Relational Intelligence: Invited vs. Invaded

Not sure what happened to it, but the article I referred to in my last post has been removed.  Here is the full article that I was able to copy and paste because it was archived in Google Reader.  Enjoy!

Article by Steve Saccone

When it comes to the impact we long to have, we must be intelligent in how we approach our relationships. 

To build and develop true relational influence, we have to be invited into someone’s relational space versus what we sometimes do, which is invade someone’s relational space.

By “relational space,” I mean that invisible dynamic inside of people where they either open themselves to someone else’s input or resist it. For instance, if someone refuses to allow us into his “relational space,” that means he’ll resist any advice, input, or coaching we offer. In leadership, we often don’t pay close enough attention to this interpersonal dynamic, and in the process, we break trust, lose credibility, and diminish our capacity to influence.

Let’s think about this dynamic in a different way. Imagine hiring a personal trainer at a local gym to help you get in shape. By hiring him, you give him permission to coach you, offer his advice, and even push you to exercise with greater effort and focus. You are inviting him into your “space.”

On the contrary, imagine seeing a friend at the mall. After saying hello, he begins assessing your physical health, tells you how much you need to exercise, and then commands you to “get down and do 50 pushups.” I don’t know about you, but I’d be wondering where the hidden camera is.

When put in these terms, this sounds bizarre. But enter the world of relationships, and we often ignore this same principle. We offer advice, input, and coaching to people who have not yet invited us into their relational space. To them, our approach may even seem bizarre because we’re trying to impose on them something they’ve never asked us to give them.

Maybe this happens with a younger person on your team whom you think would benefit from your advice, or with a person you’re trying to mentor but you haven’t established a mentoring relationship, or maybe someone you supervise at work, or as a volunteer, and you assume they want your help. Just because you live in close relational proximity to them, or just because you have a position of authority over them, doesn’t mean you’ve established trust, credibility, nor a voice of influence in their life. That has to be earned.

If we make the wrong assumptions in the relational world of leadership, our relational unintelligence will lead us toward diminishing impact.

Even if our motives are sincere in wanting to make a positive impact on someone, when we force our way into a person’s relational space, they sense our invasion, and will resist. More often than not, they resist because they feel we’re barging in without knocking. They haven’t opened the door and welcomed our input, advice, or coaching. This is their choice. Sometimes we short-circuit the process because we think we have all the right answers for them.

Relationally intelligent leaders refuse to invade people’s space, but instead, wait to be invited into it so their influence expands rather than diminishes. They know this is where true relational influence happens.

One of the primary ways to identify whether we’re being invited in comes down to our ability to read and discern non-verbal signs. People emit invisible vibes (or signs) that tell us something. Everyone sends them out, thus communicating whether they’re open or closed off to us. This is revealed primarily through body language, but also through the emotional energy a person emits. For example, someone could maintain a welcoming and open spirit, or they could emit an aloof and distant one. People tell us without words whether they want our advice or input, and relationally intelligent leaders pay close attention.

Sometimes people come right out and tell us directly that they don’t want our advice, but most people choose to send non-verbal cues to try and tell us to back off, or at least that our input isn’t welcomed. They may do this for a plethora of reasons. It isn’t a right or wrong thing. In fact, sometimes it’s very appropriate for a person to resist our coaching or wisdom because we haven’t earned the right to be heard.

Sometimes their non-verbal emissions are obvious and strong, while other times they’re subtle and difficult to sense. Often we can identify them, but when we can’t, it’s usually ok to ask.  

We could ask something like, “Do you mind if I share some insight into what you’re going through?”  This gives a person an opportunity to invite us into their relational space and welcome our input. It doesn’t always mean they’ll directly say no, but if they withdraw or seem resistant, they’re probably trying to tell us, “No thanks.” If someone is sharing a personal struggle with us, we could ask them, “Are you looking for help and advice, or are you looking just to talk this out?” This helps inform us on how to best respond to the person in a way that honors and respects their journey and our relationship with them. 

All of this doesn’t mean there aren’t moments when we push through resistance and challenge people to grow and change. And to be clear, I’m certainly not advocating for some passive way of leadership. It’s just that in many leadership circles, we rarely seek to honor this invitational dynamic, we continually overlook the non-verbal cues and often fail to ask permission to push rather than forcing our agenda upon someone. 

Jesus’ way of leadership was not one that forced an invasive agenda upon people rather it was one that served others with great honor and respect. And since God doesn’t force Himself on people neither should we. But God does jump at the chance to serve people if they invite Him in. His posture is always bent toward serving others, and He’s a model we can emulate as we strive to become more relationally intelligent in our leadership.

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About Aaron Gardner

Aaron is a counselor and student of the Bible, passionate about sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. He lives in central Indiana with his wife, one-year-old son and their two dogs. View all posts by Aaron Gardner

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