We’re hearing more and more about artificial intelligence these days, but I don’t hear anyone talking about relational intelligence. I wish we did. Few people are born with it, yet it is something we can learn by carefully observing others who have it.
I saw a great example of recent relational intelligence in the woman's version of March Madness 2023.
A relational hangover from March Madness
In the NCAA women’s national championship basketball game, LSU beat the University of Iowa 102-85.
A day after the game, First Lady Jill Biden had this to say about the two teams:
“I know we'll have the champions come to the White House; we always do. So, we hope LSU will come. But, you know, I'm going to tell Joe I think Iowa should come too, because they played such a good game.”
My first thought was about her comment that the losing Iowa team deserved an invitation to the White House because they played such a good game. What game was she watching? Iowa lost by 17 points. There was no overtime, no buzzer-beater winning shot as time expired. They lost by 17 points.
Even in the era of everyone-gets-a-participation-trophy, this was not one of Jill Bidden’s most astute observations.
What relational intelligence looks like
Relational intelligence considers the ramifications of one’s words and actions on all people concerned. Imagine how the LSU players would feel if the Iowa players accepted the invitation. It certainly would have cheapened their significant accomplishment in earning the right to be called national champions.
Then imagine how the Iowa players would have felt. If I were one of them visiting the White House I would feel I don’t belong here. I’m getting something I haven’t earned or deserved.
Looking at Jill Biden’s comment in the best possible light, it seems she wanted to make the losing team feel better. She wanted to take the sting out of their loss to the national champions. I get that. She wanted to make everyone happy.
But that’s not relational intelligence because when you try to make everyone happy, you make no one happy.
In response to the first lady’s comment, Caitlin Clark, star player of the Iowa team, said
“I don’t think runner-ups usually go to the White House. LSU should enjoy that moment for them, and congratulations, obviously; they deserve to go there. Maybe I could go to the White House (someday) on different terms.”
The Iowa head coach, Lisa Bluder, expressed the same sentiment in a tweet,
“I gratefully acknowledge the First Lady’s sentiments, but a day at the White House should belong solely to the champion, LSU and Coach Mulkey. We would welcome the First Lady and President to come to Iowa’s “House” – Carver Hawkeye Arena — any time!”
Relational intelligence helps solve relational dilemmas
I love this coach’s response. She came up with a third alternative to Jill Biden’s idea that saved face for the First Lady. She expanded the universe of choices from
We’ll visit you at the White House,
No, we won’t visit you at the White House,
Instead, How about you visit us at OUR HOUSE in Iowa?
A mark of relational intelligence is the ability to come up with solutions that are not obvious, but give everyone a little of what they want. Her How about you visit us? is a masterful solution.
And maybe the best display of relational intelligence of all was the response of the LSU basketball coach, Kim Mulkey.
She said nothing.
This coach let others talk about the situation and get all the attention. She stayed out of the fray over something not worth the drama it was creating. Relationally intelligent people know what battles to fight, and which to stay away from.
What about your relational intelligence?
There have been times I’ve acted as Jill Biden did, wanting to make everyone happy, when it was impossible to do so. I bet you’ve been there, too. We don’t want to see people hurting, so we step in.
When we do, sometimes it's more about our own feelings of discomfort over someone else’s pain than it is about any sense of compassion for the other person.
Sometimes it’s just best to let things play out without our intervention, as the LSU basketball coach did. Inaction, at times, can be the best action.
I wonder if you have similar stories related to those you’ve just read. If so, please share one in the comment box below.
Other relationship resources
Last week’s blog post, “Good People Are Out There”
You Were Made for This episodes
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