One Weird Trick to Improve Your Emotional Intelligence

You have come to the realization that you are emotionally stunted. Or, more likely, you are convinced that your co-workers are emotionally stunted. I have been there. We recently went on a three-week journey to better understand and improve our emotional intelligence.

Understanding emotional intelligence is one thing; improving it is another.

There is recent and compelling research that finds reading literary non-fiction can improve your emotional intelligence. To understand what is happening in a story you have to be able to imagine yourself in the character’s role. You have to understand their motivations; why they do what they do. That imaginative act makes you better at doing it in real life. You will be more likely to correctly interpret a co-worker’s behavior. You will be able to better empathize with your partner.

This is good news for me. I have a degree in Literature and happen to love reading. It is like a coffee drinker reading that coffee improves cognition. And writing a blog post about it. And sharing it with everyone they know. It is really good news.

Here are three very short stories from 20th century Americans that are particularly good at challenging your EQ.

(Before you start here is a pro tip. Print the story. Or, better yet, go to your neighborhood bookstore and buy a copy. Reading on a screen isn’t really reading. Most of the time it is skimming at best. You can’t approach literature that way. Each sentence is an essential part of the whole. We often read to get the gist of an article. Savor these stories. They are rich.)

“Hills Like White Elephants,” Ernest Hemingway
This is difficult because the text is so spare. Concentrate on the dialogue. What are the character’s saying and what are they talking around? What is the elephant in the room?

“Everyday Use,” Alice Walker
The difficulty of this story is its historical context. The character’s are at a crossroads. How does each character deal with the conflict? How does their identity affect how they interact with items that are either useful or cultural decor?

“A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” Flannery O’Connor
No one writes eccentric characters like Flannery O’Connor. How does emotional intelligence drive the plot? Which character in the story displays the strongest emotional intelligence?

A great story should lead to introspection. It should cause to examine how you live your life. Each of these will do that.

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