The Emotionally Intelligent Person

Today I add another entry to the long list of “things I wish I had written” with this excerpt on emotional intelligence by author and philosopher, Alain de Botton. I have not read the book from which this passage comes but I have read most of his other works and I will be adding this to the library soon. If it is as good as I suspect it will be, I may have no choice but to buy a bunch of copies for colleagues, family and friends.
There is a lot of competition these days for the title of “most important thing we should focus on.” These are the big, scary things like climate change, political reform, education, healthcare…the list is all too familiar. I am confident in making the argument – more confident now, bolstered by Mr. Botton’s words – that none of these, none of them, will ever be effectively addressed if we do not have a seismic shift in our shared ability to practice emotional intelligence.

Please read on and be sure to visit the links below.

“Much anxiety surrounds the question of how good the next generation will be at math; very little around their abilities at marriage or kindness….

The emotionally intelligent person knows that love is a skill, not a feeling, and will require trust, vulnerability, generosity, humor, sexual understanding, and selective resignation.

The emotionally intelligent person awards themselves the time to determine what gives their working life meaning and has the confidence and tenacity to try to find an accommodation between their inner priorities and the demands of the world.

The emotionally intelligent person knows how to hope and be grateful, while remaining steadfast before the essentially tragic structure of existence.

The emotionally intelligent person knows that they will only ever be mentally healthy in a few areas and at certain moments, but is committed to fathoming their inadequacies and warning others of them in good time, with apology and charm… There are few catastrophes, in our own lives or in those of nations, that do not ultimately have their origins in emotional ignorance.”

– Alain de Botton, from The School of Life: An Emotional Education, as featured in Maria Popova’s wonderful weekly offering, Brainpickings.

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The higher you go, the more this is true, because the higher you go the less your job is about process and the more it is about people.

The recipe for increased EQ (your emotional quotient or emotional intelligence) is a simple one, challenging but simple.

It starts with self-awareness. Do you know yourself? Do you understand the source of your emotional actions and reactions? And not when you’re feeling good, but especially when you’re under stress? That’s when EQ really matters.

The second step, once you know your emotional tendencies, is to manage them, which means that with knowledge comes choice. I tend to think this is why a lot of people don’t work on EQ. It can be very difficult to deny an impulsive, reactionary emotional response and replace it with something more productive.

The third step is where the investment in your self really starts to pay off. Through the process of understanding your emotional tendencies you are increasing your capacity for empathy, first within yourself and then with those around you. Empathy is the not-so-secret weapon that separates your mature and compassionate colleagues from those who stay stuck in the trap of “me first.”

The final level of advancement with EQ is the ability to use that understanding of other’s emotions to benefit them and the larger team. This is where EQ becomes a potentially game-changing leadership competency. Leaders at this level have learned how to take the gusting winds of a person or team’s emotional reactions and calm them to a gentle breeze. They do this by noticing and then listening. They ask questions to learn more and they employ their awareness of both the individual and the group – as well as their knowledge of the current needs of the business – to ensure that what is being felt is both contextualized and normalized.

The truth is that most people just want to be heard, respectfully and thoughtfully reassured that someone is willing to sit with them while they experience the often-difficult feelings that emerge in organizational life. Once heard we are often able to solve our own problems because we no longer have the cloud of emotional upheaval obscuring our view of what’s possible.

Among all of the good reasons for our leaders to develop strong EQ skills, maybe the most important is the simplest one: it’s just a better way to be human.

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What is school for?

Patrick Lencioni, author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, put out a blog post this week called “Three Things Graduates Need to Know.” It’s his “two cents of advice…for preparing for the world of work.”

His three big ideas are worth repeating here, not only under the banner of “graduation advice” but as a way to answer the question, “What is school for?”

Our most thoughtful institutions of higher learning understand that they are in the business of providing rigorous academic instruction while also creating an environment in which students are challenged and expected to:

  • Develop an ethic of hard work.
  • Learn social skills, especially emotional intelligence.
  • Learn humility (That is, to add some wisdom to their stores of knowledge).

When this happens, if it happens, the downstream effects are positive and potentially profound for them and for the organizations they join. When it doesn’t happen, that learning still may occur in the early (mid?) stages of one’s career, but it is a much bumpier road and likely a less forgiving one.

Students, parents, faculty, staff, mentors and advisors – anyone invested in the best possible outcome of our educational endeavors – will be well-served to remember that success is one (small) part subject knowledge, and three very large parts work ethic, humility and emotional maturity.


Reading for Emotional Intelligence

There’s a lot written about successful leaders – successful people – being big-time readers. (This article from Inc. magazine provides a solid foundation for the argument.)

But I think it’s important to take the conversation at least one step further in that a very particular kind of reading can lead to a significant increase in our leadership impact.

It’s one thing to be a non-fiction junkie, keeping up with the latest in our particular fields or satisfying our curiosity to learn new things. It’s just as important to make reading  fiction a centerpiece of your reading load, as it as a powerful tool for the development of emotional intelligence, an essential attribute of the most influential and well-regarded people.

Author and Man Booker prize nominee, Esi Edugyan, puts it this way:

I think it is all too easy, especially given our current age, to deny the humanity of those who are unlike us, to willfully see the stranger in others. Fiction puts readers into the psyche of characters who may be wildly different from themselves. This intimacy with another’s lived experience is an exercise in empathy. It is not, of course, the exclusive territory of fiction to do this. But fiction can do it viscerally.

Here’s the current NYT Paperback Trade Fiction list to get you started. And tempting though it might be to buy one through Amazon, why not give your local library a try? I find that the three-week check-out period provides just enough time to both procrastinate reading the book and actually doing so!

DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world. Connect with him on Twitter at @berrydavid.

Do the Work

“You can’t microwave emotional intelligence.”
Chip Conley, author of Wisdom at Work

There is no “fast forward” button. There is no shortcut, no “work around,” no Cliff’s Notes.

You have to do the work. And there is a hierarchy that can be learned, can even be mastered, but only over time and through experience, persistence, patience and a deep commitment to continuous learning:

Self-awareness: you accurately notice yourself, both your inner state and your behaviors – especially under stress.

Self-management: armed with your awareness of what you feel and how you act – again, especially under stress – you are able to anticipate and redirect yourself into more positive and beneficial behaviors.

Social awareness: perhaps the greatest gift of self-awareness and self-management is that it makes you keenly, empathetically aware of other’s feelings. Once you become fluent in your own emotional state you are capable of acknowledging the emotional states of others.

Relationship management: because you notice more you are prepared to respond well. You are prepared to stay present with another person as they experience a difficult emotional state and help them to work through it constructively.

As I ask my students: You will be a great accountant. So great, in fact, that you are promoted to management. And in your first week as a manager, an employee, formerly a peer, comes to your office to tell you that his mother has died suddenly. She had been sick but was expected to recover. The loss is sudden and your employee is shattered. He breaks down in tears standing in your doorway. What do you do?

What do you do?

DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world. Connect with him on Twitter at @berrydavid.