Learn to be Interpersonally Intelligent in 5 Simple Steps

Over and over again the research shows that Emotional Intelligence is more important than IQ and yet schools don’t teach us how to be interpersonally effective. We are taught from a young age matters of the mind like science and algebra. These subjects are meant to help us with both general knowledge and everyday transactions. But how helpful are they really? And what is needed in the workplace and in social settings for us to be successful and satisfied?

It turns out that knowing some simple math can help us when making financial decisions or when baking. We may not need to know how to draw a triangle or solve complicated equations in our day-to-day, but having a general sense of how things add up is helpful. Today, most people rely on calculators and apps to do complicated math problems. If you’ve ever baked, you know that this is an activity that requires precision. You will need to measure ingredients exactly as indicated in the recipe. Otherwise, what you intended may come out quite differently and often not as tasty.

Science helps us understand how the universe around us works. The most helpful extraction from this for those of us who aren’t scientists, may be the knowledge of our bodies. It’s important for us to be able to tune into what we are sensing, whether a pain or ailment, and get the necessary help. We also benefit from knowing that healthy eating and exercise help our bodies function more optimally. Generally speaking, though, most people don’t use much more scientific information than that on a daily basis.

In the workplace and beyond, what is seemingly critical that is being overlooked by our education system is Emotional Intelligence (EQ). This is the science behind how we work emotionally both intra- and interpersonally. The reason the data point to the importance of EQ is because most of our work has a social component. Whether you need to get along with your boss, your co-workers, or your customers, your EQ can make the difference between being liked and trusted or not.

In your personal life, social skills are just as important. We need people in our lives. We all have family members - and those are the people in your life you don’t get to choose, so knowing how to navigate their “crazy” is crucial to surviving family gatherings. We also have our own triggers, so we need to manage our own “crazy” to be able to get along with others. Lastly, if we don’t want to be an island, we need to gather others around us. This requires proactivity. We must seek out opportunities to meet new people and to socialize with the friends we already have.

But what if you don’t know how to be effective socially? What lessons can you learn to help you better understand others and communicate with them so you can have the relationships you want in your life?

The Essentials for Effective Communication

Think about a time when you had a strong urge to share an experience with someone else. Perhaps during times of trouble, you want the other person’s support or understanding. If you have a conflict with someone in your life, you may want to communicate to them why what they are doing is problematic. This is your opportunity to assert yourself.

What’s most important in those moments of communication?

When we are in conversation with someone, what’s most important is for us to feel heard, understood, and validated. The other person may not necessarily agree with our position, but if they are respectful and listen closely to the point where you feel they “get it,” you will be getting at least some of your needs met.

Now that you’re able to tune into what you would like when you’re sharing something difficult with another person, let’s flip the script. It’s time for you to be on the receiving end and to do so effectively.

Step 1. Reflective Listening

Very few of us have ever been trained to listen. Many of us are born with the ability to hear, but listening is an art.

Imagine you’re having an argument with your coworker, roommate, or romantic partner. You may be so worked up that all you want to do is jump in and tell your side of the story. There might be a part of you that’s determined to convince the other person why they are wrong and you are right. This impulse is natural. But natural and effective are two different things.

To have the quality relationships you may desire, you need to contain yourself even in the heat of the moment. You will have your time to give your version, but it’s critical you listen intently to the other party. When we listen without an agenda because we want to truly understand what the other person is feeling, thinking, and wanting, we have information we can later leverage in problem-solving.

But before we skip ahead, let’s take a deep dive into what quality listening looks like:

  • You agree to understand the other person before you tell them what you have to say

  • You reflect back to them what they said

  • You see whether they agree with your summary statement. This is an invitation for them to add anything you might have missed. You can then re-summarize to ensure you got everything right this time.

  • Only after they feel understood do you share what’s on your mind.

This process provides role modeling. If the other person is not trained in listening the way you are, you can remind them of how you took the time to really understand them and that you would like them to do the same and check in with you without jumping in to make their own points.

Step 2. Empathic Understanding

To be truly effective, we aren’t just listening for content. We want to read between the lines, closely examine body language, and find out what the person is feeling. By understanding the other person’s emotional position, we can put ourselves in their shoes and try to sense what it must be like for them. That doesn’t mean that you have to feel their pain and overexert yourself emotionally. You can just relate to their experience as an emotional being.

Reflections are used in Motivational Interviewing (MI), a form of therapy that focuses on helping people resolve their ambivalence and overcome their resistance by mirroring their experience back to them. According to MI, there are two kinds of reflections: (1) Simple reflections - these focus on the content of what the person is saying, as in paraphrasing; (2) Complex reflections - the focus here is on the emotions and meanings behind what is said. To be able to reflect in such a way requires deep listening. It may require you to jump ahead and fill in the blank when the other person has not yet said what they mean. According to William Miller, the co-creator of MI,

“accurate empathy can predict up to 2/3 of the variance in client outcomes.”

The same outcomes are expected outside of a therapeutic setting. Empathy can help you effectively understand the other person to find a fitting solution to the problem.

Here’s what the Dalai Lama said about developing compassion:

“There is a developmental process for cultivating compassion for others. . . . The first step is knowledge. . . . Then you need to constantly reflect and internalize this knowledge . . . to the point where it will become a conviction. It becomes integrated into your state of mind. . . . Then you get to a point where it becomes spontaneous.”

It’s like being a sponge and absorbing the other person’s experience which fuses with yours in your mind. When both sides have done this, the outcomes are superior to any proposal one of you could have made.

Step 3. Sharing Your Point of View

Now it’s your turn to talk. You’ve been patient enough, holding back with the goal of first understanding the other person. To continue going down the road of effective communication, you will need to express yourself in a way the other person can hear you. What that requires is for you to avoid blaming or criticizing the other person. This only raises defensiveness in them. Rather, stick to the facts. Share with them what’s happened. Tell the story by pointing out elements they are likely to agree to.

Only after you’ve got them saying yes do you continue on. This is your opportunity to share how the events made you feel. It may be that they said or did something that hurt your feelings. Explain how that made you feel. Once you are satisfied that they understand you, move on to step 4.

Step 4. Emotionally Intelligent Problem-Solving

If you’ve followed steps 1 and 2, you should have a good understanding of how the other person feels. As a result of step 3, they should also now have a sense of how you feel. Step 4 is about putting the two sides together and coming up with a solution that is satisfactory to both parties. This is not about compromising or negotiating. It’s about an attempt to get both people’s needs met. It requires creativity, patience, and good will.

Step 5. Finding The Essence

In every situation there are elements that repeat themselves. You may recognize a part of the current conflict because it reminds you of the arguments you used to have with mom, for example. What’s important for you to grow as a communicator, is to boil down the problem-turned-solution and see what takeaways there are. This can help you circumvent future interpersonal issues. Use the knowledge you gained about how you affect others emotionally and consider what lessons might be in store for you. You can also reflect on any triggers you experienced and consider what you can do next time you’re in a similar situation. By extracting the essence of the situation, you are setting yourself up for more effective communication moving forward.

Bonus Tip:

Through your interaction, both when you are listening and when you are speaking, it is important to be mindful of your nonverbal communication. Make good eye contact to show you’re attending to the other person. Keep an open stance. Closed stances, such as crossing your arms, may signal defensiveness. If you’re really in tune with the person with whom you’re communicating, you might find that you mirror their posture or position. Remember, you have an effect on others and by staying aware of your body, you can come across as more inviting. Similarly, paying attention to the other person’s body language can reveal unspoken truths and can help you with complex reflections.


Emotional Intelligence is the key to successful relationships. It provides us with the framework for effective communication. This is a vital skill through which we can learn to not only talk in a way that we can be heard, but also really understand what the other person is experiencing and coming up with a solution that incorporates both sides. So the next time you are in conflict with someone and want to be effective, think about the 5 steps listed above as well as the importance of body language. This can help you, as Dale Carnegie said, to “Win Friends and Influence People.”

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