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Four Ways to Practice Emotional Intelligence During the Holidays

Almost every one of us will spend time with family or friends over the holiday season. We “push pause” on our busy lives and spend time with others with no agenda except exchanging gifts and consuming food.

Well, except for millions of families.

I have noticed when families gather during the holidays and aren’t busy with their jobs or with a football game—they are forced to reveal their true selves. Our “insides” come out. In fact, I’ve been intrigued over the years with how many people tend to hide behind their work only to disclose their emotional deficits when they aren’t on the job. Some of those family members or friends do have an agenda—and will exhibit traits that reveal their insecurities:

  • Many will feel the need to project their self-worth. Uncle Harry or cousin Ben will do a “humble brag” about how busy they are or what they’ve accomplished this year.
  • Others will withdraw from people and grow quiet, just biding time. They are introverts who don’t appreciate the “crowds” even when they’re people those introverts love.
  • Still, others will display passive-aggressive behaviors because they harbor some ill feelings toward a sibling or parent or aunt… and it erupts when certain topics arise.
  • Others still will find it necessary to convince everyone of their political opinion or of the latest gadget they just bought, feeling better if they can persuade anyone to join them.

What Should We Do?

Kids watch adults do this all the time. It’s no wonder they still act like children when they’re in their twenties. They’ve watched many current adults act like children and figure it’s normal.

I believe the holidays are a perfect time to model for the kids and young adults what healthy relationships—emotionally intelligent relationships—can look like. Consider what the kids in Generation Z have witnessed from too many of today’s adults:

  • Terrorist acts globally.
  • Mass shootings domestically.
  • Polarization among leaders politically.
  • Greed and embezzlement in corporations.
  • People quitting friendships, marriages, and work quickly.
  • Outrage on social media platforms over anyone who disagrees.

According to the Center for Creative Leadership, “75 percent of careers are derailed for reasons related to emotional competencies, including an inability to handle interpersonal problems; unsatisfactory team leadership during times of difficulty or conflict; or the inability to adapt to change or elicit trust.” I believe the same is true for family relationships.

I have a question. What if we demonstrated high emotional intelligence for our kids, nephews, nieces, and grandchildren? What if we entered every conversation authentically with:

  1. Nothing to prove.
  2. Nothing to hide.
  3. Nothing to lose.

What if we showed our kids what it means to connect with someone for the sole purpose of demonstrating love, belief, and affirmation? Let me suggest four holiday EQ actions for you.

1. Active listening

When someone’s speaking, genuinely tune in to what they’re saying and volley back with remarks that prove you’ve taken their words to heart. What if you didn’t try to outdo what they just said, but affirmed what they said? What if your goal was not to tell anyone anything this holiday season but to digest what everyone is saying? Ernest Hemingway was famous for saying, “When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.” You will find that listening is often just as emotionally taxing as talking. But it remembers that people’s favorite voice to hear is their own.

2. Social awareness

This quality enables you to spot what’s really happening in a room full of people. Who is connecting with who, and who’s slowly becoming disconnected? Practicing social awareness means you keep your emotional antennas up. This enables you to see not only the need to refresh someone’s drink, but to engage a person standing in a corner who has slipped into a gaze and has left the conversation. Small gestures—as simple as a knowing wink—can trigger connection. Families need people who are socially aware.

3. Removal of distractions

What if you deliberately placed your smartphone on silent or better yet, removed it from the room where you’re interacting. Studies have shown that the mere presence of a cell phone (even on silent) can distract people conversing. “Emotional intelligence is the ability to sense, understand, and effectively apply the power and acumen of emotions as a source of human energy.” Michael Porter said, “The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.” Removing cell phones will liberate a holiday.

4. Selfless service

Theodore Roosevelt said it first: “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” During Christmas or Hanukkah, what better time to demonstrate you care than by quietly and anonymously serving the other people in the house? Try looking for needs to meet or problems to solve; what if you assumed the role of the “host” even if you’re not at your own home? What if you acted as the concierge for the gathering, without announcing it?

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around,” said Leo Buscaglia. What our kids need during this time is a model of what emotional intelligence and social intelligence looks like from those who are older. That’s me. That’s you.


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Four Ways to Practice Emotional Intelligence During the Holidays