Many careers reward excellence for the ability to solve problems using logic and analytical reasoning. Workers deal with hard edged facts and figures and are expected to come up with the “right” answer.
Employees in companies and partners in firms work in a hierarchical structure and develop political skills to survive and advance in this competitive environment. A person learns not to show all of one’s cards, to reveal only parts of one’s personality and to put on a “game face” at work.
Achieving organizational goals is paramount even if there is a human cost. Terminating or laying off employees requires developing a thick skin and learning to be tough minded.
A successful family life, on the other hand, requires much different skills, skills in what I call the Emotional Domain.
In family life one must be curious and open to the realm of emotions, feelings and relationships. This requires cultivating the “soft skills” of mindful listening, being open, receptive and non-judgmental. One learns to be a patient, un-hurried listener and to be comfortable with un-certainty and lack of immediate solutions to problems.
Rather than dealing with objective facts and figures, one recognizes that family members have different points of view that must be respected and accommodated. There are few “right” or “wrong” answers and instead there are relative truths and different perceptions of the same event.
There is a family hierarchy – parents have more decision making power than children – however the object is not power and control but guidance and learning. The goal of the family hierarchy is to raise children to be capable adults who can then relate to their parents on an equal level.
Putting on a “game face” may be helpful at work, but family life works best when partners cultivate transparency. Marriage partners work to develop an intimate relationship by seeking to know the other person and allowing oneself to be known. Intimacy is a basic need – think of the infant who needs an intimate, caring bond with the mother (or father) in order to develop. Lack of intimacy at this stage of development may cause irreparable damage.
In a committed relationship, if there is a lack of transparency and intimacy one or both partners begin to feel lonely in the relationship and begin to drift apart.
In family life the journey is as important as the goal. Each step of life’s journey is a learning experience, a test of patience, and an opportunity to figure out how to work together. In a family one can’t quit or be fired – there is a life long challenge to cultivate relationships based on loving-kindness and mutual respect. A thick skin may be necessary at work, family life requires one to practice empathy and develop sensitivity to the feelings of others.
With practice one can learn to be both tough and tender, to wear a “game face” or to be transparent, to deliver results and answers or to be a receptive, mindful listener. All of these skills are valuable if practiced in the right context.
In sum, the emotional domain is about learning to recognize and name one’s own feelings and cultivating empathy for the feelings of others. It is about listening mindfully to another’s point of view and realizing that others have different perceptions of what is true. It is risking being transparent and letting oneself be known. It is about being genuinely curious to know one’s partner in depth. And it is about the daily practice of loving-kindness, of freely giving from the heart.
© 2009 Donald Hope