I first heard the following anecdote in a speech by author, David Foster Wallace.
“There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”
The point of the story is this: It is very difficult to see our own reality, even when it is simple and obvious. Every one of us is blind to our own blindness, which is why emotional intelligence is such an essential task. We need to see ourselves clearly to lead ourselves well, and none of us can do that on our own. Said another way – gaining emotional intelligence is not a solo endeavor.
The process for gaining emotional intelligence starts with this reality – you are as others see you. The people who know you best will see you the most clearly. If that statement is hard for you to believe, then it’s a good indicator that you have room to increase your EQ! If we can’t acknowledge the importance of outside perspective, then our path to greater emotional intelligence will always be limited. Here are a few thoughts on how we might gain the perspective we need:
1. Get a Coach: This might seem like a shameless plug, but I can tell you first hand that coaching changed my life. I worked with a fantastic coach who listened, asked questions, and helped me see some very important things about myself that I had missed. A good coach can provide awareness and perspective that you can’t get on your own. Now here is the actual shameless plug – if you’re interested in learning more about coaching – go here.
2. Get Feedback: I’ll say it again – the people that know you the best will see things that you have missed. In order to gain the benefits of this feedback, we have to learn how to receive it. This starts by asking the right way. A question like, “what is something you think I should change?” is far too broad to be effective. A question like, “I am working on my listening skills, and I’m wondering if you can provide feedback on what it’s like to have a conversation with me?” might be a better place to start. The second key to receiving feedback is to actually receive it. If you ask for feedback and then respond defensively to it, people will stop telling you what they think.
3. Take an assessment: Tools like MBTI (Myers-Briggs), the Enneagram, or The Prioritized Leader Assessment are all great starting points for understanding yourself more fully. Each of these tools provides a unique window into who you are, and can be a valuable step in growing your emotional intelligence. If you choose to take an assessment, you might consider debriefing it with a coach for additional clarity and impact.