Featured Insights      Leadership      People
Practical Steps to Build Relationships and Enhance Emotional Intelligence 
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Author: James Cheng

In our previous articles, we delved into the significance of soft skills, the vital role of emotional intelligence (EQ), and the profound value of nurturing meaningful relationships. While the importance of EQ has been widely acknowledged in business circles, the question remains: how can we practically develop them? 

Among the key components of EQ (Self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills), self-awareness serves as the foundational and first step in improving EQ. As the old saying goes, “The eyes are the window to the soul,” and I’d like to add, “emotions are the keys to the heart.” 

We will explore the evolutionary steps that people typically follow to build these abilities, beginning with how social skills are cultivated during childhood and how they can continue to develop well into adulthood. 

Since many of our readers are already adults, and to keep things concise (in the military, we use the acronym BLUF – Bottom Line Up Front), here is the best way I believe adults can improve EQ and increase self-awareness: Pay attention throughout the day when you feel emotionally charged, whether it’s happiness, sadness, anger, frustration, or any other emotion. Then, take a moment during the day to journal or ask yourself, “Why did I feel this way?” Similar to a curious five-year-old who never stops asking “Why?” keep delving deeper until you uncover the root cause of your emotions. Not only does this practice help you understand your motivations and enhance self-awareness, but it also makes you more capable of empathizing with other people. As my professor used to say, “The less you understand your emotions, the more they will control you.” 

**1. Childhood Development of Soft Skills:** 

– **Playground Interactions:** Childhood is a critical period for cultivating soft skills. The playground serves as a natural classroom where children learn to interact, socialize, and navigate relationships. Encouraging children to engage in unstructured play fosters essential skills such as effective communication, teamwork, and adaptability. 

– **Emotional Awareness:** Teach children to recognize and express their emotions. Encourage them to label their feelings and engage in discussions about their experiences. This practice lays the foundation for emotional intelligence by aiding children in understanding themselves and others more deeply. 

– **Conflict Resolution:** Guide children in resolving conflicts with their peers. Encourage them to engage in constructive dialogues to address disagreements, actively listen to one another, and collaboratively seek solutions. These early experiences in conflict resolution contribute significantly to their ability to manage relationships in adulthood. 

**2. Learning from Nature:** 

– **Observing Animal Behavior:** Observing the way animals, such as puppies, interact can offer valuable insights. During the puppy stage, they often engage in playful mock-fights, pretend biting each other. If one puppy bites too hard, the other will yelp, signaling to the biter that they’ve crossed a line. Over time, puppies learn to gauge the appropriate level of pressure for playful biting without causing harm. In many ways, children should be exposed to situations where they are encouraged to interact with peers, similar to how puppies learn to play with each other. 

However, if a puppy never engages with other puppies and, consequently, never learns the appropriate biting pressure, they may grow up to be rough and inflict pain unintentionally, which is not endearing. In truth, adults should also be placed in interactive situations, although the expectations for adhering to established social norms are significantly higher. For example, if children who have just met each other grabbed each other’s hands and hugged, it would likely be seen as endearing. However, if adults were to do the same to strangers, it would be considered inappropriate and possibly harassment. 

**3. Socialization and Soft Skills in Adolescence:** 

– **Balancing Academics and Socialization:** While academic excellence is undoubtedly essential, adolescents should also actively engage in social activities. Encourage their participation in extracurricular activities, clubs, or sports that involve teamwork and interpersonal interaction. These experiences offer valuable opportunities to refine soft skills like leadership, communication, and teamwork. 

– **Participation in Social Events:** Adolescents can further enhance their social skills by attending social gatherings, parties, and events. These occasions provide a platform for practicing socialization, building friendships, and developing skills in humor, empathy, and understanding social dynamics. 

**4. Adult Life and Continued Growth:** 

For adults who may have missed these opportunities for skill development, it’s not too late to enhance your EQ and social skills: 

– **Networking:** In adulthood, networking events and professional gatherings present excellent opportunities to establish relationships and refine soft skills. Active participation in networking activities can expand one’s social and professional circles, fostering growth and development. 

– **Continuous Learning:** It’s essential to recognize that emotional intelligence is a skill that can be honed throughout one’s life. Encourage individuals to immerse themselves in resources such as books, workshops, and educational materials on emotional intelligence. However, it’s vital to emphasize that merely acquiring knowledge about social interaction isn’t sufficient. Mastery comes from practice. Much like learning to shoot a basketball, theoretical knowledge must be put into practice through regular skill development and application in real-life situations, including interactions with others. 

– **Practicing Empathy:** Regularly challenge yourself to view situations from others’ perspectives, which is called mentalizing. Empathy is a cornerstone of emotional intelligence, and conscious practice can significantly enhance your ability to relate to others. You can start by paying attention to your emotions. While emotions cannot be controlled directly (e.g., you can’t simply tell yourself to ‘stop being angry’ or ‘I need to stop being jealous’), they are spontaneous reactions to situations and your subconsciousness. The key is to observe your emotions and learn to manage your responses effectively. 

– **Conflict Resolution Workshops:** Consider participating in conflict resolution workshops or seeking guidance from professionals when faced with challenging interpersonal situations. Learning effective conflict resolution strategies can significantly enhance your soft skills, enabling you to navigate disputes and relationships more adeptly. 

The development of soft skills and emotional intelligence commences during childhood and continues throughout one’s life journey. Encourage children to learn through play, social interaction, and emotional awareness. In adolescence and adulthood, active engagement in social activities, networking, and continuous learning will further strengthen these essential skills. By embracing these practical steps, individuals can cultivate meaningful relationships and gracefully navigate the complexities of human interaction with empathy and understanding.The adverse effects of poor leadership on the lives of employees have become more pronounced and widely recognized, highlighting the urgent need for a paradigm shift towards nurturing essential soft skills. These often-underestimated capabilities can not only mitigate the detrimental impact of poor leadership but can also prevent it altogether. Whether it’s bolstering emotional wellbeing, safeguarding physical health, nurturing personal relationships, or preventing burnout, soft skills are the tools that can help us usher in an era where employees are supported in thriving at work, and in all other aspects of their lives.

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