Focus on EQ: Cultivating Relationships

October 16, 2011

Focus on EQ: Cultivating Relationships

Cultivating.....according to the dictionary, it’s trying to acquire or develop something, like a quality or a new skill. What do you cultivate?  While I admit it’s not my favorite thing to do, sometimes I do cultivate my garden. I spend time raking, hoeing, and weeding, fertilizing, adding a couple new plants, and removing overcrowded or diseased ones. I cultivate my garden so that my plants and vegetables will look good, grow, and bear fruit.  Gardens aren’t the only things that need cultivating, as you’ll see below. Back in the early 70's, a good friend of mine, Odis Simmons, was a milkman. He was also a graduate student, and he decided to engage his fellow milkmen in some research to learn the most important thing they were “working on” as they delivered their milk to customers. Using what’s called grounded theory methodology, Odis discovered that cultivating relationships was the main concern of milkmen, as they went about trying to sell their milk bottles door to door.  Threatened by societal changes resulting in the mass production of milk and its sale in huge supermarkets, the milkmen found that nothing helped them retain customers better than a good old-fashioned "door-side" manner. These milkmen were cultivating relationships; trying to acquire and develop a new skill that wasn’t in their original job description! While a lot has changed since the 1970's, the need for all of us to cultivate relationships still remains.   Relationships that need cultivating are everywhere! In schools, relationships need cultivating between students, between teachers and students, between teachers and parents, between parents and administrators and teachers, and between everyone else, including secretaries, custodians, lunch aides, and bus drivers. People thrive on good relationships. It’s been said that “ interpersonal relationships . . . are the energy sources for . . . productive organizations” (Costa & Garmston, 2002, p. 25).  Schools couldn’t run without them! In other words,  for an organization to work to its fullest and to support its constituents, we need to cultivate relationships, because PEOPLE NEED TO KNOW THAT THEY MATTER. In the wake of continual problems, stresses,  and crises in our schools, relationships can nourish and sustain us and help us make others feel nurtured and cared about: our friends, family, our students, our parents, our fellow counselors and teachers, and everyone we come in contact with each day.   While cultivating relationships are important for making us feel like we matter, as counselors and teachers, we also  know that the intentional process of cultivating relationships is necessary to reach our mutual goal of supporting students’ lifelong opportunities for success.   Researchers have shown that by cultivating a positive, caring, respectful classroom, rich with compassionate relationships, students are engaged, problems decrease, and learning outcomes improve (Durlak et al., 2010). So, as my friend, Odis,  discovered in his milkman study back in the day, in order to advocate for students and programs and to be a school leader, cultivating relationships has to be OUR main concern if we want to be there for our students and our programs. A participant in my doctoral research was talking about the value of cultivating relationships when he said,  “You may be the best school counselor in the state, but if the right people don’t know it, you are virtually invisible.” So, are you visible enough? Are you cultivating relationships with intent and authenticity and joy? Are you having the impact that you want in creating a positive caring classroom and school culture,  rich with empathy and trust, where students are engaged, motivated, and ready to learn? How can EQ tools help us cultivate relationships? Three powerful  EQ “tools”  for cultivating relationships are:
  • Optimism--People who are optimists are enthusiastic; they see multiple perspectives and solutions.  They inspire others to learn and grow from adversity, and help others celebrate success. People like to be around them.
  • Empathy--People who have lots of empathy know how others are feeling, care about them, and respond appropriately.
  • Emotional Literacy---When we use, understand, and manage our feelings and learn to understand and respond to the feelings of others', we are able to truly cultivate a relationship with ourself and others (Six Seconds.org).
          Digging deeper. . . How can cultivating your own optimism, empathy, and emotional literacy help you develop your deepest and most effective relationships with others?     Here are a few of my suggestions for our Cultivating Relationships  toolbox:
  • Choose relationships wisely and pay attention to them, nurture them, and do not take them for granted.
  • Pay attention to feelings--your own and others, as these are messages that help us know ourselves and communicate our emotions to each other.
  • Remember that relationships aren’t perfect (for very long) so it’s crucial to appreciate our unique imperfections and honor our differences.
  • Think of different solutions and give up needing to be right all the time.
  • Listen to each other and speak from your heart.
  • Tell people how much they matter to you.
What else would you add to our tool box? Curious about your own EQ skills for cultivating relationships? Try a brief, free, assessment from Six Seconds,  to learn about your own emotional intelligence strengths and how you can use these to become more effective. Please contact me at susan.stillman@6seconds.org for more information.



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