By Joanie Connell
A mom confided in me she had gotten so frustrated with her 7-year-old daughter that she started crying. She said that once her daughter saw her crying, her daughter immediately stopped misbehaving and came over and held her to comfort her. The mom was beating herself up for letting that happen, but I offered a different perspective. Look at what the daughter learned from that experience. Her behavior frustrated someone so much that it led them to cry. When someone cries it’s good to comfort them. And, the mom got over it and was fine after that. How empowering to the daughter to see how someone can get upset and get over it. How educational to understand how her behavior can affect the emotions of others and vice versa.
Emotions are at the root of human communication. In fact, it is widely believed that emotions evolved as a method to communicate. When we squelch emotions, we limit communication. The “poker face” is desirable in situations when we don’t want others to know how we feel. On the other hand, if we all walked around poker faced all the time, we wouldn’t be able to interact with each other effectively. I coach business people on this frequently. To be effective communicators at work, we need to be able to express, interpret, and manage emotions.
The problem is many younger employers have been brought up in an emotion-deprived environment. Think about it. The PC movement has killed people’s ability to say what they think and feel. Schools now ban fighting and even ban words like “stupid.” When conflicts between students arise, their parents handle them. Kids are shielded from disappointment and showered with praise. “Everyone’s a winner” in sports and in the arts. By the time kids get to their first jobs, they haven’t experienced—or been allowed to express their experiences of—emotion.
Managers complain frequently that Millennial workers lack communication skills. Technology is often cited as the reason, but lack of emotional intelligence is another. How can managers help young employees develop emotional intelligence? There are many great books, tools, and training programs out there and I have listed a few below. The key message, however, is that emotions are core to communication and they need to be paid attention to. They aid us in building relationships, making decisions, and reducing conflict. Being in tune with our own and others’ emotions takes us to a whole new level of leadership in an organization. For people who have missed out on that training earlier in life, it is important for them to get it now. The good news about emotional intelligence is that it can be learned at any age.
Speaking of any age, it is better to learn emotional intelligence earlier in life. Parents can help with that by role modeling emotions, talking about feelings, and letting their kids have feelings even when it hurts. When parents raise children in a “Stepford Wives” (zombie-like) environment, kids don’t learn about emotions. When parents put so much pressure on kids to focus on academic success at the expense of free play time, kids miss out on opportunities to learn about emotions. What’s worse, in an emotionless environment, kids may indulge in distractions, such as drugs, sex, video games, or even self-mutilation, to experience sensations or at least feel some relief for not having any. Alternatively, kids may resort to having fits, where the parents have to “handle” them.
Resources to develop emotional intelligence exist for people of all ages. Here are a few you may want to look into.
- My colleagues at TalentSmart have created easy-to-use and affordable online tools to help you understand and develop emotional intelligence. In addition, they have a short book, “Emotional Intelligence 2.0,” that is a quick and accessible read on the subject, great for a plane ride. Their tools are great for people who are motivated to improve their emotional intelligence and who like to learn independently and use online tools.
- David Caruso and Peter Salovey, along with John Mayer, were the first to develop the theory of emotional intelligence. They are the authors of the MSCEIT, a highly acclaimed measure of emotional intelligence. It is my favorite because it measures ability, rather than self report. I recommend using this tool in business contexts where training or coaching is available. Caruso and Salovey’s book, “The Emotionally Intelligent Manager,” on the other hand, is written for managers and it is a good read for managers who may need convincing that emotions are important to leadership.
- Daniel Goleman is probably the most famous author in the area of emotional intelligence. He has the talent of bringing the research to the general public in a thoughtful yet approachable way. He has several books and tools worth looking into, both in a business and in a general life context.
- The New York Times Magazine article “Can Emotional Intelligence Be Taught?” explains how emotional intelligence is being taught in schools. It is a great read for parents to see how important emotional intelligence is to learning.
- John Gottman offers many resources for teaching emotional intelligence to children, including his book, “Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child: The Heart of Parenting.” Gottman has published a substantial amount of peer-reviewed research in the area of emotions and children and his teachings are based on scientifically valid findings.