Imagine that you and your friend are having a conversation over a cup of coffee during the weekend. Everything's fine until you both start discussing a topic on which you have conflicting perspectives. While you initially try to listen to what it means for the other person to believe the exact opposite of what you stand for, it eventually gets hard to do so. The next thing you know, you can't stand your friend justifying against your idea of the world, and you say something like, "Oh, what do you know?" (Inside your head, if not out loud, to say the least.) And now, I'm sure you've already pictured the worst-case scenarios that might follow.
While Emotional Intelligence facilitates understanding ourselves, understanding others, and helping others understand us, a lack of Emotional Intelligence would cause us to hurt ourselves, hurt others, and invite others to hurt us. Let's explore how.
Hurting Ourselves Vs. Understanding Ourselves
In the situation with your friend earlier, you possibly wanted some great time re-connecting with them, checking in with them. No sooner those intentions go astray. You start arguing, redirecting yourself to believe that your friend is against you. Your reactions keep growing stronger until you both think maybe you should continue with small talks or go back home and take some time off. On your way home, guilt, regret, shame, and anger keep you company. You even start questioning yourself, maybe. "Am I the one incapable of explaining myself?" "Why do I always end up spoiling things?" "Am I unworthy of love?" None of these self-sabotaging thoughts do us any good.
When we oppose others or desperately want to make them listen to us, we think we're teaching them a lesson. We try to control them. We try to get others to agree with the way we think, even if that means we have to argue with them, shut ourselves down, avoid them, or go to the length of ending the relationship to prove a point. We fail to see that in teaching others a lesson, we're learning the lesson the hard way too. We're compromising on our ability to understand ourselves well and express ourselves in a way which the other person understands. We're compromising on our relationship in making ourselves the right one.
Hurting Others Vs. Understanding Others
In the above situation that we discussed, how might you go on to hurt your friend? You'll most likely not listen to them or cut their statements short. You might be rigid about your views. You'd rather be accusatory than understanding. Blame, criticisms, and judgments will perhaps be your weapons to defend yourself against your friend. In protecting your perspectives from being attacked, you don't realize when you begin to attack your friend; their thoughts, actions, and behavior.
It's needless to say that if we can impact our well-being negatively, we are also capable of promptly hurting other people. When someone else doesn't act the way we expect them to, no matter how dear they are to us, we sometimes don't think twice before judging them, labeling them, shunning them, threatening them, belittling them, and the list goes on. What does this impulse cost us? The opportunity to nurture meaningful and supportive relationships. So, in a way, we can say even when we are hurting others, we are also hurting ourselves.
Inviting Others to Hurt Us Vs. Inviting Others to Understand Us
When you didn't take a moment to understand what was going on within you, reacted impulsively, and treated your friend the way you wouldn't like them to treat you, you invited them to be more defensive toward you and less understanding of you. When you were hurt or angry with your friend, you only saw how your friend's actions were bothering you. You didn't consider how your words and actions may have invited the hurt and exacerbated it. For instance, you might have complained how your friend didn't listen, whereas you could have been busy mocking their perspectives too instead of drawing their interest toward what you believe in and what matters to you.
"They don't understand me." "She won't get it." "Nobody wants me to be happy." Relatable phrases, aren't they? We often complain about how other people don't understand us, care for us, or even intend to hurt us. Have we ever thought about how we could be inviting misunderstanding, ignorance, or hurt? Others might not always care or understand us. But how often do we make efforts to communicate what we want, what we care about, what matters to us, and what factors in the relationship make us apprehensive and vulnerable to being hurt? If we are not doing so, it doesn't make sense to keep pointing fingers at others.
What Should We Do?
Without Emotional Intelligence, there are no efforts to understand. There is only a propensity to hurt ourselves and others. With Emotional Intelligence, we harbor the resources, skills, and abilities to create opportunities for understanding ourselves, others and inviting others to understand us.
How Can We Understand Ourselves Better?
With Emotional Intelligence, we try to save ourselves from the hurt to which we subject ourselves often. Instead of readily acting upon the emotions that arise, we make efforts to take a pause and understand what's going on for us. In situations like the one we discussed earlier, it's easy to react in ways we might most probably regret later. Some of our actions or words might even cost us our dignity or the relationship itself. Emotional Intelligence can give us this reality check. It can help us remind ourselves that others don't have to agree with us to cooperate with us, and it shouldn't be a reason for us to feel worthless.
To understand ourselves better, we can:
- Keep a log of our thoughts, emotions, and actions; journal daily.
- Ask ourselves what matters to us.
- Practice observing ourselves in the third person, meaning rather than saying, "I did this..." "This happened to me..." let's say if we observe ourselves as if we were the third person, we'd say, "This person earlier was talking to her friends joyfully." "This person is now trying to do her work, but she is distracted by notifications." We judge ourselves too often, but practicing third-person observation can open us to the knowledge of ourselves, which we might not be aware of before.
- Look for recurring patterns and what they might be telling us about us. For instance, if we have a habit of checking messages and not replying until much later, what could this mean? It could either mean that we need time to process what we will say, we may be hesitant to get back, or that we're not mindful.
- Notice our judgments since they communicate our underlying values. For instance, if we judge others for talking too much, we probably value listening or giving space to everyone in a conversation to share their thoughts.
How Can We Understand Others Better?
With Emotional Intelligence, we try to understand even if a certain someone we love doesn't think the way we do- it does not mean they're against us. When we exercise Emotional Intelligence, we don't see differences as distance- it just means that we have different needs and values, which we each need to honor without necessarily pulling each other down. In the scenario we discussed earlier, had you tried to put aside your judgments and connect with what led your friend to develop a contradictory perspective to that of yours, you would have a better chance at understanding them. You would walk out of the conversation gratified rather than holding grudges against each other.
To understand others better, we can:
- Ask them what their needs are.
- Become curious about what they like to think about the most, what their average emotional states are, and what they usually spend their time on.
- Notice their judgments without judgment to know their values. For instance, if they tell us that gossiping puts them off, they probably value authentic communication and empathy.
- Try to know what they enjoy, what challenges them, where they are struggling.
- Understand how our actions are impacting them and what we can do to make their life easier.
How Can We Help Others Understand Us Better?
Emotional Intelligence holds us accountable to make efforts to help others understand us. Rather than remaining stuck in the assumptions and complaints that others don't understand us, it helps us find ways and solutions to invite others to understand us. People are not mind readers, so we need to understand and express what matters to us and what we would like others to hold space for in our relationships.
To invite others to understand us, we can:
- Take time out with our loved ones to communicate what is going well for us, where we are struggling, and where we might need their support or understanding.
- Convey our priorities, needs, and values from time to time.
- Communicate about the expectations we have of them rather than waiting around for them to read our minds.