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Yes, and… Improv & Emotional Intelligence

If you’ve ever seen episodes of Whose Line is it Anyways?, a popular U.S. improv show adapted from a British TV show, you might have found yourself in stitches and thinking, I could NEVER be that spontaneous! Yet the truth is that you improvise every single day.

In the show, four improv actors get on stage without any script and are given prompts by the show’s host. Out of seemingly nothing comes a complete scene that elicits laughter. Yet it isn’t out of nothing. The actors craft a story from gifts they give each other. These gifts may seem subtle to the observer, but in fact, they include nuggets of information, trust, and of course, “yes, and…” Rather than rejecting what the other is saying, no matter how absurd (Rita! There is a pink rhinoceros brushing your hair!), improv actors accept the statement as reality and go with it.

In Dr. John Gottman’s words, they “turn towards” each other. Gottman has spent decades researching what predicts marital stability versus divorce: whether couples turn towards, or against or away from each other. For example, if one says, “I made dinner tonight,” turning toward might sound like, “it smells wonderful, thank you;” turning against might sound like, “you know I’m trying to cut carbs;” and turning away might sound like, “let me tell you about my day.” Sound familiar?

For a successful improv scene to work, not unlike a marriage, the two actors must turn towards each other. And the greater their Emotional Intelligence (EI), the greater likelihood of the scene’s success. When improv actors have high emotional self-awareness, they are better able to tap into their emotions and authentically respond to the gift of dialogue that their partner has given them. When they have high emotional balance, they are better able to keep their responses in check and move the scene forward rather than co-opt it or freeze in the moment. When they have high adaptability, they are better able to adjust to anything that gets thrown at them in the moment (including pink rhinoceroses).

Beyond being aware of and managing their emotions, improv actors also need EI to build trust and give their partners nuggets of information that they can build upon. This requires empathy, actively listening to and picking up cues about their partner; organizational awareness, reading the scene’s underlying relationships and dynamics; and teamwork, sharing the responsibility of building the scene.

Much of the work on an improv stage happens off stage. Not every scene works, and the constant adaptation, affirmation, and constructive feedback during rehearsals enable improv actors to build trust and safety with one another. Improv actors do not go out of their way to be funny. In fact, trying to be too funny may fall flat. Rather, being authentic to the given “reality” may elicit far greater laughter and a scene that is absurdly funny and completely human.

Every single day, you have conversations that are improv. You might not be on stage figuring out what to do with a pink rhinoceros, but you might need to figure out why your two-year old decided that spaghetti would make a good sofa cushion or wonder why your boss thought erupting into anger at a staff meeting would be productive. Other people are constantly giving you gifts, nuggets of information that you can actively respond to. Emotional Intelligence supports your capacity to turn towards, no matter how pleasant or unpleasant the situation. When we accept and build on these gifts, we can set ourselves and the other person towards a better result.

Are you interested in leading Emotional Intelligence transformations? Apply today for the Daniel Goleman Emotional Intelligence Coaching Certification. Whether you’re an established coach or new to the field, this intensive program offers the tools and first hand experience you need to coach for transformational growth.

We have only a few spots remaining for our personalized EI coaching and training package. You’ll receive year-long access to our online EI training courses, a range of EI assessments, one-on-one coaching sessions, and more. You can learn how it works and register here.

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A Most Civil Dinner: Bridging Disagreement with Emotional Intelligence

Put two people together, and there will be disagreement. No matter how agreeable they are, even if they were part of the same zygote, each person will perceive the world differently, depending on their own experiences, assumptions, and filters. As one of the 12 Self-Discoveries of the Daniel Goleman Emotional Intelligence Coaching Certification program states, our Senses + Perception = Our Experience. Disagreeing is part of the human experience. And hopefully finding commonality as well. Our predecessors must have been quite successful at doing this; otherwise, they would have battled to the death over whether or not to use fire for cooking (No doubt many did. Thank goodness for those who decided, “yes, please.”)

Such natural disagreements have taken a different tone in contemporary times. The U.S. celebrates its freedom of speech for many, many good reasons. Yet it isn’t hard to see that we have entered into a space of uncivil discourse. Regardless of our political leanings, we have become prone to staying with our bubble of passionate peers, convinced the “Other” is wrong. Even if a possible disruption to our bubble arises, we might stifle that independent, wayward thought for fear of being ostracized or labeled as an enemy-from-within. We may stifle any urge to give the “Other” air time to share their misguided beliefs. Yet as Abraham Lincoln said, “a house divided against itself cannot stand.”

History is full of lessons on the importance of self-awareness, and how it may allow us to have the wherewithal to critically examine ourselves, the situation, and others without letting our emotions snow us under. When we do that, we can better connect with others in more meaningful ways toward a common good, even with those with whom we have disagreements.

For example, Socrates, now revered as the Father of Western Philosophy, was not so popular in his day. His belief that “the unexamined life is not worth living” was not held in high regard, nor was his philosophy that one must use rhetoric to justify behavior, no matter how abhorrent that behavior. Today, the Socratic method, elenchus, of cooperative, argumentative dialogue is used in many settings, including classrooms, to get each party to draw out presuppositions. This requires critical thinking and the capacity to civilly make a case and challenge the other.

The examination of the self in order to regulate our emotions and behaviors, and to then show up for others, is part of a philosophical tradition that extends beyond Socrates to the likes of Confucius and many others. By doing this, we go beyond ourselves to impact others and the systemic and/or institutional realities around us.

The Daniel Goleman Emotional Intelligence Coaching Certification (EICC) is grounded in a Self-Other-Systems approach. Self-Other-Systems relies on self-awareness and self-management (the foundation of the EICC model), enabling us to connect with others with curiosity and compassion and as a result shift organizations and systems.

One tool for civil discourse is the Jeffersonian Dinner, based on the dinners that Thomas Jefferson held during his time at Monticello. Jefferson wasn’t perfect, and perhaps his dinners were not as inclusive as they would (hopefully) be today, but we can learn from his goal of creating connection civilly.

An advocate and revitalizer of these dinners is Jeff Walker, author of the Generosity Network, who has been hosting modern-day Jeffersonian Dinners on topics ranging from global health, to anti-poverty, to education. The goal is to bring different people together to build real connection, challenge one’s perspective, open one’s bubble, and become motivated to take action. Innovative ideas arise from diverse perspectives; better relationships emerge from deeper connection; and progress happens when awareness moves us to action. During Jeffersonian Dinners, dinner guests are not allowed to only talk to the person next to them; rather, the point is to have a “one-mind conversatIon.” One table, one conversation. Everyone hears everyone.

In Walker’s TedX talk and article, he articulates the following rules:

  • The people: 12-15 at a table (consider ways to bring together people who might not otherwise find themselves at a table naturally)
  • The theme: offer a topic of interest
  • The narrative: set the progression of the discussion to go from ME to US to WE
    • Ask each person to connect with opening question on an individual level (ME).
    • Find commonality and connection with each other’s responses (US).
    • Take a pulse of what/who to follow up with (a pause).
    • Identify actions each person can take individually and together (WE).

This process can be used in a variety of settings, from board meetings to nonprofit gatherings. Recently, this method was used in a jury deliberation in which each member was asked to listen with an open mind, respect every opinion–no matter how much they disagreed–ask questions for clarification with curiosity and without judgment, share rationale based on evidence not speculation, and agree on the common goal of reaching the right decision. The judge lauded the jury for civilly coming to a decision quickly and with genuine curiosity, connection, and compassion.

This type of discussion requires self-awareness and self-management, so that we aren’t carried away by our own emotions or stuck in our own presumptions when someone else is speaking. With strength in these abilities, we can truly listen with curiosity and invite other perspectives that help us challenge and critically examine our own beliefs.

Civil discourse doesn’t require a dinner. Though filling the belly can be an added plus.

Recommended Resources:

We have only a few spots remaining for our personalized EI coaching and training package. You’ll receive year-long access to our online EI training courses, a range of EI assessments, one-on-one coaching sessions, and more. You can learn how it works and register here.

Are you interested in leading Emotional Intelligence transformations? Apply today for the Daniel Goleman Emotional Intelligence Coaching Certification. Whether you’re an established coach or new to the field, this intensive program offers the tools and first hand experience you need to coach for transformational growth.

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Compassion Takes Guts

When we think about the word, “compassion,” images of Mother Teresa and other angelic personas may come to mind–images of figures who have sacrificed something, be it cozy comforts or their lives. Compassion is also sometimes misconstrued as being soft and squishy: people who are nice, affectionate, and sweet all the time.

In reality, compassion does not require us to throw ourselves in front of a truck to save someone’s life, or that we give up our hopes and dreams for another. It doesn’t even require a national catastrophe for us to demonstrate compassion. Rather, we are faced daily with decision points that allow us to practice compassion on an individual level.

Compassion extends beyond feeling sorry for the suffering of others, and while it’s grounded in empathy, it is actually not the same. Empathy is often characterized as feeling “with,” whereas compassion fuels our desire to alleviate suffering. In this way, compassion is empathy combined with the impetus to act. In fact, different parts of our brain get activated by compassion than by empathy. Studies by neuroscientist Tania Singer, at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Germany, show that when we practice empathy, our mirror neurons are in tune with the emotions of the other person: When that person feels pain, the area of our brain for pain also activates. We feel what they feel.

However, this doesn’t always mean we act. In fact, we may become too paralyzed to help when we are struck by empathy–so that we turn away from helping because what we feel is too painful. On the other hand, when we practice compassion, we activate the part of our brain associated with maternal and prosocial behavior; we are concerned and we become motivated to help.

So why are we sometimes moved to help, and other times not? Daniel Goleman references the famous study of Princeton Theological Seminary students to explain. Divinity students were given a sermon topic to practice. Some of them were given the Parable of the Good Samaritan. They were asked to walk to another building to deliver the sermon. During that walk they each encountered a man clearly in need. Some students stopped; others didn’t. The researchers found that the gap didn’t have to do with the sermon topic, but with how much of a hurry they were in. In other words, when they were rushed, they focused on their own needs. While practicing their sermons on being Good Samaritans, they forgot to be Good Samaritans.

This is the paradox, Goleman says, of living in the Anthropocene Age (the geological age in which one species–humans–impact every other species), while our brains were formed during the Pleistocene Age (Ice Age). During the Ice Age we were (and still often are) ruled by our amygdala, our brain’s 9-1-1 alarm system. This part of the brain is oblivious to the impact of our individual, micro-actions on others.

Still, our brains are actually primed for compassion. It is in our nature to want to help. As Dr. Goleman points out, the minute we “attend to the other person, we automatically empathize, we automatically feel with them.” If we remain preoccupied with ourselves, however, we can’t be present enough to even notice that someone else needs help, let alone get past our own personal pain to a point from which we can take action.

The good news is that compassion can be cultivated. The more Self-Aware we are–the more attuned we become to what is happening internally–the better we can engage with the world beyond ourselves. The greater attention we pay to Self-Management–our ability to manage any emotional triggers or reactions–the better we can navigate these emotions in order to help others. The more we recognize our motivation–what drives us–the more we can stay true to our core values. Moreover, those who nurture the Relationship Management competencies of Emotional Intelligence, “have a genuine interest in helping people, especially those who could benefit from their experience.”

But it’s not so easy.

Sure, we can picture ourselves as compassionate beings donating money to help a worthy cause 3,000 miles away. Yet when it comes to our own interactions, showing compassion may be a lot harder. Imagine you have witnessed inappropriate or off-color behaviors and comments from your boss and have noticed how that has created a toxic work environment. You recognize that there have been some ethical, if not legal, transgressions, but at the same time, you care about your teammates, your relationship with your boss, and your job security.

What might be a compassionate response?

LinkedIn’s Jeff Weiner, who has been at the forefront of promoting compassionate leadership, would suggest that a compassionate response is neither to let such behaviors slide nor to launch an all-out assault on the transgressor. Instead, compassionate responses require us to recognize our own triggers, try to put ourselves in the other person’s shoes, and to have the courage to take a stand.

Perhaps your boss’s inappropriate comments were borne out of insecurity or a complete lack of awareness. While that doesn’t abdicate them of responsibility, putting ourselves in their shoes allows us to witness the situation without being swept away by our own emotional triggers. Doing so may also help us understand how the boss’s actions impact the team. It also allows us to reflect on how our actions may be in service of a greater good. Are we confronting our boss or reporting them out of pettiness, or are we doing so in service of the team and for the boss’s own professional growth and development?

As Thupten Jinpa, the Dalai Lama’s translator, noted, compassion requires a heck of a lot courage. It isn’t about blind forgiveness, ignorance, or revenge, but about stepping into challenging situations in the service of something greater. In times of great uncertainty, whether at the global or local level, compassion is vital to the well-being of ourselves and others.

Recommended Resources:

Become an EI Coach

Want to make the world a more compassionate place? Become an Emotional Intelligence Coach. Apply today for the Daniel Goleman Emotional Intelligence Coaching Certification. You’ll work with Belinda and other talented faculty members as you gain the tools and first hand experience you need to coach for a more compassionate future. 


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Emotional Intelligence Makes Resolutions Stick

It’s January, and you have a new set of weights which will finally keep you on track for a six-pack by this time next year. January is named after the Roman God Janus, god of transitions, beginnings, and endings, who is typically depicted with two faces. One looks to the past, one to the future. The past was the unused gym pass; the future is the chiseled abs. Somewhere in the middle is the hard work, the app you downloaded, and the kettlebell.

Regardless of whether your resolution is physical fitness or healthier relationships, the first day of the year is a universally accepted signal to stop living in the past and to break useless habits. It serves as a permission slip to be more present, take more chances, and live our best lives in the new year.

But how many of us actually do?

According to the U.S. News, 80% of people who set a resolution on January 1 break it by the second week of February. In other words, within six weeks of a well-intentioned change, we question, hesitate, and revert back to what is comfortable and known, even if it doesn’t work for us. Like Janus, our two faces constantly look backwards and forwards, but never focus on the present moment.

While there are wonderfully useful tips for how to stick to New Year’s resolutions–keep it simple, be specific, tell a friend–our brains tend to revert into our default mode in which we ruminate and dwell on what we coulda, shoulda, woulda. Or we worry about the future such that we forget to live in the moment. So instead of a quick, 10-minute set with our shiny new weights, we feel remorse at the third brownie we ate or worry about how to carve out time to do sit-ups for the next thirty.

The term “default mode” was first used by Marcus Raichle to describe our brain when it is “resting.” However, studies suggest that our brain isn’t just idling when “resting.” For many of us, our brains default to self-referential thinking (thinking about ourselves), rumination, or preoccupation. We want to go the gym, but our brain’s default system may override its good intentions with fears: What if other people laugh at me; what if this is a waste of energy; what if I don’t have time? To motivate ourselves to put in the hard work, we must shift our mindsets. We need to rejigger our brain’s default mode to one from which we can learn from the past without grasping, be mindful of what may come without anxiety, and live in the uncertainty of every day without avoidance.

Working towards a six-pack is not simply a physical exercise, but also a mental one.

Our brains play a large part in how successfully we will achieve a declared goal–or any habit change. One key domain of Emotional Intelligence that is essential to shifting mindsets and habits is Self-Management, our ability to balance our emotions to make progress towards our goals.

The first Self-Management competency is Emotional Self-Control, or Emotional Balance, the “ability to manage disturbing emotions and remain effective, even in stressful situations,” according to Daniel Goleman. Change is scary, no matter how small it might be. Something as seemingly innocuous as, say, deciding to eat more vegetables, may uncover a deeper emotion or underlying issue. Perhaps eating more vegetables brings back unpleasant memories of a parent forcing you to eat something you didn’t want, and that memory evokes a sense that you are losing your agency to say, “no.” With Emotional Self-Control, we don’t ignore our emotions, rather, we don’t let them hold us hostage. When obstacles arise between us and our goal, we become less susceptible to the whims of our impulsivity and strong emotions.

Second, Adaptability allows us to see change as positive. Let’s say you want to end an unhealthy relationship. It can be scary to let that connection go, no matter how little benefit the relationship offers you or the other person. There is comfort in the known, albeit the dysfunctional known. To move towards the unknown is a transition, and whenever we transition from what was to what will be, we experience change. When we become more adaptable to the uncertainties of life–including the ultimate outcome of our desired goal–we can effectively respond to challenges and transform fear of loss into possibilities for development.

Third, Achievement Orientation is our capacity to meet or exceed a standard of excellence and continually improve. Without this competency, we wouldn’t have the same motivation to effect change and persist when we encounter roadblocks. Strengthening this competency allows us not only to better manage ourselves, but also the context around us so that we can adjust and adapt accordingly to meet our desired goals.

Lastly, the Positive Outlook competency isn’t just about hoping for the best or putting on a happy face. It is an inclination towards the positive. It’s not just an attitude; our brains betray whether we have a tendency towards a Positive Outlook. Neuroscientist Richard Davidson found that people with frequent activation in the left prefrontal cortex tend to be more positive in their emotional outlook. They also may get frustrated when something gets in the way of their goals–and that frustration turns into motivation. On the other hand, those with more activation in the right prefrontal cortex are more likely to give up when the going gets tough.

We can build our Positive Outlook by increasing our “stickability” when obstacles get in our way, and by finding goals that give us meaning and purpose. As Daniel Goleman notes, when we do so, our left prefrontal cortex lights up like a Christmas tree. It is what moves, or motivates, us to keep working towards that goal.

Building our Emotional Intelligence in these competencies helps us become more aware of our default explanatory style about how the world works. Martin Seligman, known as the “father of Positive Psychology,” posed that humans generally have two default explanatory beliefs about the way the world works and their own agency. The first is a pessimistic explanatory style whereby we tend think that our situations are set in stone and that what is wrong will always be wrong. The second is an optimistic explanatory style whereby we think that the opposite.

When it comes to habit formation, either style can be inhibiting if not managed appropriately. The former may be a Debbie Downer who gives up prematurely, and the latter a Polly Anna who ignores reality. While practical realism can prove beneficial, studies suggest that people more disposed to an optimistic explanatory style remain less likely to give up when the going gets tough. In other words, seeing the world with only rose-colored lenses obscures what is really in front of you, and may lead you to make more rash or impulsive decisions. But when we face reality as it is, yet view it with a sense of hope and positivity, we can better recognize how to make the most of whatever challenges life presents.

Want that six-pack by next Christmas? Consider supplementing your new weights with a dose of Self-Management and its four competencies for an inside-out approach.

 

Interested in working with Belinda and helping others develop their Emotional Intelligence? Apply for the Daniel Goleman Emotional Intelligence Coaching Certification–an in-depth program designed for experienced and aspiring coaches. Space is limited, so we encourage you to apply today.

 

 

 

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Brain’s Blind Spots

When we hear the words “Diversity & Inclusion,” some of us cringe or roll our eyes, not because we don’t care, but because we feel uncomfortable, guilty, or feel we don’t need any training in it because “we’re not racist.” Yet every day, we read a news story where someone’s hidden biases trigger a potentially harmful action, from calling 911 on a congresswoman visiting her constituents to using racial slurs on political opponents. “Diversity & Inclusion” is necessary but insufficient; as Coaching Certification Faculty member Michelle Maldonado notes, we need to move from “Diversity & Inclusion” to “Belonging & Unity.”

One first step we can take is to recognize our lack of awareness of what influences our decisions, actions, and perceptions of other people. According to Leonard Mlodinow, scientists estimate that 95% of what happens in our brains is beyond our conscious awareness. In other words, we’re only 5% aware of why we think and act and feel the way we do. The majority of what dominates our mental activity is unconscious.

Our world is filled with differences. We are naturally drawn towards what is familiar and deemed “safe,” like family members who, for the most part, look and smell like us, and we move away from what is unfamiliar. Our brains use heuristics, or mental shortcuts, to help us navigate a complex world. We unconsciously build beliefs about different groups of people outside of “our tribe,” based on various socially constructed or identity markers, to help us organize our social world.

Similarity bias is our preference for others who are similar to us. Our brain’s natural inclination to categorize our world starts at a young age. David Kelly found that babies as young as three months show a preference for those with a similar race to them. The chances are that these babies are not “racist,” but unconsciously, they realize that their main caregivers are their sources of comfort, food, safety, and diaper changes. More often than not, these caregivers are related and therefore, “look” like them. Such biases may persistent in adulthood unconsciously in how we act. University of Michigan researcher Jesse Chandler found that people were 260% more likely to donate to hurricane relief efforts if the hurricane’s name began with the same letter as their first initial.

Our brains are also subject to implicit egotism, the notion that we think more favorably about others like ourselves. We are more likely to respond to a stranger’s email if they share our name, and we’re more likely to help someone out if they went to the same university. The opposite occurs unconsciously as well. Have you ever met someone new that you irrationally didn’t like or felt animosity towards them simply because they share a name with a childhood bully? That’s our unconscious brain at work.

Our hidden biases also are influenced by visual bias. Our optic nerves attach to our retinas in a way that means we have actual blind spots, and so our brains fill in the visual gap we can’t see. Similarly, when it comes to how we view and evaluate other people, if we have missing data about another person, we tend to take the little bit we know about the social categorization of that person and fill in the rest of the information. For example, if you meet someone of Nepalese descent for the first time, and the only bit of information you have about Nepal is that it is a Buddhist nation, you might assume that they are Buddhist and hesitate to include them in your Passover Seder.

Even though we think we evaluate others based on their individual qualities in rational and deliberate ways, our brain’s automatic processing is influenced by cultural and social messages around stereotypes and the “Other.” Groupthink can lead to “Othering,” whereby we discourage individual disagreements or thoughts for the sake of wanting to belong to the “in-group.” Daniel Goleman offers important insights into how groupthink may manifest in the workplace and what to do about it. While we have seen historical incidences of how groupthink can cause irreparable harm, from the Holocaust to the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, “Othering” in the workplace can lead to lower performance, well-being, and engagement. UCLA psychologist Naomi Eisenberger found that the area of our brain associated with physical pain is also associated with feeling left out. When we overlook the administrative assistant during lunchtime as we sit with our cubemates daily to eat, we may be impacting their feeling of belonging, even though our intentions are not to exclude.

It is therefore important that we consider how to build psychological safety into our environments, whereby people feel safe to express their true and whole selves without judgment or reprisal. When we do, people feel confident to express opinions, have disagreements, and show up. In fact, Google researched hundreds of its own teams to find out why some thrived and others wilted and discovered that psychological safety was the number one factor. In short, if we want high-performing teams that bring diversity of perspective and a sense of inclusion and belonging, we must build trust, raise our awareness, and reach out to others.

By using our brain’s natural structural functions, we can hack our minds to bring greater curiosity of the “Other,” Self-Awareness of our own unconscious thinking, and Empathy to find similarities with others who may appear different than us. Emotional Balance can help us raise our awareness and ability to move from unconscious to conscious. As Daniel Goleman notes, “when it comes to diversity, you’re seeing people who have a range of backgrounds, of understandings, and of abilities. And the more diverse team is going to be the one with the largest array of talents, and so it will be the one with the potential best performance.”

Recommended Resources:

 

 

For further reading, our series of primers focuses on the twelve Emotional and Social Intelligence Leadership Competencies, which include Emotional Self-Awareness, Emotional Balance, and Empathy.

The primers are written by Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis, co-creators of the Emotional and Social Intelligence Leadership Competency Model, along with a range of colleagues, thought-leaders, researchers, and leaders with expertise in the various competencies. Explore the full list of primers by topic, or get the complete collection!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Want to cultivate your Emotional Intelligence? Reserve your spot for the Foundational Skills of Emotional Intelligence. During twelve, two-week online experiences, you’ll explore the Foundational Skills of Emotional Intelligence through facilitated, group learning. You’ll discover the science behind each competency, why they matter, and how to apply them to positively differentiate yourself.

For a taste of the Foundational Skills, join our two-week Emotional Balance experience. In this portion of the Foundational Skills of EI, you’ll build your resilience, self-awareness, and focus.

 

 

 

 

 

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Coaching for Emotional Intelligence: Belinda Chiu on Global Awareness

In the seventh installment of Coaching for Emotional Intelligence, Belinda Chiu, a Meta-Coach for the Daniel Goleman Emotional Intelligence Coaching Certification, discusses the role of diplomacy in coaching, global awareness, and more. Previous installments of this series include interviews with mindfulness coach and CEO Michelle Maldonado, educator and executive coach Matthew Taylor, and retired healthcare CEO Kathy Bollinger.   

 

Belinda has 20 years of experience in university admissions; leadership development & training; career and executive coaching; and strategic consulting. She is a mindfulness trainer, certified yoga instructor, and a Search Inside Yourself Certified Teacher. Belinda has worked with clients ranging from the U.S. Department of State, to GlaxoSmithKline, to Maersk, to the University of Denver. Belinda holds a Bachelor’s from Dartmouth College, a Master’s from the Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy, and a doctorate from Teachers College, Columbia University.

 

 

 

What led you to begin coaching?

Great question! I can’t say I had some of epiphany, but if I really had to think about the roots of what led me here, I suppose it had much to do with my growing up in the “in-between”–cultures, interests, etc. Not belonging anywhere yet belonging everywhere offered a sense of comfort and capacity to see things from multiple perspectives–even if those perspectives weren’t lived experiences. This orientation to the world has helped me to support others to explore and connect from a divergent, yet inclusive space.

As an undergraduate student, I earned an internship at my university’s career center. At the time, it was simply meant to be a great experience about the inner workings of higher education, not a future career. I didn’t realize how much I would enjoy helping my classmates be more purposeful with and prepared for their post-grad plans. I remember when my director told me that one day I would be in some sort of profession helping others find alignment in their careers and lives, I dismissed him. Well, Mr. Sturman, you might have been right.

That experience, along with my direct approach (perhaps early debate training?), became useful as peers and friends reached out for advice. What I discovered was not that I was particularly wise (I’m not), but that I had the privilege and honor of their trust. From this place of trust and nonjudgment, I could then ask them direct, oftentimes uncomfortable questions. Coaching isn’t about me; it’s about helping others connect and explore.

 

In what ways has your background in education and diplomacy informed your current work as a coach?

Diplomacy and education are far simpler as theories. Just listen to each other and arrive at a speedy resolution. Just know the student’s learning style and teach to it. Simple, yes? We can talk all we want about tactics or models, but the second you throw a human being in the mix–with all their quirks and human-ness, it gets messy. Having the capacity to enter into any situation, whether a negotiation or classroom, with greater self-awareness of one’s own triggers and biases, the ability to recognize and manage others’ emotions, and seek commonalities is therefore critical. In diplomacy and education–and in fact, almost anything, I keep two questions in mind: what is the highest intention, and how can we act to be of service?

My work as a coach requires me to bring this perspective to help my clients, who I believe hold the answers. It is my responsibility to help facilitate and serve as a catalyst to help them uncover the deeper hidden answers to more surface-level issues. A diplomatic approach is required to raise tough-to-hear, often uncomfortable questions. For example, if a client has a tough relationship issue with a boss or peer, the skills of mindful diplomacy may help them navigate their conversations for more positive and productive outcomes. I also get to indulge my research side by bringing psychology, educational, and neuroscientific research into practical, user-friendly techniques that they can apply in real life. I assign homework!

 

 

What drew you to the Daniel Goleman Emotional Intelligence Coaching Certification?

As I study mindfulness and Emotional Intelligence, as well try to incorporate these concepts into my daily life, work, and coaching, it’s impossible not to know of Dr. Goleman’s work. As he serves as an advisor for the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute on Emotional Intelligence leadership, I became even more familiar with how he understands applied research. Going to the “root” source, if you will, for the most up-to-date research that is also done with a critical eye for validity and reliability, as seen in Altered Traits, was appealing to me as a researcher and writer. Importantly, being part of a community to help make broader improvement on how we live and work with peers from whom I could learn and grow seemed like an invaluable part of my own development. Being around others with a purpose and higher intention of how to make the world a kinder, healthier place seemed like a no-brainer (pun intended) to me.

 

You have a Doctorate of Education in International Educational Development, are a Mindful Leadership Coach for Ignition Coaching LLC, which has an international presence, and also co-founded Zomppa, a global education nonprofit for children. What is the role of global awareness in your work as a coach?

Global awareness impacts my work as a coach on multiple levels. On one level, it’s the personal. I have worked with clients from all different backgrounds, nationalities, and experiences. My own personal background also informs a level of nuance as to different cultural variances in workplace behavior, concerns, and issues relevant to an immigrant or underrepresented individual, or upbringing that impacts current behavior and mindset. On another level, it’s the wider societal and geopolitical forces that impact the approach. It requires that I stay attuned to global forces, local context, and group and individual biases–unconscious or otherwise, as all of this may impact their work so I might serve as a conduit to help them thrive.

 

Do you have any advice for those leading an increasingly diverse and virtual workforce?

Diversity has become almost an overused and often misused phrase. Fellow Coaching Certification Faculty Michelle Maldonado offers a wonderfully appropriate and more expansive phrase, “Belonging & Unity,” to bring recognition of a broader invitation for everyone to have a seat at the table. Whether we’re geographically dispersed or separated by tribe, there is no scarcity in science that shows that diversity of cognitive and experiential representation boosts creativity, and that diversity alone is insufficient. It is irresponsible to simply say “we have X, Y, Z” without doing the far tougher work to ensure a psychologically safe environment where people from multiple backgrounds can challenge, be challenged, and thrive. With an increasing virtual workforce, the lack of face-to-face and its corresponding critical body language communication can exacerbate any pre-existing biases or blockages.

We know that psychological safety is important. We also know that lip service to diversity or inclusion is insufficient. It is important to raise an individual-, team-, and organization-level of awareness to recognize biases, mental shortcuts, and behaviors informed by unconscious thinking to build such a safe environment. It is also important to provide time and space for in-person meetings, and at the very least, consistent and robust communication. There is much technology to use at our disposal to increase connectivity, but it cannot be at the expense of human-to-human relationship building. These approaches require training to relate to others in a deeper way that builds trust, supports vulnerability, and invites and gives voice to all around the table.

 

 

What does living an authentic life mean to you? How do you develop authentic leaders?

An authentic life is being aware of one’s North Star and having the wherewithal, skills, and tools to stay true to it. It is having the wisdom of discernment, self-compassion for growth, and courage to act. Authenticity requires a level of self-awareness and willingness to be honest with oneself and others. A little gumption, irreverence, and sense of humor doesn’t hurt.

This is not to say that we live authentic lives without consideration of others around us. It does not give license to excuse poor behavior as “being true to oneself” nor from our role and responsibility to be a positive force in the world. Self- and other-awareness become critical because we do not live in isolation.

There is the saying we have on the Camino de Santiago, a 500-mile pilgrimage across Spain: one walks alone, but one never walks alone. We can only abide by our own pace and cadence. How fast or quickly or beautifully one walks in comparison to others makes no difference. Yet we cannot walk without consideration for others around us, to not litter and harm the earth along the way, or to bypass a fellow injured pilgrim without stopping to help.

 

What advice do you have for people who would like to become coaches?

What is your highest intention for doing so? Keeping that in mind can help discern if coaching is the most appropriate way to make the kind of impact you want. Perhaps it is; perhaps it is not. Reflect on your philosophy and approach. Reflect on your own working preferences and styles. Reflect on your own biases and triggers. Do you have find fulfillment and get energized from coaching relationships? Do you have fun?

 

Is there anything else you would like to share about your experience as a coach?

My own mindfulness practice continues to be a work in progress. I try to bring that into my work, although I fully recognize I am a neophyte. One reason I have always loved connecting with people is being inspired and energized by those who seek to intentionally live their authentic selves. The great thing is that there are so many incredible people out there with a shared sense of purpose to help the world be a better place by helping people to thrive, be kind, and serve a greater good.

 

 

Recommended Reading:

 

For further reading, our series of primers focuses on the twelve Emotional and Social Intelligence Leadership Competencies, which include Emotional Self-Awareness, Empathy, and Coach & Mentor.

The primers are written by Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis, co-creators of the Emotional and Social Intelligence Leadership Competency Model, along with a range of colleagues, thought-leaders, researchers, and leaders with expertise in the various competencies. Explore the full list of primers by topic, or get the complete collection!

 

 

 

 

*Please note: While the first cohort of the Daniel Goleman Emotional Intelligence Coaching Certification is now full, you can click here to sign up for updates on future cohorts.

 

 

 

 

Posted on

The Vital Role of Resilience in Emergencies

**Update: all 12 Wild Boars, their coach, and the rescuers are now safe! A true effort, from those who cooked and fed the volunteers, to the schoolchildren who prayed, to the frogman who stayed with the team. A moment of gratitude and respect for Saman Gunan.

 

Much of the world has been riveted to the rescue of 12 boys and their soccer coach in Thailand. As the eighth “Wild Boar” is now in the hospital, it goes without notice how much mental fortitude, mindfulness, and emotional balance has played a role in the survival of the soccer team for two weeks in claustrophobic, frightening conditions, and in the innovative problem solving and collaborative action of an international team of planners and rescuers putting the young men’s lives over their own.

The boys look skinnier than usual, but seem to maintain their humanity and humor. They joked about getting fried BBQ and asking their teacher not to give them too much homework. How do these young boys and their coach, barely older than them at 25, have the fortitude to maintain their calm despite great uncertainty of their rescue?

First, let’s take a look at what happens to our brains and bodies in emergencies.

Our brains are designed to react quickly to threats for our survival. When we’re under sudden attack, stress-related hormones adrenaline and cortisol flood our bodies, our heart rate goes up, and our vision decreases up to 70%. All these physiological changes compromise our cognitive flexibility to come up with the wise or innovative solutions. Our fight/flight/freeze default take over our prefrontal cortex – our brain’s executive functioning area, and we have an amygdala hijack. Our ability to logically think is greatly reduced. We go into autopilot, reduce our capacity to consider wise or innovative solutions, or fail to make the choice that will actually get us out of trouble.

Have you ever been caught in a tight bind and made the wrong turn? You’re not alone. We hear unfortunate stories of people who have met their doom because of a sudden wrong decision in the heat of the moment. According to psychologist John Leach, 85% of people respond inappropriately in a crisis. In 2011, George Larson was one of 17 survivors out of 65 because he was one of the few with the wherewithal to get himself out of a burning plane before it exploded. In airplane crashes, it is common for passengers to scramble for their bags from the overhead lockers first. It’s easy for us to say now “that wouldn’t be me,” but in an emergency, even the “smartest” of us get stuck brains.

Daniel Goleman uses the analogy of a basement and balcony. In emergencies, whether catastrophes like tsunamis or getting stuck underground in a cave for weeks, we often go to the “basement,” our brain’s primitive threat response system. But if we are to respond with greater wisdom and flexibility, it is important to “go to the balcony,” and view the crisis from a broader perspective and get as much information as possible to  make a wiser decision of how to proceed. This requires our prefrontal cortex to stay in the game.

Let’s go back to the question: how does the young Thai soccer team have the fortitude to maintain their calm despite great uncertainty of their rescue?

Undoubtedly, there are many factors, and researchers will probably be eager to learn about their survival. A few early indicators suggest that mindfulness, meditation, compassion, cognitive flexibility, collaboration, and resilience have played a huge role. The boys’ soccer coach, Ekapol Chanthawong, is a novice monk. Reports indicate that he taught the boys how to meditate as they sat in dank darkness without any indicators of how they would get out. He taught them to refocus their minds away from hunger and fear, and to maintain emotional balance and build resilience during this harrowing ordeal.

Now as the first eight boys are safely in the hospital, divers continue these efforts, recognizing that the most difficult part is not the lack of the boys’ ability to swim or visibility – the divers are there to guide them. The most difficult part is for the boys – and divers – to maintain their mental focus and calm for each of the 11-hour trek through tight passageways underwater so that they do not get an amygdala hijack and panic. If that happens, then they are in real trouble.

There is also the mental fortitude and resilience required of the remaining boys and their coach as they watch their mates leave the cave, not knowing if their mates survived and not knowing if they too will be rescued. The team of rescuers are rescuing the mentally strongest last. There was a 10-hour gap between the rescue of the first and second group to replenish oxygen, and now another long gap until the next group. Ten hours is an eternity once you see your mates leave. Being left behind can pose additional threats to the body’s survival instinct, and so they will have to draw from even greater reservoirs of mindfulness and emotional balance.

Then there are the rescuers. These rescuers have clearly stepped up to the balcony rather than the basement. They have taken as much into account to make the decisions to begin rescues now rather than wait for more heavy rains. Additionally, their emotional balance has allowed them to put aside any personal differences to form an international coalition of 90 divers – 40 Thai and 50 non-Thai. There are 13 medical teams each with their own ambulance and helicopter, and 30 doctors await. There are the engineers who pumped out water. There are others ready to activate Plans C, D, and E, from Elon Musk’s submarine to Pairojana Toontong’s inflatable tube. There is Saman Gunan, the Thai Navy Seal who gave his life ensuring the treacherous path has oxygen. Their collective diversity of perspectives, languages, cultures, and experiences fuels the cognitive flexibility, trust, and clarity of when to act, and is indicative of how a sense of purpose can lead to greater connection and team performance. This team’s sense of empathic concern has moved a global movement from just sitting by and feeling badly for the boys to putting their own lives at risk. Watching the rescuers is to watch true leadership and teamwork in action.

Finally, the emotional balance the boys’ families are demonstrating is a lesson in compassion. While some are chiding the coach for being negligent, and Ekopol himself has already apologized to the families, the children’s families are focusing on how Ekapol has helped their children survive. He is said to be the weakest, having given his share of food to the boys. One mother said: “when [Ekapol] comes out, we have to heal his heart. My dear Ek, I would never blame you.”

As we write, we continue to send our collective thoughts for all to return safely.

Recommended Resources:

 

 

Interested in cultivating your own Emotional Balance? Reserve your spot for the Foundational Skills of Emotional Intelligence. During twelve, two-week online experiences, you’ll explore the Foundational Skills of Emotional Intelligence through facilitated, group learning. You’ll discover the science behind each competency, why they matter, and how to apply them to positively differentiate yourself.

For a taste of the Foundational Skills, join our two-week Emotional Balance experience. In this portion of the Foundational Skills of EI, you’ll build your resilience, self-awareness, and focus.

 

 

 

 

 

If you would like to learn more about the fundamentals of Emotional Intelligence, our series of primers focuses on the twelve Emotional and Social Intelligence Leadership Competencies, which include Emotional Self-Control (or Emotional Balance), Empathy, and Teamwork. The primers are written by Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis, co-creators of the Emotional and Social Intelligence Leadership Competency Model, along with a range of colleagues, thought-leaders, researchers, and leaders with expertise in the various competencies. Explore the full list of primers by topic, or get the complete collection!