Proven Relationship Skills – How to Hack the Currency of Home and Work Life

Part I: Listen and Develop Empathy

The last few decades have seen a growing awareness in the business and academic worlds of the importance of EQ – emotional intelligence. People with high EQ tend to achieve success at school, in business, and in life. Why?

Relationships matter in almost every part of human existence.

What is EQ?

EQ comprises two broad components:

  1. You—how well you know and control your feelings.
  2. Others—understanding and relating to them.

In other words, people with a high EQ know how to connect to others well in part by understanding themselves.

Why should I care? you may be thinking.

I’ll tell you: human survival and achievement rest on our interdependence. We are “social animals.” Without each other, we would not have survived this long as a species. We would not have the advances in technology, science, medicine, and more. Relationships, in a nutshell, are the currency of human existence.

But what does this mean for little ol’ you and me?

Depending on each other, working together? That’s baked into our DNA. It’s part of who we are as humans. Thus, getting better at something that makes us human—relationship skills—can improve our lives at home, at work, and beyond.

(If you’re an introvert reading this, please don’t panic! You won’t fail if you don’t interact with tons of people. The key is how you interact – when you do.)

Know Others

Even if you don’t like attention or don’t talk much, when you do have something to say, you want to be heard and understood, right? That’s a basic communication need of . . . well, everyone. So, two top relationship skills are 1) being a good listener and 2) having empathy. These two skills interlock: listening well can help you gain empathy while empathy will help you listen to others better.

Listening Requires More than Paying Attention; It’s an Attitude.

We all know that listening is more than hearing. To listen, we pay attention with our sense of hearing. But to do it well, we need to add other components.

  • Body language. Turn to face the person speaking. Have an open posture. This does more than assure the speaker of your full attention; it helps focus you on what he is saying and keeps you from getting distracted by the email you were in the middle of typing.
    Also, you know how smiling makes you feel a little happier? Well, in the same way, forcing your body to relax can relax your mind to receive communication.
  • Repeat back/summarize. This benefits both you and the person speaking. You get to confirm your understanding of what he told you. He gets assurance that you were paying attention plus the chance to correct anything you misunderstood or fill in gaps. A related technique is . . .
  • Ask questions. This performs many of the same functions as the previous technique, but it makes you a proactive part of the conversation, not just reactive.
    After all, even a parrot can repeat what it hears!
  • Shut up and—well, listen. Too many times, we think we know where the other person is going with the conversation. Our minds fill with responses, excuses, and objections. Three things to remember:
  • None of that may be relevant! The other person may go a different direction than we thought.
  • Even if he says what we expected, spitting out a response the instant he pauses for breath may make him feel invalidated.
  • Don’t interrupt!

The point of listening to someone, after all, is not that his point is correct or important—although it may be. It’s that you respect his value as a human being with thoughts and concerns.

And that brings me to empathy.

Empathy – Beyond Wearing Someone Else’s Shoes

By now you’ve probably heard that empathy is putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. True.

But empathy involves more than just trying to imagine where another person is coming from. You need at least two other things: genuine interest in the other person and a willingness to get out of your comfort zone.

Cultivate curiosity in people: who they are, what they’ve learned, and what drives them.

Again, you don’t have to accept whatever someone says or feels as accurate. However, learning to wonder what it is like to come from someone’s perspective, how it feels, and why she might think that way can at the very least help you respect her, even if you disagree with her.

You make a bigger impact on someone by showing that you care about her, more so than by just agreeing with her. (Note: you can’t fake caring for long and get away with it, though, so make sure your interest is genuine!)

It’s also important to get comfortable with getting uncomfortable.

Learning about a culture, socioeconomic background, or family history that differs from yours may bring you face-to-face with unpleasant realities. It may jar your confidence in an area. You may end up questioning something you’ve always taken for granted.

Ultimately, though? You’ll grow as a person and position yourself to better relate with those who cross your path.

Invest in Caring

Yes, caring for others does cost you some “brain space” and emotional capital. But look at it this way: it’s an investment that has proven to pay dividends in multiple areas: school, work, mental health, and social life.

Get good at it, and you’ll realize that it feeds a part of you that’s always been there. Because in reality, it’s part of who you are as a human. It only makes sense that developing your EQ will make you a more successful human!

This post focuses on the side of EQ directed at others. Check back in a few weeks to find out what EQ means for you and why you should bother!

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