Relationship: The art and practice

Relationship. Unusual dog and cat pairing.Managing your relationship with others is the fourth pillar of Emotional Intelligence or EI.

Do we really need other people?

“No person is an island, entire of itself; every person is a piece of the continent.”

John Donne said this. I have changed the quote a little for reasons of gender correctness because the 16th and 17th century world of John Donne was markedly different too our enlightened utopia. That aside, the basic truth of his statement is unaltered.

The answer to the question is a definite yes. We need other people. Even if we don’t like them we do need them.

You need to build solid and effective relationships with other people in all areas of your life and work. All of us need to develop strong personal and professional networks. We 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 we can then begin to create and successfully manage such relationships and networks.

Our friendships, family connections and working relationships can define us. Modern life is nigh on impossible without them. Even if it were possible to live entirely alone and isolated, for myself 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. Relationships can fall anywhere on a spectrum running from strong to weak.

You will 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.

So how does knowing this help?

This whole series has been about emotional intelligence in the real world and has focused on developing and using EI as a leader or manager. Being an effective leader or manager is all about building solid sustainable relationships with other people, groups and organisations.

This is where the magic happens. Knowledge as they say is power.

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. This will then allow you to redefine them if necessary or build upon them in new, interesting and beneficial ways.

Relationship connection comes first

The connection comes first, and 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. 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.

For example, 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, they may inadvertently repeat the same negative behaviour with similar outcomes.

Any business or professional relationship can be impacted the same way. There can be high-quality and low-quality interactions.

Whilst you had quite a bit of control over the relationship connection, you can only ever have full control over one half of the relationship 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 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 a relationship is a deliberate & conscious creative act

One of the key things with managing relationships is that word managing. You need to manage them. You need to manage the connections you make then you need to manage your contribution the quality of that relationship.

This management does not happen magically. Situations rarely fix themselves spontaneously.

The successful and effective management of a relationship really is a deliberate and conscious act. Ideally this happens on both sides of the relationship; these generally prove to be the better relationships overall.

Communication, compromise, respect, trust, understanding, listening, compassion, etc… are all key elements of positive healthy relationships. You need to be constantly checking and monitoring to ensure these elements are front and centre. If they are missing or disappearing, then some action will need to be taken. You will need to take charge and manage.

Bear in mind, you may be the party causing the issues. Manage yourself. Sort it out or break it off.

I also used the word creative here. Creativity is an important component in the management of any relationship. When things which have worked in the past stop working then you 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 have now been covered in this article series, but 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 are hopefully more aware of emotional intelligence as both a concept and a practical learnable skill. I recommend making it a priority in your life. 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.

What next?

I hope you have enjoyed this article. If you have, please subscribe to either the blog or my newsletter to ensure you hear about subsequent articles and other useful and informative material.

In the meantime, you might also like to check out:

Emotional Intelligence in the real world

Self-awareness and how to develop it

Self-regulation and its importance to you

Understanding others and how to do it

Emotional Intelligence in the real world

high emotional intelligence or EI equals real moneyWhat is Emotional Intelligence?

Emotional Intelligence or EI is a term used commonly in the business and professional world. If you are a manager or leader you will be expected to possess an elevated level of emotional intelligence. You should be constantly looking to improve it still further. You are expected to identify and nurture it in your staff and teams. The measure of your emotional intelligence level is known as your Emotional Quotient or EQ. This measure of EQ is now considered more important than the traditional measurement of intelligence or IQ.

Here’s the problem. Many of the professional people I encounter in my coaching and training work have a poor understanding of their own emotional intelligence levels. They also have a poor understanding of what is meant by Emotional Intelligence as a concept. This is a real concern.

This is a whistle-stop tour of the four elements and is designed to provide some awareness. Take emotional intelligence very seriously. Nurture it and develop it in yourself and others.

Why does Emotional Intelligence matter to you anyway?

Managers and leaders who handle people poorly or who have little understanding about other people, that is those with a low level of emotional intelligence, tend to create high stress levels, high staff turnover rates, low productivity and low quality of output.  They can even create elevated levels in sickness and HR legal problems. At work this costs you or your business real money. They generally, but unfortunately not always, do poorly themselves.

Good managers and leaders do the exact opposite. Managers and leaders with high emotional intelligence make you or your business real money. They are generally more successful in their own right as well.

On a personal level a high level of emotional intelligence enables us to negotiate life with more ease and success. We understand ourselves well, we can curb our excesses and we can play to our strengths. We can build solid relationships and people both like us and want to be with us. Life is generally better with high emotional intelligence.

Emotional Intelligence in a nutshell

the four pillars of emotional intelligence

Simply stated, and as shown in the diagram, there are four main components or pillars:

  • Awareness of self
  • Regulation of self
  • Understanding of others
  • Managing relationships with others

That’s it, plain and simple. These four elements cover pretty much everything you do in your life and work regarding interpersonal interactions and self-development. All well and good but what can you do in the real world now you know this? What does this mean for you?

There is a lot of complex theory, ideas and downright nonsense flying about regarding emotional intelligence, so I will make it as plain and straightforward as I can and keep it on a practical level.

Awareness of self

This is the first pillar of emotional intelligence and it is the key to it all. You are the centre of your universe. If you can’t, don’t or won’t dig deep and fully acknowledge and accept your true, warts and all, self then the rest of your life will be inauthentic at best. Even if you learn to get on well with others, your lack of knowledge or ownership of your own core being will leave you with a sense of incompleteness and imbalance. In my experience others can sense this fundamental lack in you and they will treat you differently as a result.

This search for true self-awareness takes courage, commitment and massive honesty. I’m not suggesting you go and sit cross-legged on top of a mountain for years on end. I am suggesting you begin to identify your true strengths and weaknesses, your true values and beliefs and your true desires and fears. Work with a coach, friend or trusted advisor if you need to. Seek honest feedback and accept it with gratitude. Do whatever you need to do to learn more about the true you.

Is it easy? Absolutely not. Is it even possible? Well, I’m still searching for my true self, so I can’t answer that one for you I’m afraid. In truth, you may never find the absolute true you but if you try hard enough you will find enough truth to work wonders with.

Regulation of self

The second pillar of emotional intelligence is the regulation of self. Once you begin to discover and uncover this true version of yourself, you will then begin to realise certain behaviours, thoughts and emotions which are somewhat less than helpful to both you and others. You may discover beneficial traits and thought processes which you may not have realised you had. To improve your emotional intelligence, you now need to work on regulating or controlling the unhelpful attributes and ideally boosting your more helpful attributes.

Once again, easier said than done. Do you have a lack of focus or attention? How about procrastination? What about really needing to lose weight or get fitter? Are you a perfectionist? Maybe a little too passive-aggressive perhaps? Are you lonely? Perhaps you lose your temper easily? Do you need more assertiveness? What about your fear of conflict? How are you going to address these and any other issues you might have?

What really stops you doing what you know needs to be done? Is it time? Is it money? Or is really laziness? Perhaps it is all three or even none of the above. Only once you become aware of your deep true self, which we looked at in the previous section, can you work on the true core issues?

Understanding of others

The third emotional intelligence pillar is an understanding of others. When you get right down to it, other people can be confusing and strange. It can be hard enough to try and figure out what makes us tick but once other people get involved in any part of our lives and work, it can get very messy and complicated. Life would be technically easier without other people, but it would be a lonely and essentially pointless existence. We need other people and generally we like other people, so it makes sense to understand them.

The big problem is that everyone is as unique in their way as you are in yours.

The good news is, although each one of us is truly unique, we can also be usefully categorised and bundled in quite general ways. These broad-brush definitions and classifications are not truly accurate, but they are incredibly useful ways to inform our own thoughts about and behaviour toward the other people we interact with. They could be said to be intentional and well-meant stereotypes. With a little study and practice you can become very adept at recognising these broad categories. At this point you can then adapt your communication and behaviour to get the best from any encounter with them.

Even if you don’t like other people very much, learning to understand what makes them who they are can greatly elevate you as a communicator and leader.

Managing relationships with others

Managing relationships with others is the fourth pillar of emotional intelligence.

“No person is an island, entire of itself; every person is a piece of the continent.” John Donne said this, although I have changed the quote a little for reasons of gender correctness – the 16th and 17th century world of John Donne was markedly different too our enlightened utopia.

The truth of his statement is unaltered. You need to build solid and effective relationships with other people in all areas of our lives and work. All of us need to develop strong personal and professional networks. We 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 we can then begin to create and successfully manage such relationships and networks.

Our friendships, family connections and working relationships can define us. Modern life is nigh on impossible without them. Even if it were possible to live entirely alone and isolated, for myself at least, it would be a miserable and pointless life.

Begin at the beginning

The order the emotional intelligence elements are in place is the order in which to develop them for best results. Firstly, make sure that every element is in place then try and balance them in terms of level. If you are poor at managing relationships for example and relatively happy with the other key elements, then start by developing your ability to manage relationships. Completeness and uniformity of ability is the first step.

Developing emotional intelligence phase 1

Secondly, once the elements are in place and broadly level, you can begin to consider bringing the level of all four up to as high a level as you can without overdoing any one area.

Developing emotional intelligence phase 2

There will always be a tendency to lead and lag on elements in any such endeavour but don’t stick to your favourites or strong areas at the expense of others. Using the relationship element again, if you hate talking to new people or even talking to friends and colleagues, don’t simply allow yourself to become a very self-aware observer of others. Seek tuition, coaching or support and force (or regulate) yourself to get out there and do it anyway.

This is a basic introduction. It is a practical overview at best. There is always more to learn and absorb. Like life itself, developing emotional intelligence is a journey of discovery.

Next steps

I’m going to be blunt here. Leaders are readers so educate yourself and become informed. Learn all you need to know about emotional intelligence and its implications. This applies to all your life. Don’t wait to be spoon fed. Too many people do that so stand out from your crowd and get the knowledge. If printed books are not your thing then get audio book versions. If video is your thing then seek out the information on www.TED.com or YouTube. Go on a course or hire a coach. Whatever you do make sure you get the information you need.  You owe it to yourself and your staff to be the very best leader and manager you can be.

I recommend you start with the work of Daniel Goleman who popularised the rise of EI with his book Emotional Intelligence then seek out the myriad of associated online resources.

Once you have the theoretical knowledge, start to experiment and grow. Begin to apply the knowledge practically in the real world. Make mistakes then reflect, learn and move on. Try new things out. Seek coaching and training and try them out again. Seek feedback. Increase your own emotional intelligence and help others do the same. The effort is worth it.

I hope you have enjoyed this article. If you have, please subscribe to either the blog or my newsletter to ensure you hear about subsequent articles and other useful and informative material.

In the meantime, you might also like to check out:

Self-awareness and how to develop it

Self-regulation and its importance to you

Understanding others and how to do it

Relationship: The art and practice