Managing Friends and Relatives with Emotional Intelligence - dummies

Managing Friends and Relatives with Emotional Intelligence

By Steven J. Stein

Here are some ways that practicing emotional intelligence techniques with close friends and relatives can help you defuse difficult situations and maintain balanced, fulfilling relationships with your loved ones.

Starting with the endgame

People do sometimes completely cut off contact with relatives and friends, and you may find yourself in a situation in which no contact at all is your only sane choice, however, the following are cases in which you expect to stay in some kind of contact with these friends and relatives.

Because you’ve likely known this person for a long time, you probably already have a good idea how likely she is to change. Your relative or friend probably has ingrained habits or behaviors that you can’t easily change.

Assuming that you still have to deal with this person for a long time to come, what can you hope for in the relationship? Here are some examples:

  • See each other only at holidays and family gatherings (once or twice a year)

  • Get together somewhat regularly (once every month or so)

  • Interact regularly (at least every week or more)

The less often you need to interact, the more easily you can deal with the situation. Regardless of how often you see this person, mentally prepare for these interactions by first thinking about how you will stay in control when you greet this person. Picture yourself greeting her and asking some opening questions (“How have you been? What have you been doing since I saw you last?” and so on).

Also, think about how you want the interaction to end. Suppose you’re spending a weekend with your mother. Each encounter up to this point has ended with you feeling very tense and emotionally drained, and barely speaking to your mother at the end of the interaction. At the end of this weekend, you want to leave on an even keel emotionally and in a calm and cordial mood with your mother.

[Credit: © Nicolas 2005]
Credit: © Nicolas 2005

Getting to the relationship you want

If you want a less acrimonious relationship, a relationship that has a calmer and more civil discourse as an outcome, with your difficult relative or friend, you can take these steps to better manage your relationship the next time you meet:

  • Don’t take the other person’s comments personally.

  • Find out how to manage your emotions and stay calm.

  • Refrain from saying things that you’ll regret later.

  • Take the heat. Accept being wrong on insignificant points (you may feel insulted, but so what?).

  • Don’t try to make points or win the arguments.

  • Be gracious and polite (even when it hurts).

  • Try to discuss topics on which you agree.

  • When the other person brings up negative talk, stick to the positive.

  • Bide your time — the encounter will end eventually, and think how much better you’ll feel after you say goodbye to this person.

  • Try to end your visit on a good note, verbally and emotionally.

You may never get to the point where you have the wonderful relationship of storybooks and 1950s sitcoms. However, you can experience less of the pain and guilt that comes with having a bad relationship with someone you’re close to. Setting a realistic goal for the relationship can really help you frame your expectations in a more constructive way. Your expectations shape your encounters. If you start out with unrealistic expectations, you only get frustrated and angry when the interaction doesn’t meet those expectations.