Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Emotional Intelligence In Real Life

The lawnmower wasn't working.  It would start, I would push it two feet, and it would die.  My husband saw this and waved me over.  I took the grass catcher off, emptied it into a garbage bag, and brought mower, catcher and bag to the spot where he was standing.

He glowered at me.  “Are you going to leave that trash bag right here in my way?’  I said nothing.  I moved the bag.

He started the mower.  He fiddled with a couple of gears or knobs or buttons or something, and then he pointed at the grass catcher.  Since the mower was on I could only assume he wanted me to bring it to him; it was far too loud for conversation.   I walked over, picked up the grass catcher, and attempted to put it on the lawnmower.  He took the grass catcher from my hands and flung it across the lawn, much to the amusement of the man waiting at the bus stop in front of the rental unit where we were working.

He turned the mower off and shouted at me.  “Don’t you know that’s the worst place you can put the catcher when the mower is on?” 

“Thank you,” I said calmly.  “Now I know.”  He turned back to the mower and restarted it.  It continued to run.  I took the mower and finished mowing the lawn without incident.

What?  This story didn't go where you thought it would go, did it?  No yelling in return?  No crying?  No stomping off in a huff and refusing to continue to help until he apologized?  How boring.

There is actually an entire discipline devoted to the ability to give such a boring response.  It’s called Emotional Intelligence.  Wikipedia defines emotional intelligence as “the ability to identify, assess, and control the emotions of oneself, of others, and of groups.”  I was introduced to the concept of Emotional Intelligence at work.  The book we studied, The Emotional Intelligence Quick Book by Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves, focused on developing emotional intelligence skills in the workplace.

Now that I am retired, it seems I have even more opportunities to practice and enhance my emotional intelligence skills.  It seems it was much easier keeping my own emotions in check, and responding appropriately to the emotions of others, when the “others” in question did not live in the same house as me.  Thinking about this, I've observed that
  • -          Many of us find it difficult to take direction from a spouse
  • -          Many of us assume that because something comes easily to us it will come easily to others.  Guilty as charged.  So is my spouse.

Compounding the above is the well-known fact that I have very poor hand-eye coordination and anything mechanical comes to me only with great difficulty.  My husband is the exact opposite, and gets soooooo frustrated at my inability to “just figure it out.”  So we have these types of interactions on a fairly regular basis as I learn more and more about the day to day maintenance of rental properties. The emotional intelligence skills I've learned help me keep my emotions from getting in the way of my learning.

The emotional intelligence skills, per Bradberry and Greaves are:
1.  Self-Awareness:  The ability to accurately perceive your own emotions in the moment and to understand your own tendencies in different situations.
2.  Self-Management:  The ability to act – or not to act – on your own emotions.
3. Social Awareness:  The ability to accurately pick up on emotions of other people and to understand what is really going on with them.
4.  Relationship Management:  The ability to use your awareness of your own emotions and those of others to manage interactions successfully.

The authors also note that, unlike IQ or personality, emotional intelligence can be learned and can be increased.  This is a good thing, as I hope to have many more years to practice.


  1. I had a similar challenge yesterday. I couldn't figure how to view tasks in my google calendar. My husband figured it out. Let's just say, I didn't respond as well as you did. I'd had a week with some major disappointments. I was feeling emotionally vulnerable. I have a lot of respect for EI and certainly agree that retirement is a great opportunity to practice and perfect.

  2. sure sounds like my brother. I am glad *someone* can live with him!!! I need to read this book. --Kim