Several years ago, I took a class on how to write movie scripts. The world-renown instructor’s students included many famous Hollywood actors (who wanted to learn to write or recognize great scripts), 50 Oscar winners, and 250 Emmy winners.
One of the big takeaways from the class was how to create drama. And the easiest way to create drama is to make sure that what your characters say out loud doesn’t reflect what they actually mean.
In a romantic comedy, imagine that two lovers get into a quarrel. One says, “Maybe we should stop seeing each other.” The other replies, “Fine!” Then the first person responds by crossing his or her arms and saying emphatically, “Fine!!”
You can rest assured that what these characters say, what they do, and what they mean don’t all match up.
This is what creates dramatic tension.
As my former instructor said, “When every character says exactly what they mean and does exactly what they say they will do, we have a term for that in Hollywood. That’s known as a crappy script.”
The most accurate and effective way to communicate is to say what you mean and to mean what you say.
So, when you communicate with others, I encourage you to be literal. It eliminates confusion, misunderstandings, and interpretation errors (which are far funnier on the movie screen than in real life).
However, many, if not most, people can’t do this — at least not all the time.
Determining what people mean (especially when they aren’t actually saying what they mean out loud) requires the skills of emotional intelligence (EQ). In this particular case, it’s the skill of looking at someone’s behavior as a form of communication.
If someone says “yes” reluctantly and their face looks like someone forgot to turn on the bathroom fan, the person with high EQ skills recognizes that perhaps that “yes” means that the person is, at best, reluctant to proceed or, at worst, actually means “no.”
Sometimes, the high EQ person will pay more attention to someone’s behaviors than their words. An example would be when a prospect shakes his head side-to-side conveying a “no” while he verbally says “maybe later.”
In other social contexts, the same person will recognize a difference between what is said and what is conveyed through action, then presume the more conservative of the two until proven otherwise.
Often, the high EQ person will see a discrepancy between behavioral and verbal communication which will prompt him or her to inquire and seek out clarifying information.
Social fluency comes from being able to recognize the context of an interaction, the verbal communication being articulated, and the non-verbal communication being conveyed.
Sure, some people are intuitively better at this than others. However, it’s important to recognize that emotional intelligence is a learnable skill.
Like any learnable skill, EQ can be studied, practiced, and developed.
It’s the skill set by which technically-competent professionals are promoted to managerial and leadership roles.
After all, as you move into increasingly senior roles, your day-to-day work is less about your functional expertise and more about interacting with, managing, and leading people who perform the functional work.
In other words, the skill set of senior management is as much about EQ as it is about functional IQ — arguably more.
If you have aspirations to progress into roles of greater and greater responsibility (which nearly always involves managing more people), it’s important to have EQ development as part of your career skills development plan.
If developing your emotional intelligence is part of your career plan, I invite you to join the notification list for my program on How to Develop Your Emotional Intelligence (EQ) to Advance Your Career. It will be released for a short time in May. To be notified when it’s available, submit the form below.
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