EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Remember What Your Mother Told You.

I went to visit a client one day and while on the elevator, happened to overhear two employees discuss a seminar they had attended sponsored by the company’s Human Resources Department.  They were talking about Emotional Intelligence, or EI, the new buzzword in the Human Resources world of business. 

Being the curious individual I am, I googled the concept and spent a few hours reading to understand emotional intelligence. Here is the definition from Psychology Today: Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others. It is generally said to include three skills:

1.Emotional awareness, including the ability to identify your own emotions and those of others;                                                                                                                                   

2. The ability to harness emotions and apply them to tasks like thinking and problems solving;                                                                                                                                                

 3. The ability to manage emotions, including the ability to regulate your own emotions, and the ability to cheer up or calm down another person

Hmmmm, EI is managing my emotions and the emotions of others. As a parent, I have found managing the emotions of others, especially those a lot younger such as my own children, most difficult.  The most I can do is actually manage my own and at least assist and acknowledge that everyone comes with baggage.  To cope with this, when I begin my seminars or even a difficult meeting, I have but one request:  Place your garbage outside the door. If you had a rough start to the day, a disagreement with your spouse, or came to work and the coffee pot was empty, put it in a garbage bag and leave it outside the door before we begin. 

As I delved further into the EI concept, it seemed to boil down to one item; communication.  When did we lose the ability to talk with each other? Notice it is the word with, not to each other. For instance, when you as a leader utilize EI in the hiring process, you need to create an environment that is relaxing for the participant.  You ask questions that are hypothetical situations; you ask about goals and role models. From the answers you can discern if and how an applicant will manage their own emotions. If they show they can handles themselves … they may just be a good fit for your organization.   

Ok, I can agree that you need to know the real person, not the lies, uh, exaggerated truth, uhm, excuse me, the academic achievements seen on a resume. It was the next information that caught me off guard. To me it is quite basic as I didn’t think we needed help with how to communicate with each other. Here are the rules of Communication in EI:  

  Rule #1- Be present. In the new world order, it is labeled “passivity.”  Put your cell phone away, keep eye contact and no fidgeting in your seat. Listen to what the person is saying and not what you want to say next. WOW! You are in an interview or meeting with your boss, you shouldn’t need to be told to put your cell phone away, and sit up and listen?  As a mother, my children call that my mantra. In fact, outside of putting the cell phone away, my mother said the same thing, reminding me how to behave. I must admit, she did not say cell phone (in those days, the phone was attached to the wall). If we were at dinner, it was allowed to ring … “they will call back if it is important.” In the business world, a simple, “please hold all calls” should suffice.

  Rule#2: Discounting.  Do not use a putdown or be disrespectful of the participants in a conversation. Respect! As I was reminded many a time, you respect your elders, you respect your teacher. We should respect each other. If you need a lesson in respect, it is easy:  measure your words, or as my mother used to say, “Think before you speak.”   My trick, I count thumbs. You may see me rubbing the area between my thumb and forefinger. I take a breath.  I acknowledge what is said.

 Rule#3: Redefine! This is defined as not answering a question.  People react to the tone in your voice—how the question is asked, not what is asked. Keep your voice on an even keel. Reword the question. Sometimes the tone is also reflected in email!  Read your email aloud before it is sent. What is the tone?  You can reword that as well.  Once a client kept answering all my emails in all CAPS. I finally emailed him and asked “Why are your upset with me?”  He wasn’t. He just liked the fact that in all caps, all he could use less keys and the punctuation was easier.

 Rule #4: Over-Detailing.  I was once on a Board of Directors. In each meeting a particular committee chair gave more details than was absolutely necessary. In fact, our board meeting became the committee meeting.  In over-detailing, you provide more details than I need to know. If you need to vent, take a breath, the proper time will come later at, for example, happy hour … you will buy, of course.

There is one more rule, which makes it 5—but it is called the “Four Sentence Rule, and I have probably lost you by now.  Did you know that a person can really only maintain maximum attention for only four sentences?  Beyond four sentences --you’ve lost them.  That is why reporters look for soundbites. Copywriters write in short paragraphs and bullet points. If you want to be heard, keep your statements concise.

I myself blame Sesame Street.  We have raised a generation or two of children that have learned by watching television.  Think about it. The child learned to count with Big Bird by counting eggs, quickly followed by Cookie Monster counting cookies (Although I understand he is eating healthier these days) and finally the numbers flash across the screen. Three different scenarios that run by quite fast.  ‘Lo’ to the poor teacher who, when a child sits in front of them in the classroom, must now make learning just as exciting.

This rule also is applicable to Social Media. Short videos or short text with a photo, ranks your posts better as they get read. The longest video should be 60-90 seconds.  After the Super Bowl, I did go to see Part 2 of a certain lumber company’s advertisement that clocked in at over 3.5 minutes.  I muddled through to the end of it, but was fighting the urge to click mute.

I do have one other suggestion for EI: Honesty … the best policy.


The memo came in early on a Monday morning from the HR department. HR- The Human Resources Department. A long time ago . . . it was known as Personnel Department. Personnel—the employees—the people who work for a company - are now a resource—albeit human resource –for the company.

The memo addressed the use –actually the lack of use—of cell phones or other personal devices while the employee is working. It was a memo my husband printed out to show me.  He was laughing, not only because he uses a flip phone, which means texting and most other forms of communication via a cell phone are useless to his device, but also because he never carries his phone anyway. If I need him at all, I may as well wait till he returns home. He figures if you need to talk to him, you will keep trying.  He admitted that he has watched his much younger co-workers all heads into phones all day long. At least while the supervisor is not watching.  Who, by the way, is just as guilty as the underlings.  This was one rule that any business will discover, will be difficult  to enforce.

Why? Because the millennials are a digitally driven generation.  Look at any high school student who is studying, text book online, essay composed on laptop or desktop and emailed or uploaded to teacher, earbuds listening to music, TV on and cell phone beeping that a text has arrived.  This new generation of workers, er excuse me, resources, expect access to the cell phone and computers at all times, with social media at the ready.  .  I know this because, I too,  suffer from the addiction (when I had my blackberry, my family called it my crack-berry) but also by experience and observation. 

My experience starts within the confines of my own family.  My children have a group of friends and with parents,  we frequent having dinners out together. As the crowd is generally quite large, the restaurant, in order to accommodate us, opts to break us into two groups of tables—parents and children.  While the parents are laughing and talking, across from us is a quiet table of youth.  Each one is texting and staring at small screens.  Not a peep.  Quite a change when they were young and we carried large bags of crayons and books, providing diversions to keep them quiet.  Now, we long to hear their voices. Instead, they communicate to each other . . . as well as too many outsiders . . . via the phone.

The second was not a personal observation, but a story related to me.  One of my single friends resorted to online dating services in order to meet men. She actually has an app on her cell phone specifically for this task. This one potential mate met her at a local restaurant. (When we learned of her potential date at one of our parent-child dinners, we ordered her to make sure the first meeting was in a public place. We also offered an escape emergency call half hour into the date—just in case). The two met at the appointed location, exchanged greetings and sat down to have a meal.  The food ordered, my female friend, who was interested in the gentleman, asked a variety of questions in order to determine the possibility of an extended—if not permanent relationship.  She was interested in her date, yet he seemed engrossed in his cell phone. With every question she asked trying to elicit a response,  came the ping on her cell phone, indication that someone was texting her. While she tried to ignore the ping, and remain interested in her date, she finally apologized and looked at her phone.  As it turned out, the incoming texts were from her date, answering her questions –via his cell phone text. She thought it was a joke and said he could talk to her.   In his defense, maybe he was just shy.  However, the meal ended as did their burgeoning relationship.

Then there are the myriad of snippets of cell phone events.  On a trip to NYC and Broadway, the theatre made the obligatory announcement requesting that everyone turn off their cell phones. All of a sudden, it was like every cell phone went off in the theatre.  It was great! I do not know how they did it, maybe it was just surround sound, even though I know I had turned off my phone, I had to check!  Another friend, who also could lose her job if a cell phone is discovered on her person during work, made the mistake of mentioning a very current event to her boss, who questioned how she knew about it , when he just received word himself.   She admitted, she had looked at her phone. Luckily the two laughed about it.

Of course, many times at meetings and conferences, as the speaker is about to provide that morsel of information that will change my world or my workplace, some knuckle head who did not turn off the cell phone, breaks into the speech. Since this phone is normally placed in an out of sight out of mind space such as the far reaches of a brief case per se, the sound of “You Sexy Thing” fills the room.  The music draws me away from the speech and I start to wonder who the call might just be from—as I know it must be a personalized song identifier.  I know when the call is from my husband when “What Kind of Fool am I,”  is heard.

Taking away a cell phone  or any hand held device, will require it to be pried from this cold hard dead  hand, especially from this next generation of workers. I am sure they will be pocketed and placed on silence, only to be taken out at a break or lunch and greedily answered.

To the business world, I offer this rule to be added to the memo: when it comes time for the break, lunch, dinner, or after work hour at the local pub, all cell phones must be placed in the center of the table. He who grabs his own cell phone first, pays.