How to overcome negativity with emotional intelligence

October 7th, 2020

People are on edge with each other, hypervigilant, buffeted in a sea of negativity. Clergy colleagues report that otherwise stable church folks are having meltdowns and launching into attack mode. My husband, a cordial golfer, returned from the links last night telling me that a fellow golfer threatened to beat him up for a mild offense. Even a recent Master Gardener meeting I attended, made up of low key vegetable gardeners, turned into a verbal slugfest.

What’s up? And what can faith leaders do about it?

Toxic stew

Americans are caught up in a toxic stew of relentlessly polarizing politics, the uncertainty of the future, an ongoing pandemic with all its economic fallout, and the raw exposure of systemic racism. All of this has been further complicated by the recent un-presidential debate. Negativity has saturated our common airwaves. No one is exempt from its ill effects.

Faith leaders, while you are not exempt, you can overcome negativity with emotional intelligence.

Practice emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence includes five abilities. I’ll address them and simple ways you can incorporate them into your day-to-day dealings with others:

Self-regulation. Don’t go to every fight you are invited to. When you feel your hackles rise, or the perfect retort forming on your tongue, take a moment to breathe first. Instead of cutting someone else off, a good way to defuse the moment is to say, “Tell me more.” Listening can help another person re-regulate. Chances are they just need to blow off steam, too.

Empathy. I once read this wisdom on a tea bag: “Be kind. Everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” Even as the rain falls on the just and the unjust, the negativity in our common airwaves affects people indiscriminately. That makes empathy more important than ever. As a faith leader, you can both model empathy with the people in your circles and ask them to practice empathy with others.

Self-awareness. Be aware of your own tendencies, tiredness and need for time-away. Staying tuned in to these three T’s will give you greater ability to both self-regulate and to practice empathy.

Motivation. When interviewed, people all along the theological and political spectrum want similar things: safety, love and an ability to live life according to their most prized values. We hold these motivations in common. What differs is the method by which we believe we will achieve them. Understanding the deep motivations of people allows faith leaders to practice empathy, and to self-regulate in the midst of chaos.

Social skill. The most important skill, and indeed the responsibility, that you have as a faith leader is to practice social skills. The social skill has little to do with making small talk, and more to do with the ability to move people in the same direction. Another word for social skill is leadership. Leadership that unifies people is a rare commodity these days. Given the divided nature of our common life, chances are you won’t unite people around theology, or politics. Instead tap into our common treasury of values: the words of the gospel, the love of God, and the Kingdom of heaven. Quietly, persistently, and lovingly, bring people back to the overarching vision that Jesus laid out for us: Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is heaven.

You are not alone

Lastly, I want to remind you that you are not alone. Isolation is the enemy of love so don’t try to go it alone. Personally, my mission is to empower church leaders and the congregations they serve. I invite you to tap into the resources my team and I offer by watching Spiritual Mojo, joining us for How to Create a Culture of Renewal, or attending the next Uncomfortable Conversation series. In the meantime, breathe deep, and stay connected to the Source that supports us all!

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