’Why are you angry?
And why has your countenance fallen?’
People’s hearts (feelings) are not usually put into words. Most of the time they are expressed in subtle ways: body language, tone of voice, facial expressions, and gestures. Communication specialist tell us that as much as 85% of human communication is non-verbal.
One of the reasons God gave us bodies is because they offer a brilliant way for us to speak the language of the heart. Genesis 4:5 is merely one example. Dallas Willard makes an acute observation,
The tendencies and feelings that run our life, whether we are aware of it or not, reside in fairly specific parts of our body, and they reveal themselves to others through our body language – in how we “carry” our bodily parts. They not only govern our immediate responses in action, but also are read with great accuracy by observant people around us and then determine how they react to us. We wear our souls “on our sleeve,” even when we ourselves are oblivious to them, and that governs the quality of our relations to others.[i]
Researcher Daniel Stern calls the ability to read and respond well to someone’s heart attunement. Relationslly intelligent people are geniuses at it. You can see it at work between mothers and infants. The infant picks up a rattle and shakes it and smiles, and the mother gives a little shake of her shoulder. The infant squeals with delight, and the mother gives him a smile and a little squeeze, or matches the pitch of her voice to the baby’s squeal.
The mother is attuned to – in tune with – what is happening in that little infant’s heart. She is giving a sense of emotional connection to that child, helping him know his feelings are understood. Stern finds that mothers do this about once a minute with their children.[ii]
When this happens well, the child grows up to be able to read his own heart – that is, have self-awareness – and can also tune in to others.
One dangerous aspect of this skill is that generally people who don’t read others well aren’t aware that they don’t. It is like being emotionally tone-deaf. Ever sing next to someone who had a tin ear and a loud voice? If you have one tone-deaf person signing off-key in a room full of people with perfect pitch, who is the one person that doesn’t know someone’s singing off-key?
It is much the same with being relationally tone-deaf. These folks are not aware that they’re doing anything wrong. Thus, why relational intelligence is important. At work, certain people consistently transmit anger, judgmentalism, or discouragement. They may know the technical aspects of their job well. They may be right a lot. They may even get many tasks done. But other people don’t want to be around them. They are stuck at a low level in their vocational lives and don’t know why. They just find themselves feeling left out or isolated. They find that their relationships will hit a wall. Growth and opportunities at work will get cut off at a certain level. People will have a way of distancing themselves after a time. This may be quite painful.
The truth is, they may be doing things that keep people from entering into intimate relationships with them – but they never know! Their isolations is a mystery to them.
The good news is that relational intelligence can be learned. Develop this skill, get it right, and you will have opportunities to influence, comfort, challenge, and love people on a regular basis. You will have friendships characterized by a deep sense of openness and intimacy. You will be sought out by others at work. You will be much more effective as a parent or a friend.
The Carnegie Technological Institute has stated that
90% of all people who fail in their life’s vocation fail
because they cannot get along with people.[iii]
Take this week to practice noticing what people are saying to you with their faces, their body language, and the tone of their voices.
[i] Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart, Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2002, 162.
[ii] Daniel Stern: Cited in Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence. New York: Bantam Books, 1995, chapter 6.
[iii] Gettin the Church on Target, Lloyd Perry, Moody, 1977.