Build Your Emotional Intelligence Muscle!

Build Your Emotional Intelligence Muscles!

Emotional Intelligence skills–understanding and managing your own emotions, recognizing others’ emotions, interacting successfully with other people, and building resilience–can all be improved.

Like any skill–developing a great golf swing, sketching a decent portrait, adding a killer serve to your tennis game, or learning to read Mandarin Chinese–learning Emotional Intelligence skills takes time, practice, and motivation.

Now you can learn and practice the Emotional Intelligence skills that will result in your greater success, satisfaction, and well-being.  The self-directed, online course, EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE 101, available anytime, anywhere at your convenience, helps you build your “Emotional Intelligence muscles” through engaging text, photos, videos, reflections, and exercises including more than 40 practical suggestions for building Emotional Intelligence skills.

You CAN build your Emotional Intelligence skills.  Learn more at  Discounts available for teams/groups of 8 or more.

What’s Funny About That?

kitten and dogs

On a recent lazy Sunday morning as my sweetie and I were sipping coffee in bed, I glanced through the email on my iPad with the vague intention of clearing out my overflowing email inbox.  As I ruthlessly pressed delete for any number of ads and notifications, I noticed that a friend with a quirky sense of humor had sent me a link to a video. I was tempted to zap it—let’s just say that his sense of humor and mine are often a mismatch.  But the alarmed expression on the young woman’s face on the video screen pulled me in, so I clicked on the arrow.  During the next few minutes I laughed so hard that I cried—and just about spilled my coffee.  I’ve watched the video several times since then and shared it with friends.  I continue to laugh just thinking about it. Now I’m interested in why I’m laughing because we can all use more laughter in our lives, right? 

What was so funny?  A crew of technical experts set up an elaborate prank in a New York coffee shop, a prank not unlike the old You’re on Candid Camera setups but much more sophisticated.  The video showed the preparations for fooling people and then showed in quick succession the expressions and body language of the people who were targeted by the prank.  They were amused at first and curious, then they were surprised, then they were shocked, then they were incredulous, and in the end most everyone was frightened to the point of actually getting up and running away.  You can see the video here (it is actually an ad for a remake of the movie, Carrie):

Fear, it turns out, can be elicited easily enough, even among a young, savvy group of New Yorkers just beginning a routine day in the big city. Although actors were used in the setup—customers who sat in the coffee shop and began an argument over spilled coffee—there is no mistaking the expressions on the faces of those real customers who unwittingly entered the shop and ordered their cappuccinos and bagels on a morning they expected to be like any other.  One young woman had her phone camera out and tried to take a picture until she, too, quickly backed away in fright.  The two-and-a-half-minute video is a great study in how emotions show up in our facial expressions and body language.    

I’m interested in these visible expressions of emotions, and I teach them in workshops and in an online course as part of being more aware of others’ emotions. The eminent psychologist, Paul Ekman has shown that no matter where you go in this world (and he even went to remote villages untouched by western civilization), people recognize at least seven “universal” facial expressions.  Recognizing and being sensitive to others’ emotional expressions is a major aspect of Emotional Intelligence, and it is possible to learn how to better understand how people feel by learning about what is revealed in their expressions and in the ways they hold or move their bodies. 

But I’m even more curious about why I find watching this video and the frantic fright and flight of the coffee shop customers—funny! Is it some sadistic streak that I keep hidden from myself—I who like to think of myself as kind and empathetic?  Does my enjoyment come from the fact that I’m “in” on the joke whereas the customers are not?  How is it that the designers of this elaborate prank have so exactly touched my funny bone?  Because I’m aware that humor helps us cope with pain, stress, and adversity, and can help build a store of resilience, the experience of watching this video piqued my curiosity about what is funny.

I found a wonderful explanation on a TED talk by Peter McGraw, who describes himself as a full-time scholar and part-time adventurer.  He has developed what he calls the “benign violation theory” to explain what makes things funny.  The meaning of the word “violation” is simply anything that threatens the way you think the world ought to be—in other words, you sense that something is wrong in a situation.  If the violation is “malign”—someone gets hurt or there are other terrible consequences—we do not laugh.  When the violation is benign, however, we find it funny.  McGraw explains several ways to make a situation benign—when we do not take the violation seriously, when the situation is psychologically distant from us (it happens to someone else, it happened a long time ago, it is just too unreal), or when there is an alternative explanation (such as a “mock attack” like tickling). 

So—for a situation to be funny, there has to be some kind of threat, something that is “not right” according to our expectation of what is normal.  At the same time, the situation must be benign, although that concept is a bit more complicated (when someone else trips on the curb it is funnier than when you trip on the curb for example).  I have an eleven-month-old granddaughter who loves the “threat” of me crawling around the kitchen island to where she is crawling on the other side.  She hears me coming (I’m saying, “Where is Mia?”) and she is chortling with expectation, for although I am a sort of “threat” because I will catch her, she knows that I will simply scoop her up with a hug and a kiss.  Even a baby finds humor in a situation that is a violation but simultaneously benign.

The coffee shop video was funny for the same reason.  Because I was in on the joke, I knew that the situation was absolutely benign.  The actors weren’t really angry, the coffee that was spilled on a computer didn’t matter, and the telekinetic consequences (the offending coffee spiller was thrown against the wall and rose several feet upwards when the “victim” simply waved her hand at him!) were all staged.  But the looks on the faces of the innocent bystanders was absolutely priceless—and extremely funny. 

I loved being able to laugh so hard!  My work in Emotional Intelligence has helped me realize how much humor can help us live with greater balance and well-being.  Adding humor to our lives can help us add positivity, improve interpersonal relationships, and build resilience—all aspects of Emotional Intelligence.  Fortunately, Peter McGraw has some ideas for living a more humorous life.  You may want to look at his TED video ( or visit his blog ( Here’s to more humor, laughter, and fun in your life!

Do You Have A Professional Bully in Your Organization?

If you are in a law firm, this person may bring in the most lucrative accounts.  If you work in a hospital or clinic, this may be a surgeon who brings a lot of high cost cases to your operating rooms.  If you are in insurance or financial services, this person may be super productive in bringing in new clients.  If you’re in real estate, this person may be among the top sales people month after month.  If you are employed at a college or university, this person could even be the president who is full of ideas and plans.
Professional Bullies can be found in dental offices, in the board rooms of corporations, on city councils, and even in non-profit organizations.  They can be found in manufacturing, in drug research, in publishing, and in government.  They are often productive and seem focused on the organization’s “bottom line.”
The only problem with these Professional Bullies is that they treat other people in the organization with disrespect—making outrageous demands on assistants or nurses, for example, verbally abusing or belittling those they supervise, and flatly rejecting any suggestion that they might consider modifying their behavior.  They create toxic environments and can make everyone else quite miserable.  When a Professional Bully takes over, morale sinks.
What is the most emotionally intelligent course of action when you realize you have a Professional Bully in your organization?
A.  Avoid this person whenever possible, and keep your mouth shut whenever the bully is in your environment.
B.  Complain and commiserate with other employees to feel that you are not alone in realizing that this person is a bully.
C.  Take your case against the bully to your boss or to the HR department.
D.  Stand up to the bully when he/she treats you or another person with blatant disrespect.
Answer:  The most emotionally intelligent answer is D:  Stand up to the Bully!
The Professional Bully is actually a type we’ve all known at some time in our past.  The Professional Bully is simply a bully—possibly a smart, hardworking, driven, and productive person—but a bully nevertheless.  And the proven best way of dealing with a bully is to speak up when the bullying begins—whether the bully is on the playground or inhabits your office environment.  
It is your silence that makes you complicit in the bullying, and it is your silence that allows the bully to continue treating other people with disrespect.  It takes courage to confront a bully because he or she seems to have an uncanny power to make other people remain silent, to look away, even to laugh at the bully’s victims.   In addition, the Professional Bully can point to his or her financial successes to ward off criticism and keep people in line.
But the benefits that the Professional Bully brings to the organization in terms of clients and money is outweighed by the negatives—damage to the morale and resonance of the organization.  This is the truth that needs to be spoken.
Standing up to a bully takes considerable emotional intelligence: 
·         First you need strong awareness of the self, of what you are feeling and why: This manager is being abusive, and I feel angry! 
·         You will also need to tap into your self-managementskills:  I’m able to anticipate this bully’s out-of-control response, and I’m prepared to call a halt to this behavior. 
·         Your ability to be aware of the feelings ofothers and to use that awareness for a successful interaction with the bully will also be needed: I can see that you are really upset about how slow things seem to be going, but I can tell you that these staff members are working as hard as they can, and yelling at them is counterproductive for all of us.
·         And finally, you will need to rely on your own resilience, your ability to maintain your own balance and equanimity even as the bully creates an atmosphere of terror and uncertainty in the workplace, causing people to remain silent or simply make an exit.
It’s not easy to stand up to a bully on the playground when you are ten years old, and it’s not easy when you face an executive bully when you are an adult, but in either case, if you remain silent, nothing will change.  Developing emotional intelligence skills, such as greater self-awareness, self-management, awareness of others, interaction with others, and resilience can help you cope successfully with Professional Bully behaviors in your organization.