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Emotional Intelligence

3 Emotionally Intelligent Techniques for Any Relationship

Use these EI tools to keep your relationships healthy.

Key points

  • Empathize, but do not enable.
  • Advocate for yourself, but do not start a war.
  • Always seek to understand, but this doesn't mean you have to give in.

Keeping your relationships healthy and close can allow you to live a happy life. Three emotionally intelligent techniques can help you maintain closeness with the people in your life. They may also protect you from being manipulated and exploited by others.

1. Empathize, but do not enable.

Empathizing may be the best way to maintain closeness with people you care about. The trick is to listen for a feeling when an important person in your life is talking. Next, think about the last time you felt that feeling, so you may truly resonate. Finally, honor their feeling. Empathy does not require you to “fix” the problem, or swoop in and save the day for another person.

For example, Sara, visibly upset, returns to the cubicle she shares with Ann. Sara says that her boss, Sheila, reprimanded her for a “sub-par” project and denied Sara a promotion. Ann listens attentively and senses Sara’s disappointment. Ann says, “You are really disappointed. I would be too. You really wanted that promotion.” Sara nods her head and stares at her desk. Ann says, “You are pretty hurt by what Sheila said to you. You have every right to be. It seems harsh.” Sara looks up and says, “Yes, it really stings. I thought Sheila really liked my work.”

In this example, Ann empathizes with Sara’s feelings, but she does not enable Ann. She does not say, “Go home and get some rest and I’ll finish all of your work for you.” Nor does she say, “I’ll fix your project. I’ll have it perfect by 3:00 today.” Enabling can be destructive because it creates a dependency between two people, and the dependent person often feels disempowered because they believe they are unable to solve their own problem. The enabler is often exhausted because they are continually doing other people’s work for them.

2. Advocate for yourself, but do not start a war.

It is important to talk about your feelings in a relationship, especially if you feel mistreated. Calmly confronting the person may be necessary. However, if the person is unable to understand and respond appropriately, it may be important to accept it and reflect on how to get what you need. Aggressively pursuing them may start a “war” that ends badly for everyone.

For example, Teresa is being treated unfairly by her debate coach, so she decides to talk to her. The coach makes up several excuses to rationalize her decision to bench Teresa even though she has the highest skill level on the team and the best relationships with her teammates. The mistreatment gets worse after the discussion, and Teresa is devastated. As she is writing a paper for her law class, she realizes that her coach has broken several collegiate debate rules. She wonders if she should use the info as leverage to get what she wants.

After sleeping on it, she decides that using her discovery as leverage is too aggressive. She also recognizes that things would escalate and erupt, and she would be at the center of an awful drama. Teresa accepts that she is not going to get what she wants and thinks about alternative methods. She decides to increase her private lessons and focus on improving. The next week, the coach’s favorite debater, who is also the worst performer, quits. The coach puts Teresa in her place and Teresa wins the regional match.

In this illustration, Teresa advocates for herself but she does not get hostile in order to get her way. Instead, she focuses on herself in place of attacking the coach. This benevolent approach saves her from starting a battle with a coach whom she actually wants to remain on good terms with until the end of the season. Teresa is happy and relieved that she did not burn a bridge.

3. Seek to understand, but you do not give in.

You may be in a relationship with someone who vehemently disagrees with you about something. Even though you believe that you are right, you take the time to listen to the person’s perspective. You also strive to communicate to this person that their point of view is important to you. Yet, you do not bend a boundary or agree to do something that you do not want to do.

For example, Joe and Rick are great friends. They usually go to Rick’s favorite club on Saturday nights. Joe is on a budget because of hefty school loans, so he likes to go home after an hour or two. Staying later will cost him more money, and he wants to avoid overdoing it and driving home intoxicated.

One evening when Joe and Rick are at the club, Rick meets someone special. He pleads with Joe to stay and be his “wingman.” Rick tells Joe that it is “just this one time,” and that “if Joe was actually a good friend, that he would stay.” Joe wants to be there for Rick but he does not want to stay and drive home after consuming more drinks. He respectfully communicates an understanding of Rick’s perspective, but he upholds his boundaries.

Joe says, “I know you really like this person. I get it. You two are really connecting, and that is wonderful, but I cannot stay out any later. I am so sorry. I don’t think you need me anyway. You got this.”

In this vignette, Joe seeks to understand Rick’s point of view, and he communicates an appreciation of his viewpoint, but he upholds his boundary. Rick feels respected because Joe honors his feelings even though he does not give in.

Using emotionally intelligent tactics may help you preserve the closeness and trust in many of your relationships and they may also protect you from being exploited and manipulated. Empathy, advocating for yourself in an emotionally intelligent manner, and attempting to understand an alternate perspective while upholding the boundaries you have set are important skills that may also preserve your dignity.

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