In the past three weeks of the Emotional Intelligence series, we looked at Self-Awareness, Self-Management, and Social Awareness. In this edition, let’s look at the final component of EQ, Relationship Management, which draws on your abilities from the first three skills.
You can think about it like this; it’s difficult to skillfully tune into other people when we are struggling to manage our own distracting thoughts and emotions. Relationship management can be best described as having the ability to effectively communicate, create rapport, and successfully manage conflicts with all of the various people we interact with on a regular basis in our personal and professional lives.
As mentioned in an earlier column, a tangible goal is having our actions and impact match our intentions. Too often, our exchanges with others can easily veer off course when we are not effectively communicating.
One of the most common challenges in dealing with other people is that our natural inclination is to see everything through the lens of our own biases and perspective. That’s how our brain naturally works, and it does us no favors in relating to other people because they, of course, are seeing it from a different perspective: their own! This is why it’s relatively easy to get along with people similar to us; we share a common attitude and mindset. For everyone else we deal with that may not be as like-minded, that's where we will find the practice of relationship management techniques instrumental.
A starting point for all relationship management approaches is the mindful practice of empathy. By this, I mean developing the habit of actively considering that the person you’re speaking with has their own set of circumstances and challenges in their life that we likely have no idea the extent of. It would be easy if everyone went through life with a sign around their neck listing their top five problems, and we could clearly see what they were going through at that moment. Of course, that’s not how life works, so in the absence of that, it’s a reasonable assumption that everyone has struggles of some type and that reality plays a role in how they conduct themselves. Related to that, we can upgrade our approach to the Golden Rule of ‘treat others how you would like to be treated’. I prefer the modified version, let’s call it the ‘Platinum Rule’, of treating others how they would like to be treated. For example, let’s say you love mornings, and in your opinion, there’s nothing better than a hearty ‘good morning!’ greeting followed by a few minutes of chit-chat. Suppose you were to treat others simply how you like being treated. In that case, you’re going through life oblivious to the fact that a significant percentage of people you encounter are not morning people and may be trying to avoid pre-coffee conversations.
Examples of becoming adept at the other person’s perspective present themselves continuously throughout our days and encounters with all of the people we regularly engage with. Unlike brief interactions and isolated meetings, relationships are ongoing partnerships, and you are 50% of that collaboration. By making it a practice of actively shifting your perspective to that of the other person, it becomes infinitely easier to be on the same wavelength and develop trust. Trust, like a muscle, is made stronger with use and takes time and repetition to build.
The main ingredient in the recipe for developing trust, a core component in a lasting and meaningful relationship, is being an active and curious listener. A common thread found with virtually everyone you speak with is the desire to be heard and understood; it’s a hardwired setting we have. Unfortunately, the reality is that our own need to be heard can become our unconscious priority. When we allow that to happen, we fall into the old trap of not actively listening to the conversation. Specifically, it means one person waiting for their turn to talk without really hearing what the other person is communicating, both verbally and non-verbally. This tendency is problematic for a couple of reasons. One problem is obvious; when we are simply ‘reloading’ while the other person is speaking, we do not fully absorb what is being said, which means there’s a good chance we are missing out on some key takeaways. Secondly, and just as significant of a problem, the other person will get the sense that our mind is elsewhere, and we are not authentically present in the present. In other words, they feel like we are not truly hearing them. This perception erodes trust, both on a conscious and unconscious level. As the expression goes, we may not remember what people say or do, but we always remember how they make us feel.
Our focus and attention are valuable assets, and of course we must be selective about how we spend them. That said, if we choose to invest in building a relationship with someone, that choice we made warrants giving that person the gift of our interest, which, in a successful relationship, will be reciprocated.
One final tip on relationship management involves using this quick and easy test of the three D’s to help prevent saying things we may end up regretting. It’s an easy one to remember; think “3D”.
Does this need to be said?
Does this need to be said now?
Does this need to be said by me?
If whatever topic you are unsure about mentioning fails any of those three checkpoints, there’s a strong likelihood it’s not something you need to bring up at the moment!
Next week will be the final edition of the EW series tying all four of the core competencies together.