Curbing that tendency is easier said than done, but there’s a quick “three question method” that will prevent you from saying something you’ll later regret.
The Vital Questions
Years ago, I was watching an interview with comedian and television personality Craig Ferguson when he gave some very sage advice:
There are three things you must always ask yourself before you say anything.
- Does this need to be said?
- Does this need to be said by me?
- Does this need to be said by me now?
Ferguson says it took him three marriages to learn that lesson.
Think for a moment about how emotional intelligence might apply at work. Let’s say you’re a manager, and you’ve been working hard to improve your relationships with certain individuals on your team. You see a certain team member do something great at work, and you take advantage of the opportunity to commend him. Great job! Sincere, authentic, and timely praise goes a long way in motivating employees.
But then suddenly, you remember: Wait, he messed something up a few weeks ago. I wanted to bring that to his attention, too. Let me tell him before I forget...
No! Stop! Ask yourself:
Does this need to be said? Does it need to be said by me? Does it need to be said by me now?
True, constructive criticism is best delivered soon after a mistake. But you’ve already missed that boat. If you give that negative feedback now, it will completely destroy whatever goodwill you built with your praise and commendation. The person will think:
“So, essentially you just told me something nice to soften the blow of what you really wanted to say. Jerk.”
When you ask yourself the three questions, you will probably conclude one of the following:
- You know, the criticism I wanted to share wasn’t so important after all. My opinion may even be changing on this.
- It might be better if I speak to his team leader first. Maybe what I saw a few weeks ago wasn’t really the whole picture.
- I definitely still need to talk to him about the problem I saw. But now’s not the right time. Let me set a reminder to schedule an appointment with the person after I’m better prepared.
See how well it works?
This is just one scenario, but practicing these three questions will help you in various situations. Imagine if everyone did it: We would see far fewer (and shorter) emails, shorter meetings, and fewer employee complaints about others’ inappropriate remarks.
Don’t Be Afraid
Of course, there are times when the answer to all three questions will be a resounding yes. If that’s the case, by all means speak up!
You can do so with the confidence that what you have to say is vitally important—and learn to be assertive when it counts.
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