Why Relational Intelligence Gives You A Competitive Advantage

“Most of us focus on how much we know, but the ability to connect and be present in the midst of tasks is what sets leaders apart.” 

Fast Company
article featuring GiANT Worldwide’s 5 Gears book

The Rise of the Relational Economy

In an age where information is free and global connectivity puts the brilliance of far flung colleagues and gurus at everyone’s fingertips, how do you gain a competitive advantage?

The traditional career advancement model focuses heavily on IQ for “corporate ladder climbing” – that is, it prioritizes hard skills and measured intelligence benchmarks for promotion. However, in this new world where everyone has access to the same information and specialized skills are becoming less exclusive, your greatest asset lies in your ability to connect with people to form lasting, positive relationships. In that sense, the information economy has inadvertently given rise to the relational economy.

The ability to cultivate such relational influence is called “Relational Intelligence.”

Relational Intelligence

This people-centered form of intellect elevates the importance of soft skills in working to build long-term, mutually beneficial relationships, both inside and outside your company. It increases your influence, likability, and the desire for people to want to be around you. Ultimately, colleagues and clients alike want to do business with people they enjoy. So if the information economy is making personal branding and success through specialized IQ and knowledge more difficult, then a shift in mindset is crucial. At GiANT, we describe this approach as a “relationship before opportunity” mentality.

Essentially, such a mentality involves first paying attention to the needs and interests of others before ourselves. It means knowing how to be present with the right mindset in the right way, depending on the given social or work environment. For many of us, our greatest barrier to true connection with others – whether at home with our families, at work with colleagues, or out and about with friends – is an inability to shift into the right mental “gear” at the right time.

That’s why we devised a simple, visual system called the “5 Gears.”

The 5 Gears

The GiANT Team spending some 3rd Gear social time at Top Golf.

What are the gears? Here’s a quick overview of each gear and its purpose:

  • 1st gear (recharge mode) = fully recharging via reading, sleeping, meditating, fitness, etc.
  • 2nd gear (connect mode) = depth connections and experiences with family, friends, or colleagues.
  • 3rd gear (social mode) = casual social connection, activities, and events (one of our favorites is TopGolf as you can see by the picture)
  • 4th gear (task mode) = working hard, but multitasking and managing various interruptions, collaborations, meetings, etc.
  • 5th gear (focus mode) = getting “in the zone” for laser-like focus and productivity, usually done alone and without distractions.
  • Bonus: Reverse (responsive mode) = some of our strongest relational capital comes from sincere apologies and personal accountability.

Just as with a manually shifting car, there are rhythms and routines to our lives, a natural progression of shifting throughout the day that entails a specific order and time for each gear.

Conversely, we can also find ourselves stuck in the wrong gear at the wrong time. Those who figure out how to shift smoothly into the appropriate gear for each environment set themselves up to connect quicker, more deeply, and more authentically with others.

Grinding Gears

For example, you know that guy who always shows up to after-hours social gatherings and can’t seem to drop the shop talk, even when everyone else is clearly trying to relax? Or what about the colleague who comes flying into the office every morning, barking questions and asking about assignments before you’ve even had your 9 am coffee? You can’t even get a ‘hello’ from either of those people before getting an ear-full about some task or meeting.

These are prime, everyday examples of being in the wrong gear at the wrong time. They seem trivial, but accumulated over time, these behaviors shrug aside opportunities to connect and eventually raise barriers to relationship. Unfortunately, the unpleasant phenomenon of grinding gears isn’t restricted to the workplace.

Have you ever come home from work and, before you know it, your kids are climbing all over you, or your spouse is excited to greet you, only to meet them in return with an upraised hand and a “not-now” look that tells them to wait until you’re off the phone? We call that “the stiff arm.”

For those of us who have adopted “the stiff arm” habit for any period of time, we end up realizing that our kids stop rushing to dog-pile us the moment we’re home. Our spouse stops looking to the door when we walk in. So here’s the real key: Relationship is in the details. And those details are worth your attention. The relational misfires in the examples above sabotage opportunities for connection by keeping us stuck in the wrong gear.

Applying the 5 Gears

But that’s where the 5 Gears come into play. They are designed to help you improve your relational intelligence in three ways:

  1. Understand Where You Get Stuck
  2. Learn to Use Triggers to Help You Shift
  3. Work with Intentionality

Understand Where You Get Stuck

First, use the gears to help you understand where you tend to get stuck. Pay attention to the natural transitions of the day in which you either fail to shift, or find yourself grinding your gears. Is it waking up in the morning and going straight into Gear 4 or 5 work modes without some Gear 1 and 2 time to recharge or connect? Do you struggle to leave the office behind at the end of the day, coming home in Gear 5 rather than Gears 2 or 3? Once you figure out where you’re getting stuck, you can set triggers to help you shift more quickly and effectively at the right moment.

Learn to Use Triggers to Help You Shift

If you tend to neglect a healthy morning routine to warm up for the day, then plan a little extra time to fit in some Gear 1 recharge (read, meditate, workout) or Gear 2 connection with your family (breakfast with spouse or kids) before diving into Gear 4 and 5 work modes. I promise, you’ll feel more energized and ready to take on the day.

If you find yourself stiff-arming your kids or spouse the minute you walk in the door, set a physical trigger (a store, gas station, street light, etc.) 2 miles from your home on your return commute. When you reach it, hang up the phone and start thinking about what your family needs from you. Think about what they’ve been doing that day and how you can engage or help them with their own needs when you get home. This will facilitate your transition into a more appropriate Gear 2 or 3 mindset so that you can be fully present when you come home to your family.

Work with Intentionality

Lastly, work with intentionality. Try to be aware of when you need to be in 4th or 5th Gear at work, and communicate clearly with others if you need time to finish what you’re working on before being dragged into a hallway conference or other distraction. It will ultimately help you be more respectful of both your time and your colleagues’ time when you can make sure you are able to shift and be fully engaged with them.