Sometimes enlightenment strikes in the most common of circumstances – like a Saturday shopping trip to Costco with your husband. Standing in the seam between the produce section and the frozen foods recently, I realized that these kinds of trips have improved our emotional intelligence, and they have made both of us better spouses, parents, employees and leaders.

Costco might be disappointed to learn that the magic isn’t in the store. It’s in going to the store and what you do while you’re there. As we shop for what we need, we talk about what’s coming up on our schedules, make some short-term plans and negotiate who will do what to make all the trains run on time in the week ahead. We negotiate other things too:

  • Cheetos or Doritos?
  • Name brand or generic?
  • Buy extra because it’s on sale?
  • Do we need a new rug for the living room?
  • Should we think about getting a Smart(er) TV?
  • Given that we’ll have two kids in college next month, do we really need to replace that teenage refrigerator or can we get one more year out of it?

Some questions are smaller. Some are bigger. None are game changers. We share information, reveal our individual (and often conflicting) preferences and priorities, plan, argue, negotiate and figure out a way forward. At some point, we have to leave so there are time limits on these interactions. Usually we can achieve some kind of resolution pretty quickly.

This isn’t rocket science. It’s simple and normal and something everybody can do or already does. But it flexes and strengthens our emotional intelligence. Here’s a quick review of the elements of emotional intelligence:

  • Self-awareness: understanding your own drives and how they affect others
  • Self-regulation: controlling impulses and suspending judgment
  • Motivation: pursuing goals with persistence and optimism
  • Empathy: understanding other people’s thoughts, feelings and behaviors
  • Social skills: building rapport, finding common ground and being persuasive

We’re hitting all five of those elements of EQ in the aisles of Costco and Sam’s and King Soopers and Target and, just to be fair to online shopping, as we make purchases together on Amazon. This is where we practice knowing our own minds, sharing perspectives, negotiating and persuading, arguing and compromising, about (relatively) small things. And it strengthens us for the bigger things, not only in our relationship with each other but also in our interactions with other people.

Don’t underestimate the power of common experiences to prepare you for uncommon ones. Take the practice where you get it. Let it work for you and make all your relationships stronger. And, for the record, on the Cheetos or Doritos question, the answer is always Cheetos.


Kim Turnage, Ph.D. works as a Senior Leadership Consultant for Talent Plus and with her colleague Larry Sternberg is author of Managing to Make a Difference. She writes regularly on leadership and everything that goes along with it. Find more of her work here.

 

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