Empathy Begins Here

                                                    threebabies

 

In my granddaughter Mia’s preschool, five small white toilets are lined up along a tiled bathroom wall just around the corner from five conveniently low sinks for washing hands. The boys and girls in the Peacefulness classroom line up together to take turns on the toilets. Like many of her classmates, Mia is not quite three years old, so learning to go to the “potty” by herself and leaving diapers behind has been a developmental milestone of which she is understandably quite proud.

Maybe conquering this grown-up task so recently is what has made her empathize with a classmate (I’ll call him Jack) who found that using the school bathroom is not quite as comfortable as accomplishing this task in his home bathroom. Mia’s teacher reported that when she tried to coax an anxious Jack to go in to the potty during outdoor recess, Mia not only volunteered to accompany him but patted his shoulder and sang songs as he tried to do what he was there to do.

And then his mom sent Mia’s mom this email:

Hi Mia’s mom,

This is Jack’s mom. Thank you for tagging me in the photos. I wish there were more, and [the teacher] promised that there will be more!

I think Mia might share with you today that Jack finally went poop in potty yesterday (Thank god!) The teacher told me that Mia went to say “Good job” to Jack. How sweet is she! But what I really want to thank Mia for was the fact that according to the teacher, Mia accompanied Jack earlier this week to teach him how to poop in the toilet in the washroom.  She also told him “good job” and “you can do it” and sang to him while he sat on the toilet (which he didn’t want to do at first). That’s like the sweetest thing I have heard! And I’m sure it wouldn’t be a surprise to you that when I asked Jack who would he like to sit with in the class, “MIA!” he said.

Thanks to Mia again for helping little Jack achieve his “poop” success.

Have a lovely day.

Warmest regards,

Jack’s mom

Little Mia’s apparent ability to empathize with Jack’s situation touched the hearts of all the “grown-ups” who observed it, and this is why I think that is so: Despite the terrifying problems of our current world situation, we understand that we can begin only as individuals to bring about meaningful change for the more than seven billion beings who share our planet. We can be hopeful, for at not-yet-three-years-old, Mia has learned enough about the world to realize that other people count, that connection is essential, that compassionate action—no matter how small scale—can make a difference in at least one person’s life.

In a recent blog, renowned author Anne Lamott reminded me of a most wonderful quote from Ram Dass, which now comes to mind as I smile and think of Mia’s compassion: “We are all just walking each other home.” This is emotional intelligence at its best—empathizing and connecting with others, reaching out to help each other with daily problems, giving a hand to help someone else get through the obstacle course that confronts us every day in whatever sphere we inhabit. What difference can you make in someone’s life today?

 

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.

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You CAN build your Emotional Intelligence skills.  Learn more at http://emotionalintelligenceinsights.com/courses/  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): http://www.youtube.com/embed/VlOxlSOr3_M?feature=player_embedded.

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 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ysSgG5V-R3U) or visit his blog (http://blog.petermcgraw.org/). Here’s to more humor, laughter, and fun in your life!

What Can I Do About Low Emotional Intelligence?

four smiling people

 

 

 

 

 

After a recent presentation to introduce the crucial importance of Emotional Intelligence skills in the workplace, Leslie, an audience member, came up to thank me and to express her excitement about the concepts of Emotional Intelligence.  “This all helps explain what is going on in our department!  As a manager, I now have a better understanding  of  the situation and how my own behaviors may be making it worse.  But now I need to know—what do I do about it!”

Unlike IQ, which probably can’t be improved much (especially as an adult), the skills of Emotional Intelligence (EQ or EI) can be improved for greater satisfaction, success, and well-being.  A healthy level of Emotional Intelligence among leaders and managers can positively affect a team, a department, and an entire organization.  Even better is providing opportunities for all employees to evaluate and improve their own EI skills.

How Can I Provide Emotional Intelligence Training to My Team?

It may seem the ideal situation to have plentiful time and resources to provide face-to-face, facilitated workshops to train leaders, managers, and employees.  And I have given many such workshops—of varying lengths–to a wide variety of teams and organizations.  But almost invariably I hear from participants that although the workshop or presentation was right on and provided great information:  “it would have been better if it could have been longer.”  People recognize how significant the skills of EI are in the workplace, and they understand that it can take some time to gain those skills.

So here at Emotional Intelligence Insights, we took on the challenge to create an interactive, engaging, informative, and useful course that is also affordable in terms of both time and capital.  The result is the online, on-demand course, Emotional Intelligence 101.  The course includes 7 online lessons (about 60 to 90 minutes each), that can be taken anywhere, anytime as long as you have access to the internet.  Emotional Intelligence 101 includes a brief self-assessment, an understandable introduction to the concepts of EI including the recent research in the neurosciences, provocative photos and videos, downloadable exercises, opportunities for interacting (with the facilitator and other course participants), and guided reflections for choosing among over 50 suggested ideas for improving Emotional Intelligence skills.

Leslie, the audience member who was excited about these ideas, decided to sign up her management team to take the course.  As they interact and learn together, they are expanding their own Emotional Intelligence, which will allow them to create a workplace environment that supports the success, the satisfaction, and the well-being of all employees.

Want to Learn More about Emotional Intelligence 101?

Is this a good fit for your organization?  The course is an amazing way to increase EI skills at your own pace and at your convenience.  Discounts are available for teams/groups of 8 or more, and you can choose the start date.  For a complete course outline and more information about Emotional Intelligence 101, see our website:  www.emotionalintelligenceinsights.com or contact us at kerr@bainbridge.net.  We’d love to help you and your team get started on a journey to greater Emotional Intelligence for greater success, satisfaction, and well-being.

What’s in a Face?

New moms and dads do it without any lessons.  Airport security personnel do it with special training.  Lovers do it ad infinitum(some would say ad nauseum!).  Teachers do it with practiced wisdom.  Nurses do it with empathy for their patients.  
Almost all of us, in fact, do it every day—we read the faces of family members, students, patients, customers, and even strangers.  Our brains are wired to do a lightening analysis of faces from the time we are infants.  We know that babies learn to hone this innate skill by mimicking the facial expressions of their moms and dads and caretakers.  
As adults, we are all on a spectrum for being able to accurately read faces. Some of us are more finely attuned to the meaning of even quite subtle facial expressions and are able to understand, empathize, and communicate better.  Fortunately, reading faces to understand the emotions behind them is a skill that can be learned.
The eminent psychologist, Dr. Paul Ekman, has studied emotions for over 40 years.  He has developed a system,the Facial Action Coding System (FACS), through which people can learn to read the “microexpressions” of some forty facial muscles.”    By employing the FACS system, you can learn to recognize when people are lying, but also to understand what they are feeling.  Ekman and his team teach doctors, lawyers, law enforcement personnel, and performers to recognize these micrexpressions, which can reveal “hidden” information about a person.  
Dr. Ekman traveled far and wide—even into societies that had rarely if ever had communication with the outside world—to study facial expressions.  His research led him to the conclusion that there are at least seven universal expressions.  That is, if you go into any human society, anywhere on Earth, people will recognize the emotion behind these seven universal expressions.  Can you guess what they are?  (The answers are at the bottom of this post, but see if you can guess the seven emotions before you look at the list!)
Next time you attend a meeting, speak to a co-worker or the boss, or chat with the cashier at the market, see what your powers of observation can tell you as you look at their faces.  
ANSWERS:  joy, anger, sadness, surprise, fear, disgust, contempt
 Interested in Learning More?
  Sign up for our online, on-demand course, Emotional Intelligence 101: A Journey to Greater Success and Well-Being in the Workplace.

 To learn more about how to get started in Emotional Intelligence 101—for individuals, teams, and entire organizations seeking greater success, satisfaction and well-being, go to our website:  www.emotionalintelligenceinsights.com   or contact us at kerr@bainbridge.net