I think it’s worth the effort of a little bit of simple memorization.
First, the weakness: I can be a little impatient, maybe even a little bit lazy. I’ll follow through on my word, but sometimes my more complicated plans wind up abandoned.
But the powerful strength? It’s that I’ve developed radar for simple things you can do to improve your life.
Truly, the simpler the better, because I’ve learned that otherwise I’m not likely to do them.
I think that’s part of why I’ve been so drawn to the concept of emotional intelligence, and especially to the idea that there are very simple things you can change about your behavior — as simple as memorizing a few basic words and concepts — to leverage emotions and increase the odds that you’ll achieve your goals.
For example, people with high emotional intelligence keep five simple words in mind when they hope to persuade someone else of something, because remembering them guides their verbal behavior.
It will all make more sense if we simply list the words and explain what they’re meant to symbolize, one by one.
They’re alliterative — starting with p, just like persuasion: prefacing, prioritizing, pausing, politeness, and phrasing. Here’s why they matter:
Emotionally intelligent people become more persuasive by using a smart preface to whatever else they have to say.
If you want to persuade someone of anything — that they should buy your product, or go out with you on a date, or join your side of the jury and vote not guilty — you’re often best off starting out by being up front about what you’re going to say next.
Sometimes, you can be very direct: “I need you to show more interest at work, or I’m afraid you’ll risk losing your job. Here’s why … ”
But sometimes, you want to be more subtle:
“I have an idea I’d like to ask you to consider.”
“I noticed something about your performance today. Do you mind if I offer some advice?”
“I want to tell you a story; I hope you’re going to find it interesting — maybe even instructive.”
I’m sure you can appreciate the differences. The point is that you signal to the other person in a conversation that you’d like them to pay attention to what comes next, but you also work to signal that what you have to say is both useful and nonthreatening.
Emotionally intelligent people become more persuasive by organizing their arguments so that their most important points don’t get lost.
There’s an old saying that if you don’t know where you’re going, any route will take you there. People with high emotional intelligence basically try to do the opposite of that.
In short (and, “short” is usually a good thing in this context), if you can’t quickly explain the pillars of whatever position you want to advocate, you probably haven’t thought it through well enough. And the easiest and most tried and true method to prioritize is probably to use the Rule of 3.
We’re hardwired to look at things in groups of three: everything from the Christian Trinity, to children’s stories like the “Three Little Pigs,” to the three bullet-pointed quotes in the previous section of this article.
Sometimes you’ll want to announce the road map of your argument to the person you’re talking to; sometimes you won’t. But you’ll always want to have it mapped out in your head, so that you satisfy the other person’s hardwired emotional desire for conversational geometry.
Emotionally intelligent people become more persuasive by using pauses in conversation as a tool to trigger desired responses.
A decade ago, a Dutch psychologist named Namkje Koudenburg of the University of Groningen wrote about an experiment she’d done in which she calculated what happens when people pause for about four seconds in their conversations.
In short, that’s the point at which people start to feel emotional responses including, sometimes, fear and anxiety. So people with high emotional intelligence learn to leverage that knowledge.
Want to offer relief and comfort? Pause two seconds or less in your discussion.
Want to raise the possibility that the other person will feel more compelled to respond or engage to what you have to say — maybe sometimes even concede? Have the discipline to wait as many as four full seconds after making a point.
Emotionally intelligent people default toward politeness, and leverage it to avoid creating resistance where it doesn’t need to exist.
There’s a bagel shop within walking distance of my house. The bagels are good, the price isn’t too high, and my daughter used to like to go there with me when she was little. But just one time, the owner of the place was rude to me.
A few weeks later, I realized that while I hadn’t made a conscious decision to avoid the place, I simply hadn’t gone back. None of the practical reasons why it was a good place to buy bagels mattered anymore; the fact that I hadn’t been treated politely trumped everything.
Another example: A few years back, researchers published a study in MIS Quarterly showing that even when the substance of answers was identical, people responded better to answers that were also polite.
The point is that we all have these emotional reactions; emotionally intelligent people understand that you should only be impolite when you have a good, strategic reason for doing so. But the default is politeness.
Emotionally intelligent people tend toward specific phrases that they’ve thought through so that they don’t accidentally trigger unintended emotions.
Truly, this is the simplest habit — symbolized by a single word. Think through the phrases you plan to use at different points in conversation ahead of time.
For example, imagine a situation in which you think someone else is just flat-out mistaken and stubborn. You plan that if this happens, you’ll want to respond with one of the following three phrases, depending on the reaction you hope to prompt:
“You’re flat out wrong.”
“I can’t understand how you could possibly think that.”
“Can you help me think this through and understand your position better?”
I can (and have) written entire articles about specific phrases and how they can spur positive or negative reactions. But before we move on, let’s talk about one other specific type of phrase.
These are the ones to have thought through for situations in which you realize that no matter how many tricks of emotional intelligence you try, you’re unlikely to persuade the other side. I’m thinking of responsive phrases like:
“Lots to think about here. Let’s pick it up at the next meeting.”
“Please, don’t make a decision now. Let me get the answers to the questions you posed.”
“It seems like we have a few issues to resolve. Why don’t I write up a draft on what we’ve agreed on, and we can go from there?”
Sometimes — not always, but sometimes — if you can’t seem to win, you might be better off making sure that the game hasn’t actually ended.
Look, as I write in my free e-book 9 Smart Habits of People With Very High Emotional Intelligence, increasing your emotional intelligence is a lot easier when you focus on things that are simple. Bonus points if helps you overcome a personal weakness like my impatience.