Building on a foundation of emotional intelligence (or EQ), relational intelligence highlights how well you’re able to choose and maintain the various relationships in your life. “Whereas emotional intelligence gives you the capacity for relational intelligence, it should not be confused with RQ, since being able to pick up on the emotional cues of others and respond to them appropriately is a different skill from being able to determine who should be in your life, what place they should occupy, and how you should manage those relationships,” says emotional intelligence expert Dharius Daniels, DMin, author of Relational Intelligence: The People Skills You Need for The Life Of Purpose You Want. The second skill set is indicative of high relational intelligence, specifically, or knowing how to give and receive in relational alignment.
What does high (and low) relational intelligence look like in practice?
Whether platonic, romantic, or marked by a particular dynamic (like a work relationship or a mentor-mentee partnership), relational intelligence is about understanding the purpose that different relationships serve in your life. Being able to place people in your life into these different buckets, so to speak, and even divide the broad category of “friends” using the levels of a friendship hierarchy, can help you ensure that you’re investing the right amount of time and effort into each relationship.
As for how to do that? Dr. Daniels says it’s about making “non-judgmental observations about the patterns and behaviors of each person in your life, and then reflecting on whether that person is someone you want in your life, and if so, what place they’d best occupy.” Doing this exercise to determine which relationships are really serving you, and how you can support them accordingly is a strong sign of high RQ at work—and will spare you from the relational wishy-washiness and hurt feelings that can happen when two folks aren’t on the same page.
“Relational intelligence involves reflecting on whether each person in your life is someone who should be there, and if so, what place they’d best occupy.” —Dharius Daniels, DMin, emotional intelligence expert
Because relationships can naturally change or evolve with time (they’re made up of living, breathing people, after all), another sign of high relational intelligence is being able to manage that ebb and flow. “For example, if a person with high RQ receives additional responsibility at work, they’d be able to recognize that this might cause them to neglect some of the other relationships that are extremely important to them,” says Dr. Daniels. “They might not always be able to prevent this outright, but they can identify when it’s happening and adjust accordingly.”
The same goes for being able to support the changing needs of different relationships within the same bucket—say, multiple family relationships, for instance. “In the context of parenting, a parent with high relational intelligence would be able to recognize when their relationship with a child requires something different from them in one season than it did in another,” says Dr. Daniels. “Perhaps one child has a more difficult time managing their teenage years than another. Being able to recognize this distinction and the way you’d need to respond would reflect a high level of RQ.”
This allows you to dedicate more of yourself to relationships in your life that could use your support and care, while tapping other relationships to receive support in return. And it’s tending to that balance that allows you to avoid emotional bankruptcy—a key sign of low relational intelligence. “This happens when a person is living in a state, emotionally, where there are way more withdrawals from their own account than deposits from others,” says Dr. Daniels. Unsurprisingly, that’s a sure route to burnout, frustration, and eventually, resentment of the people in your life.
By contrast, finding the right people to support you in different facets of your life and aligning them in the right places (e.g., close friend versus acquaintance, coworker versus mentor) can bring about emotional abundance. “This means that the key emotional needs you can satisfy within relationships are being met—like acceptance, affirmation, and security,” says Dr. Daniels. So, to stick with the banking metaphor, high relational intelligence creates a balanced emotional checkbook, where your relational withdrawals are only as great as the relational deposits you receive.
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