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Books for those in ministry organizations who desire to take their leadership, teams, governance, and ministry effectiveness to the next level.

21 Apr '12

Relational Intelligence

I believe there is a direct connection between the health of a church or organization and the relational intelligence of its constituency. I would argue, for instance, that churches with high levels of conflict have poor relational skills while congregations with little to no ongoing conflict have a higher level of relational intelligence. 

Relational intelligence, a part of EQ or emotional intelligence, is the ability to relate to others in healthy ways, keep personal boundaries intact, negotiate conflict or differences with others without breaking relationship, be self defined personally about what one believes even when others would disagree and not get pulled into emotional triangles or enmeshment with others. If you think about it, the lack of these skills are large contributors to conflict and relational dysfunction.

Consider personal boundaries. Any number of individuals or groups would like to pull you into their orbit, take up their cause, believe their version of events and rope you into their issues. Healthy personal boundaries recognizes this when they see it and wisely hold their own counsel rather than get pulled into other issues. One of the major reasons that conflict escalates is the lack of healthy personal boundaries.

Or consider self definition - the ability to speak one's mind with clarity even when others may disagree. When there is poor relational intelligence, rather than being self defined, individuals communicate what they think others want to hear (for reasons of acceptance). The problem is that they often cater to their audience and end up giving false impressions as to what they really believe and say one thing to one group and another to another group which causes all kinds of confusion.

One of the most critical areas of relational intelligence goes to how we handle people who disagree with us. All too often when people disagree, they are cut off from friendships, marginalized if they are staff, and labeled as disloyal and troublemakers. Think of how destructive, painful, unloving and emotionally immature this is. It is a sign of someone who is not only emotionally immature but self absorbed because the core of this behavior is totally narcissistic. Because someone has not treated me well, or disagreed with me, or taken issue with me, I can no longer trust them, don't want to relate to them and thus I will marginalize them. Notice that it is all about me.

Whole churches get embroiled in conflict when this lack of relational intelligence prevails because those who don't agree with us become the enemy and relationships are severed. Staffs become dysfunctional when senior leaders display this behavior because they are dividing their staff into two camps, the loyal and disloyal and loyalty is usually defined as "they agree with me."

Interestingly, the New Testament has a great deal to say about relationships - healthy and unhealthy and it is the healthy that define good relational intelligence. Groups with high relational intelligence can differ on major issues but remain connected, loving and committed to one another. That is not true when there is poor relational intelligence which by definition divides, escalates conflict and destroys relationships.

I tend to give those with poor relational intelligence a very wide berth because I don't want to be caught up in their relational chaos. 

We need to talk more candidly with our congregations about what God honoring relationships look like and what behaviors are destructive and decidedly not God honoring. We also need to be far more proactive in training ministry staff on issues of relational intelligence. Either we allow a relational culture that defines itself (usually negatively) or we define a God honoring relational culture and help people understand what contributes to health and what contributes to dis- health. 

Good relational intelligence:

  • Does not get pulled into others issues
  • Is self defined and keeps one's own counsel
  • Resists triangulation and enmeshment with others
  • Stays in relationship when others disagree with them
  • Is not threatened by disagreement
  • Forgives easily and seeks forgiveness quickly
  • Does not divide people into friend and enemy camps
  • Gets one's relational clues from Scripture and Jesus
  • Thinks of the other's perspective as much as their own
  • Tries to put themselves in the shoes of the other to understand their point of view
  • Places love and grace for others above their own concerns
  • Lives out 1 Corinthians 13
  • Treats everyone with dignity
Would it not be great if our congregations and organizations had that kind of relational intelligence? The higher the relational intelligence of our organization the healthier it will be but the opposite is also true.