When Corlette and I were raising and educating our children, we struggled far more with relational challenges than we did with academic content. Put four sinful people together in the same home and the relational tensions will easily eclipse educational issues.
Our background in conflict resolution was helpful (both Corlette and I have written books on peacemaking), but we realized it would be far better to prevent conflict than it would be to spend hours resolving it. So we started searching for resources that would help our entire family develop relational skills that would enable us to “get upstream of conflict.”
Emotional Intelligence Provides Valuable Insights
During our search, we came across several books on “emotional intelligence,” also known as “EI” or “EQ” (for emotional quotient). EI is typically defined as the ability to identify, assess and manage the emotions of oneself, of others and of groups.
This concept originated in psychology circles in 1920 but did not gain wide attention until Daniel Goleman’s book, Emotional Intelligence, made the New York Times Best Seller List in 1995. Goleman describes EI as being made up of four core skills: self-awareness, self-management, social-awareness and relationship-management.
Thousands of studies have shown that improving EI yields a wide variety of benefits in a work setting, including increased productivity and team cohesiveness, better balance between work and family life, less conflict, reduced staff turnover, higher customer satisfaction and increased impact and profitability.
As a result, EI is now being taught in multinational corporations, medical and business schools, grade schools (as “social/emotional learning”), universities, seminaries, law enforcement and military academies, and even on NFL sports teams (see 100+ sample articles).
None of the top selling books on EI are written from a Christian perspective. Even so, through general revelation and common grace, God has given many of these authors helpful insights into the neurology and hormonology that drive human emotions and relationships. As a result, I’ve found these books to provide valuable insights that I’ve applied at home, as a professional mediator and as a Certified EI Instructor.
The Dark Side of EI
Unfortunately, EI has some major deficiencies. The most popular books and courses on EI ignore God’s existence as well as the reality of sin and the redeeming work of Jesus Christ. As a result, these resources lack an objective moral compass. The primary motivation for improving EI is usually personal advancement. And apart from the transforming power of the gospel, change depends entirely on human effort.
Moreover, an increasing number of articles are highlighting “the dark side of EI,” namely, that unprincipled people with exceptional emotional intelligence often use those skills to manipulate others for their own advantage.
Relational Wisdom Surpasses Emotional Intelligence
Believing that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight” (Prov. 9:10), Corlette and I decided to develop a God-centered, biblically-grounded and gospel-driven form of emotional intelligence. We call it “relational wisdom” or “RW” for short. This discipleship paradigm captures all of the proven benefits of traditional EI while addressing its typical deficiencies.
The RW paradigm is built around two organizing principles. First, the Bible teaches that relationships are inherently three dimensional: we are designed to be in constant relationship with God, self and others (see Matt. 22:37-39; Eph. 4:30-32).
Second, healthy relationships involve two essential dynamics: awareness (what do I know about God, myself and others) and engagement (how will I act toward God, myself and others). Jesus displayed these dynamics constantly in his relationships, both with those who loved him and those who hated him (see Matt. 12:15; 16:8; 26:10).
These organizing principles give rise to a set of six key relational skills that are commended throughout Scripture: God-awareness (remembering), God-engagement (faithfulness), self-awareness (humility), self-engagement (discipline), other-awareness (compassion) and other-engagement (service).
These skills have the potential to impact every area of life. In addition to improving workplace performance and advancement, they can enhance worship, marital intimacy and church unity. RW can also help us to bring the gospel to our children instead of condemnation (see Penetrating Barriers) and reduce the tensions inherent to educating our children (see My Wife’s Punch List Was Driving Our Son Crazy).
Reducing Parental Guilt and Regrets
Corlette and I found that one of the greatest benefits of developing better relational wisdom was that it helped us to avoid being “hijacked” by our emotions when our children aggravated us and we were tempted to say things we would later regret (see Four Ways to Defeat Hijacking). RW also improved our ability to ask engaging questions instead of lecturing our children (see Spanglish) and to respond with compassion instead of judgment when they made foolish choices (see The Compassionate Boxer).
These same skills are now enabling us to develop close relationships with our grandchildren (see Clean Me, Papa!).
Raising Empathetic Children Who Are Ready for the Workforce
One of our greatest joys today is seeing how our children are applying the principles of relational wisdom in their own lives (see A Wise Son Makes a Glad Father) and passing them on as they seek to develop both affective and cognitive empathy in their own children (see Raising Empathetic Children).
These skills are also valuable as our children enter the workforce, compete for jobs and learn how to work with other people. Why? Because modern corporations have learned that the value of an employee depends on both technical (hard) skills and relational (soft) skills.
In fact, every employee’s soft skills have the power to magnify—or diminish—the value of not only their own hard skills but also those of the people with whom they are working.
For example, if one member of a team is arrogant, insensitive, or insecure, and tends to discount or criticize others’ accomplishments or ideas, the cohesiveness and creativity of an entire team can be undermined (10 x 0 = 0).
Corporations are increasingly aware of this dynamic and are putting a higher value on soft skills like emotional intelligence. This is why I constantly tell young adults, “Earn good grades, because they will get you the job interview. But also develop good relational skills, because they will get you the job … and the promotions … and the higher salary.”
Preparing Our Children for Life
If we educate our children to obtain high SAT and ACT scores but fail to equip them with godly relational skills, we are not preparing them to thrive in their friendships, marriages, jobs or in their witness for Christ.
If you’d like to equip the children in your life with both academic and relational skills, there are three ways you can begin doing so today.
First, click on the links provided above and read the articles and blog posts as a family or ministry team over the next two weeks, sharing ideas and setting goals on how you can apply these principles in your home, church or ministry.
Second, subscribe to our weekly RW Blog and use the teachings and video clips to trigger meal time discussions and classroom assignments throughout the school year.
Third, enroll your entire family or ministry team in our new online Discovering Relational Wisdom 2.0 Course. If you’d like to do this training as a family, you can email email@example.com to request a special 40% discount code for your children. As indicated in these testimonies from eight children in a single family, children as young as eight years of age can understand and apply biblical principles for healthy relationships.
These investments in relational training could make your school year far more enjoyable and productive … and set your children up for happy marriages, rewarding careers, and a compelling testimony about the transforming power of Jesus Christ.
– Ken Sande
- What are young people learning from entertainment channels and social media about how to build and preserve relationships?
- How is this influence affecting young people’s ability to enjoy enduring relationships and have an inviting witness for Christ?
- How effectively is the modern church teaching practical relational skills to young Christians?
- What are some of the relational skills you’d like to see the young people in your life develop more fully? How would their lives be different if they learn how to live out God’s teachings on relationships?
- Has God placed you in a position to promote or teach principles of relational wisdom to any children in your family, church or community? If so, make this one of your highest priorities for 2017!
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© 2016 Ken Sande
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