You are invited to a party. If you could have your way, you wouldn’t go. But your family insists that you tag along. Reluctantly, you join them. No sooner have you arrived, someone at the gate decides that the best way to greet you is to comment on your body weight or how you’ve turned ‘unapproachable’ because you don’t show up anymore. What you say next can change your world.
We don’t exist in vacuum but in social contexts. There’s no escaping other people. And so, being around other people means being stimulated- either for better or for worse by their words and actions. A few examples of the latter:
- you genuinely ask a colleague how their holiday was and they remark rather sarcastically : “I wasn’t even gone for that long!”
- you tell your partner what’s been bothering you but they seem to be more interested in scrolling their phone
- you tell your parents why you don’t like doing certain things but they equate that with how ungrateful you are for all the struggles they had whilst raising you
And the list goes on.
Let’s go back to the earlier story. You’ve been greeted with scorn and disapproval. Or so that is what you think. However you might interpret your relative’s words, you already sense a disconnection. What you say next can change your world because you can choose either to:
- suffer in silence and hate yourself for agreeing to come to the party in the first place
- contribute to the violence by retaliating with hurtful words in turn
- or choose the route of Emotional Intelligence
What does choosing the route of Emotional Intelligence mean? Well, for starters it means recognizing that in every interaction, you have a choice- whether to act maturely in a way that contributes to the needs of everyone involved or, take things personally and make things worse (either by suffering in silence or participating in violence). What will determine what we will do in that situation with our relative is the mindset that we find ourselves in. Okay, something unpleasant was directed at us. What do we see now? Do we see an obstacle in front of us that needs to be eliminated or do we, despite not agreeing with their idea of an icebreaker, see a person who is probably trying to meet their need for connection (albeit a terrible way of expressing the need)? This moment of choice: to either see an obstacle or a person with unmet needs shapes what we will do next.
But does Emotional Intelligence mean being nice even when I’ve been treated harshly? How will the other person learn if we let him/her ‘get away’ from their negative impact? This is a valid question. Emotional Intelligence doesn’t mean we ‘act nice’ or always confirm with the sort of messages of toxic positivity we see around us. To be Emotionally Intelligent is to simply take a step back from the grip of the emotions we might feel after our relative said those things and to ask ourselves:
- How am I feeling?
- What are my options?
- What do I really want?
Depending on our personal life experiences, we might have different answers to #1. But what will be common for all of us, if we approach the situation with Emotional Intelligence, is to realize that a mature response involved aligning #1 with #3. You see, without awareness, we end up acting out on our emotions in a way that takes us away from our real goal. For example, perhaps the relative genuinely wanted to connect with us. But as soon as they saw us, they were reminded of the times we skipped family gatherings in the last year. As a result, they felt frustrated and so, in the grip of that strong emotion, said things that were hurtful for us to hear- so much so that now we just don’t want to see them anymore.
Instances like these are abundantly available around us. We might feel incredibly discouraged, or, take personal responsibility for the choice we have to approach situations characterized by strong emotions, opposing views and high stakes with insight, intention, and purpose. Of course, this choice isn’t easy because there are a few vital skills we will need to navigate this tricky situation:
- The ability to recognize how we are feeling and labeling it accurately
- The ability to connect how we feel with an underlying need
- The ability to make an empathic guess about the other person’s feelings and needs
- The ability to communicate our needs clearly and calmly
- The ability to listen to the feelings and needs of the other person without making it about us
- The ability to not take it personally if the other person doesn’t want to go through this process of difficult conversation just yet
Next time you find yourself in a tricky situation as such, remember that your approach: to see either a person in front of you or an obstacle that needs to be eliminated will affect what you say next. And what you say next can change your world.
Sagar is co-founder of My Emotions Matter and can be reached at [email protected].