Now that you Know Yourself, Manage Yourself and are Motivated for healthy emotions, the next big step in building your Emotional Intelligence toolkit is Understanding Others. I propose this stage is where Boomers, because of their life experience, could exceed where other people struggle.
Understanding others is basic to human interaction, especially when you desire to reduce stress and conflict in your life. The simplest example I can give follows. When I stepped out of my job in 2013, my husband was still working a high stress job in law enforcement. The first hint of possible difficulties occurred to me as he dashed out the door of our condo at 6:30 a.m. to catch his bus while I sipped a leisurely cup of coffee. It was apparent an extended period of my leisure while he continued to work a job he was ready to leave could build resentment and cause serious difficulties for us as a couple. It was absolutely necessary for us to mutually commit to a life blueprint strategizing when he could retire.
As the plan developed, my "work" energy shifted focus to developing and implementing our retirement relocation plan. The driving element for the plan to work was acute attention to financial details. I lived and breathed personal budgets and spreadsheets, much like I had when I was running a nonprofit. My husband, who admittedly has no affinity for numbers, needed the same information I had in order to be empowered about the direction we were headed.
Choosing the right time to review complex financial details so he could internalize them required a delicate wisdom and respect for his work schedule. It's accurate to say we did not have our budget discussions M-F, after 5:00 p.m.; rather, Saturday or Sundays over coffee or breakfast were the designated times when we would both be fresh and could garner enthusiasm for our future. Another retired couple I know have a weekly date to review calendars and other activities relevant to them both. This "Tuesdays with Tootie" date to communicate, puts a fun spin on a necessary tool for successful couples -- picking a time to talk about delicate subjects reducing the risk of misunderstandings, arguments or fighting.
Here are three necessary skills which, when developed, will enrich your ability to understanding others:
1. Nonverbal communication. I wrote extensively about the value of non-language communication in a 2012 HuffPost blog titled The Power of Silence. The human species developed without the use of verbal language and although we have evolved to become heavily dependent on verbal or written linguistics to express ourselves, we have never lost the aptitude to communicate silently. Nonverbal cues are usually involuntary -- a smile, a shrug, a grimace, a frown, a high five -- generally occur without planning. They just happen. Staying tuned in to nonverbal cues when you are having a complex exchange with another human being can help you facilitate the communication. Is their body 'open' or 'closed' to your ideas? Is the other person nodding in agreement or frowning when you express yourself. Pay attention to nonverbals and shift your expressions accordingly.
2. Empathy This is a huge communication topic in our current societal discourse. From international relationships to personal ones, finding a way to empathize during conflict with others is absolutely necessary for progress in resolving disagreements. The innate wisdom in 'standing in another's shoes' AND expressing an understanding of how another feels, goes a long way in diffusing struggles. Importantly, empathy results in a 'zero sum' outcome. Translation: when empathy is used, no one loses and everybody wins. This idea is foreign in our culture which places a high value on winning. Putting our self-interests aside in order to find a solution agreeable to everyone is both challenging and necessary to facilitate harmony in our relationships.
3. Listening I have to admit... I have to work at being a good listener. But I'm trying. Listening and acknowledging what another communicates can only help when there is conflict. Listening requires one to be nonjudgmental, reflective and willing to problem solve AFTER someone has expressed his or her point of view. In Tina Fey's book, Bossypants, she talks at length about her experience in improv. She writes the first rule is improv is to agree with the speaker who precedes you. This hint is valuable on the stage and off. If you want to make a point, start by agreeing with the other person, then proceed with expressing your point of view.
And remember, as you evolve to a fully accomplished master of EQ, you are modeling healthy behavior for your children and grandchildren. What a wonderful family legacy.
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