For some, reading people accurately is a gift they already possess. For others, it is something that needs a fair amount of fine-tuning. Several factors contribute to our perception of others, and knowing the cause for our distorted readings, will undoubtedly assist in making them more precise in the future.
Emotional intelligence is something which we grew up learning to strengthen, or to stunt. If you were told not to cry as a child, or taught to negate your own emotions with responses like “I’m fine,” you are prone to be less receptive to others’ emotional state than someone who grew up discussing their feelings.
David Caruso, PhD, a well-known psychologist, Assistant to the Dean at Yale University, and co-author of the Mayer, Salovey, Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test, says being taught to hide the very thing which makes us human can have disastrous effects later-on in our adult life.
The things we consider day-to-day activities can also affect our ability to accurately read others. A recent study published in Computers in Human Behavior explains what happens when we remove screen-based media and communication devices from our lives and replace them with physical, and personal connections instead:
“While digital media provides many useful ways to communicate and learn, our study suggests that skills in reading human emotion may be diminished when face-to-face interaction is displaced by technologically mediated communication. We found that those who were away from screens, with many opportunities for in-person interaction, improved significantly in reading facial emotion cues.”
There are several determinants regarding our emotional intelligence baseline, and how well we can read someone, but how do we improve those qualities and make our personal encounters more informative and successful?
1. Keep an open mind.
Try to approach each individual interaction as objectively as possible. Oftentimes, we carry our own personal views and biases into our perceptions of others, and that can cloud our judgment.
Body language consultant and founder of Truth Blazer, Blanca Cobb, says,
“Your own emotions and your previous experiences with another person can color your impressions, and that may lead you to misread the situation.”
Instead of taking note of someone’s attire, or assuming their slovenly appearance has anything to do with the benevolence or maliciousness of their intent, become a blank slate and pay attention to the behaviours and words of the other person.
2. Body language is relevant.
If you are in a bad mood, you’re probably not as good at hiding it as you think. Our body language always gives us away, if you know what to look for.
There are positive and negative emotions we display through body language. Almost imperceptible changes take place- most without us even knowing about. Crossing our arms, the direction we point our feet when talking to someone, eye-contact, smiling, and various other displays of body language can tell someone a lot about how or what you are feeling.
3. Avoid pre-determined confirmations.
After we develop an idea about someone, we tend to always view them through that specific lens. For example, if we label someone as “manipulative,” we will notice the behaviours that correspond with that label, and we’ll be less likely to notice the behaviours which don’t.
It’s true that our first impressions are usually correct about a person, but they are never foolproof. Remember to re-evaluate your initial assumptions based on continued interaction, and alter them accordingly.
4. Leave the past in the past.
As humans, we are gifted with an incredible memory. Unfortunately, this means that we remember things about the past which shouldn’t have any bearing on our present or future.
Let’s say you had an unpleasant experience with an IT support representative, you might, unfairly, assume the next one will be just as unhelpful. Or, if you recently met someone who shares the name of someone you dislike, you might treat them slightly differently.
Instead of carrying those negative reminders with you for the rest of your life, treat every instance as something new to experience. Life will be much more satisfying and the lines of communication won’t be blocked by irrelevant information.
Having a clearer understanding of our fellow human beings allows for deeper, more honest, relationships. Not to mention, improving our emotional intelligence is beneficial to our health.
Numerous studies have been taken place on the relationship between emotional intelligence and overall well-being, with fascinating results. One such study by Dr. Reuven Bar, says, “The results generated by the studies reviewed indicate that emotional intelligence has a significant impact on health as well as on the ability to cope with and possibly survive life-threatening medical conditions.”
Also, a recent meta-analysis by Schutte, Malouff, Thorsteinsson, Bhullar, and Rooke, indicated that emotional intelligence is associated with having better health.
A better understanding of ourselves allows for a better understanding of others; and that understanding can benefit our minds and bodies.