Managing relationships with others is the fourth pillar of Emotional Intelligence or EI.
Recall that emotional intelligence comprises four pillars: self-awareness, self-regulation, understanding others and managing relationships.
You could check out my “Emotional Intelligence is vital” post for more insight.
Do you really need other people?
“No person is an island, entire of itself; every person is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”Taken from John Donne’s Devotions (1624)
I’ve changed John Donne’s quote a little because of modern gender correctness. The 16th and 17th century world of John Donne was markedly different to our enlightened utopia. That aside, the basic truth of his statement is unaltered.
The answer to the question, “Do you really need other people?” is a definite yes.
Even if you don’t like other people, you do need them. Subsequently, because you need them you must also become more adept at managing relationships with them.
Your networks are everything
You must build solid and effective relationships with other people in all areas of your life and work. We all must create and successfully manage such strong personal and professional networks. You also need to be able to operate effectively as key elements in the networks of others.
When the first three pillars of emotional intelligence are firmly in place, you can then begin effectively managing relationships.
Your relationships define you
Your friendships, family connections and working relationships define you. Modern life is nigh on impossible without them.
Even if it were possible to live entirely alone and isolated, from my perspective at least, it would be a miserable and pointless life.
What defines a relationship?
We can most usefully talk about the word relationship here as either the way in which two or more people are connected, or the way in which two or more people or groups think about, feel about, interact with and behave toward each other. The first part of the two-part statement above defines a relationship’s connection component and the second part speaks to the quality or nature of the relationship.
For example, a residential landlord may be said to be in a relationship with a tenant due to the fact one rents the other a dwelling; this is a straightforward relationship description based on connection.
You might also describe the situation by saying the landlord and tenant have an uneasy relationship; because the tenant is always waiting until the very last minute to pay their rent. This speaks more to the quality aspect of the relationship. A low-quality one in this example.
Your capacity for managing relationships has its limits
Relationships can fall anywhere on a spectrum running from strong to weak.
You will also have a huge number of relationships in your life.
Some you will be aware of and actively managing and some you may be aware of but have no interest in managing. There may well be some you are aware of but have no ability or opportunity to manage and yet more of which you are simply unaware of at any level.
How exactly will this help me?
This article series is about practical emotional intelligence in the real world.
Going along to get along is a great mantra to keep in mind. Improved emotional intelligence levels and balance will be of great benefit for everyone.
I work mostly with organisational leaders & managers
Because I tend to work mostly with organisational leaders and managers, I focus my own EI efforts in that domain. I help organisational leaders and managers develop their EI skills and mindsets.
Being a more effective leader or manager is all about managing relationships well. Building solid sustainable relationships with other people, groups and organisations.
Your personal magic starts here
This is where your magic begins to happen because knowledge, as they say, is power.
You can, and must, apply your new EI managing relationships knowledge to any life/work domain you choose. No excuses, you are in control now. This frees you to shine.
Intention, specificity and focus
As you will have been working on your emotional intelligence, you will be more self-aware and better able to regulate yourself. Also, you will have a better understanding about what makes other people tick.
Now, you are ready to look at your relationship with the world in general and more specifically other people.
You can now begin to consciously and intentionally identify, investigate and then classify the relationships in your life. Subsequently, you can redefine them if necessary or build upon them in new, interesting and beneficial ways.
When managing relationships, connection comes first
The connection always comes first. Better connections naturally lead to better relationships. Proactively managing relationships is eminently doable, because you have a surprising amount of control over who you connect with and which groups you associate yourself with.
You may not be able to choose your family and relations, but you can choose your own friends and associates.
There are always choices
Also, up to a practical financial and skill-based limit, you can choose where you work and often, who you associate with within that working environment.
You can choose who you wish to approach to initiate a potential new relationship and you can refuse some or all such approaches to you if you so desire.
Bear this in mind because it is important; you always have choices.
With no connection there cannot be a practical personal or business relationship.
Relationship quality follows close behind
If a relationship exists at all then it follows that the relationship has some sort of inherent quality which defines that relationship. This inherent quality can also determine the stability and durability of the relationship.
Any inherent qualities can be both positive and negative and can be symmetrical or asymmetrical within any relationship.
Some qualities can overpower others and take control of or even destroy a relationship if not managed and controlled.
A dysfunctional relationship example:
Suppose, for instance in a marriage, if one partner deeply mistrusts the other. This can lead to paranoia and stress.
The untrusted partner can become so upset with the suspicious atmosphere they seek external comfort and misbehave. They likely would not have misbehaved at all in a trusting environment. If this happens the mistrusting partner sees it as validation of their mistrust, and it has in fact become a self-fulfilling prophesy.
This is obviously not a high-quality relationship. Even if both parties split up and found other partners, one or both may inadvertently repeat the same negative behaviour with similar outcomes.
Unfortunately, managing relationships is always asymmetric
Any relationship is impacted by asymmetry. There can be unequal levels and intensities of high-quality and low-quality interactions.
However, it gets worse before it gets better, because whilst you had quite a bit of control over the connection, you can only ever have full control over one half of the quality; your own half.
This means you can always choose how you behave and respond, but you have no direct control over how the other party responds or reciprocates.
You can of course try to influence the other party or group but, if the situation is extremely bad the best thing to do may be to break the connection entirely and end the relationship.
Managing relationships is a deliberate & conscious creative act
The key things with managing relationships is that word managing.
You need to actively manage things. You need to manage the connections you make then you need to manage your contribution the quality of that connection.
Effectively managing relationships doesn’t happen entirely magically. Good situations need to remain good. Poor situations rarely fix themselves spontaneously.
The successful and effective management of a relationship is a deliberate and conscious act. Ideally this happens on both sides of the connection equation; these generally prove to be the better connections overall.
Communication, compromise, respect, trust, understanding, listening, compassion, etc… are all key elements of positive healthy relationships.
Always be checking in
You need to be constantly checking and monitoring to ensure these elements are front and centre. If they’re missing or disappearing, then action will need to be taken.
You must take charge and manage.
Bear in mind, if there are any issues, you may be the party causing the issues. Always be managing yourself first. Sort it out or break it off.
Creativity is also vital
I also used the word creative here. Creativity is an important component when managing relationships.
When things which have worked in the past stop working then you will need to get creative. Try something new. If it fails, try something else. Use your judgement here and don’t end up flogging a dead horse. Tenacity is a good trait, but stubbornness is not so good.
Relationships are not good when either party is too passive or too aggressive. Balance works best.
Is the EI puzzle complete now?
The four pillars are in place. You have all the tools required. However, your work has only just begun. Like the game of chess, the rules can be straightforward enough, but it can take at least one lifetime to get good at the game.
You’re more aware of emotional intelligence as both a concept and a practical learnable skill.
I recommend making EI and its development a priority in your life.
Your way forward with EI
Firstly, seek your own balance across the four EI pillars.
Then seek to raise your skill level in all the EI pillars equally and to as high a point as you can.
Life is not meant to be a spectator sport. Get involved in your own life and enjoy it to the max.
If you are not in control of your life, then someone else will be. Trust me, controlling it yourself is far better.
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