Have you seen that ancient Arjun Rampal movie Aankhen, in which three blind men rob a bank?
Watch it in your free time if you haven’t, but here’s the gist – Amitabh Bachchan’s character uses these three blind guys to rob a bank. His point? No one would believe that three blind people could pull that off all on their own. He trains these guys meticulously to memorize directions, maps of buildings, location of objects and people etc. so that no one realizes they’re blind, even when they’re robbing the bank! Long story short, this is Bollywood, so they succeed, even though – plot twists – not without glitches.
Why am I talking about a Bollywood action thriller from 2002 when I’m supposed to talk about serious stuff like emotional quotient (EQ)? What’s common between Arjun Rampal and things like, say, salary negotiations or networking? Any guesses? Do I see any hands?
Well, well…not hundreds, but quite a few!
Exactly people. Surprise! Surprise! I know it too.
For those of you who’re fortunate enough to be still wondering where this is going – we are those three blind guys. We. The “peoplecapped”. People like me who’re born introverts and/or with low people skills. We’re like those three blind guys, pretending to be able to see things like everyone else. Except we can’t. We just watch others and learn.
“What’s appropriate behaviour in XYZ circumstances?”
“Why would someone think I’m rude because sometimes I read books during lunch instead of chitchatting? Only sometimes!”
“Would it be considered intrusive if I ask her where she works? Or would I be considered unfriendly if I don’t?”
These are the kind of questions we have to worry about day in and day out. At every human interaction.
We are the ones with the lowest of EQs. Our scores on life’s people skills test are like Miley Cyrus’ on the IITJEE. If she took it.
We’re the Differently People Skilled.
People + handicapped = peoplecapped.
So if I’m blind why am I talking about how to see things? ’Cause those of you who can already see can … well, already see. It’s the EQcapped/peoplecapped like myself, who have had to literally start learning how to navigate a sea of people they practically don’t understand. I’m by no means an expert. I’m an apprentice. A novice, more like. But I can tell you something – if I can learn it, you can learn it. No seriously. I’m not being humble. Those are the plain facts.
’Nuff about me. Let’s get down to business. So here are some of the very rudimentary, very basic rules of thumb I’ve learnt in my journey of life so far. If you struggle with this aspect of life like me, maybe they could help you too.
- Be aware, be prepared: A “why me” approach is about the worst way you can deal with a people handicap. Or with any limitation/disadvantage you face in life which is outside your control.
Plenty of people are born with partial deafness, partial blindness, diabetes, migraine, hypertension, asthma etc.
Do these conditions pose a challenge to their lives? Yes.
Can they make it go away? No.
Can they manage it? Absolutely yes.
Likewise, the key to overcoming a people skill gap is to not deny it, not try to wish it away, but to manage it.
Be aware of the fact that if you’re an asthmatic, you probably wouldn’t become a Michael Phelps. And that doesn’t have to be – and IMHO shouldn’t be – your goal.
But can you function normally and lead a happy, fulfilling and successful life without accidentally asphyxiating yourself? Absolutely yes.
Similarly, if you’re one of those people, like me, who’re born with low people skills – sure – choosing marketing, media or corporate communications as your professional field probably isn’t the smartest move. But that’s all the limitation you face. Nothing more.
The key is to be aware and alert at every new interaction.
Some people can naturally sing and their voice wouldn’t sound out of tune even if they’re absent-mindedly humming to themselves. Others have less natural talent, and need to concentrate very hard if they have to carry a tune.
It’s exactly the same with human interactions and a low people-skilled person. You have to be extra careful every time.
I know. “That’s all very nice but how?” You must be thinking.
- The rule of the pause: If I could meet my 17 year old self right now and had to give her just one rule of thumb on how to navigate the adult world, it would be this – pause.
Whenever you’re in a conversation with anyone outside your most trusted and closest people, and they say something which gives rise to some sort of emotions in you, just pause. Just take a break for a few seconds before you say anything. It could be any emotion – fear, outrage, annoyance, resentment … even happiness (this would be rare but even double rainbows happen sometimes, so…).
What keeps us safe and functional in the world – is our rationality, and emotions make us lose that for a brief moment. That moment, hence, is NEVER the right time to interact with anyone.
Let that moment pass. Give yourself time to respond. Don’t react.
I know it’s easier said than done.
If you’re like me, the first thing you’re thinking right now is, “But if I say nothing doesn’t that mean I’m accepting whatever the other person is saying? Doesn’t it mean I’m letting people walk all over me?” OK, so you don’t want people to walk all over you? You want to give it back to them in their own coin? You want to express your annoyance/disappointment/sense of stress or urgency? Sure. Do it.
Just three seconds later.
But what difference do a few seconds make? It gives time for that momentary emotion to pass. It gives you a chance at getting your rationality back. Most of the “reactions” which land us in “people issues” in professional or personal lives, are reactions which we wouldn’t have shown if had to respond to exactly the same situation an hour later.
- Strategic sensitivity, not aloofness: Contrary to popular belief, calibrating your response does not mean turning into a cold stone. It does not mean acting like a machine devoid of emotions. The world is populated by humans, and humans have emotions. Your coworkers/friends/family/random-guys-on-the-street know that. In fact acting stoic and aloof regardless of the situation will paint you as way “weird”er than you really are. So, no. That’s not the solution.
The answer lies using your emotions strategically.
You’re facing a tight deadline? Please, by all means feel free to show to your team members some of that stress. Create a sense of urgency. This is not only OK, but also an effective leadership trait.
But don’t make others feel so stressed that their morale and productivity suffers. Don’t make them afraid of you.
Someone’s trying to shirk responsibilities/take credit for your work/push you over at work? For God’s sake don’t act cool. Speak up. Let your bosses/team-members/whoever matters know that you’re outraged and disappointed and that you won’t take this lying down.
But again, don’t make anyone feel your emotions are in control of you. Be the boss of your emotions. Use them to your advantage, don’t let them dictate what you do.
In other words, measure. Calibrate. Pause. Always pause.
So those were my three cents on how I’m trying to work on my non-existent EQ. What’s your recipe for me? Bring it on in the comments.
Author’s Bio: Sulagna Dasgupta has been writing about self-improvement and relationships for more than 5 years. Her website “www.loveinindia.co.in” is India’s first dedicated relationships & marriage blog, also offering FREE unlimited anonymous relationship counselling. Her mission is to facilitate more open thinking about love & relationships in India in the long run.