Emotions are complex.
Every day, our experiences affect them. Sunshine or rain clouds, our favorite song on the radio or an angry email at work—all of these can affect our mood, change the way we feel and influence the way we think.
The problems come when we allow those feelings to dictate how we deal with others.
Why? Because emotions can cause us to react differently in a certain moment than we would normally. If we’re feeling especially happy, we might agree to do something we wouldn’t otherwise. If we’re feeling very down or upset, we might unintentionally take those feelings out on someone.
Emotional intelligence, also known as EI or EQ (for emotional intelligence quotient), describes a person's ability to recognize emotions, to understand their powerful effect, and to use that information to guide thinking and behavior. When we speak about getting our emotions “under control,” we are usually thinking about controlling our response to emotions. This isn’t easy—but it can be done with practice.
So how can emotional intelligence help your relationships in everyday life?
One incredibly useful skill is that of seeing the big picture.
In essence, seeing the big picture involves stepping back in an emotionally charged moment, and thinking about the consequences of our actions—both short and long-term.
Here’s how it works: If you receive an email that bothers you, step away before you reply. If a friend or family member does something frustrating, pause before you react.
Then, ask yourself questions like:
• How will my response affect my relationship with this person?
• Will I regret saying or doing this tomorrow? How about next week? Or next year?
This doesn’t have to take much time. In fact, once you gain practice, it becomes more of a habit.
Here’s an example:
The other day, I was trying to fix our new, adjustable showerhead. It was only a few weeks old, but somehow I had managed to destroy one of the moving parts. As I continued my (fruitless) efforts, I began to feel a very strong emotion—frustration.
But here’s the rub: My wife is the one who picked out the new showerhead. So instead of groaning or grumbling, I simply let out a sigh and uttered: “Oh well. I don’t think I’m going to be able to fix this thing.” To my surprise, my wife got upset.
Here is where taking a moment to step back and see the big picture really pays big dividends. I thought to myself: "If I leave now, chances are, my wife’s frustration is going to grow." So I changed course. I went to my wife, gave her a hug, and apologized. I could “feel” her entire mood change in the seconds that followed. As we took off for work a few minutes later, we said goodbye with a kiss and a smile.
Your relationships are like bridges between you and everyone else. Every day, you’re faced with moments that are charged with emotion. When you take a moment to see the big picture and adjust accordingly, you add another brick to strengthen and reinforce the bridge—instead of allowing those moments to slowly wear the bridge down, until it falls apart.
Of course, no one exhibits perfect control over their emotions or reactions. But don’t be discouraged by mistakes. Consider it a lifelong learning experience: The more you practice, the better you get.
It may not help fix the showerhead, but it can still help save the day.