So much of our daily lives are ruled by emotions, from the feelings that guide our own actions to how we think about and respond to other people. Being able to understand how other people feel (and the actions and events that lie behind those emotions) is paramount to our social, familial, and romantic relationships.
What happens when we fail to understand not only how another person feels but why they might feel that way? As you might imagine, such situations can seriously derail a relationship.
Think about the last time you argued with a loved one. How much of that argument stemmed from not truly understanding what the other person was feeling?
The last time I argued with my husband, it was over a fairly trivial issue. Afterwards, it turned out I thought he was angry about one thing and he thought I was angry about something else. Had both of us taken a closer look at the underlying cause behind the other’s anger, the whole silly argument would have been sorted out much faster.
Emotional intelligence hinges on this ability to understand emotions. This includes understanding our own emotions as well as the feelings of those around us.
So if this emotional understanding is so critical, what exactly can we do to foster it? It’s not always easy and it often takes time and practice, but there are things you can do to become more emotionally understanding.
We are all busy it seems, so we sometimes fail to notice the subtle emotional cues that others are projecting in our daily rush.
Did your co-worker seem a little bit distracted this morning? Was your spouse a bit quieter than usual during breakfast? Has your daughter been avoiding talking about her best friend lately?
Be on the lookout for some of the small clues that might indicate the emotional turmoil those around you might be experiencing.
So you notice that one of your co-workers seems a bit distracted – how does that help you cultivate emotional understanding? Start by asking questions.
“Hey, I notice that your mind seems to be somewhere else this morning. Is anything wrong?,” you might simply ask.
Sure, your co-worker might brush off your concerns or respond that they are fine, but there is a chance that he might open up and share his concerns with you.
Put Yourself in Their Shoes
Empathy and compassion play vital roles in understanding the emotions of others. In order to truly understand what someone is feeling, we often need to imagine ourselves in his or her position.
Imagine that your co-worker has opened up and revealed that he is worried that his wife his having an affair. A potential minefield of emotions to be sure, but take a moment to place yourself in his shoes. How would you feel? Anger? Fear? Sadness? By walking a mile in his shoes, you will probably have a better grasp on how he might be feeling.
Let Others Know that You Value Them
Emotional understanding doesn’t just involve knowing what other people might be thinking – it also includes acting on that knowledge. By expressing interest, understanding, concern, and compassion for the emotions of others, you can make it clear that you do indeed value these feelings.
Building such emotional understanding isn’t always easy. Emotions can be confusing at times. They can be turbulent, messy, and even a little frightening. But making the effort to better understand how others feel can deepen your relationships and lead to more meaningful interactions with the people you encounter each and every day.