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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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Hesitant to Get Coached? The Benefits Might Surprise You

Joy Fulton is the Chief Operating Officer at Clearsense, a technology company based in Jacksonville, Florida. She has extensive experience within healthcare. As she rose through the ranks, Joy sought the guidance of a coach to effectively communicate as a woman in the male-dominated Health Information Technology (HIT) industry.

While Joy was initially skeptical about the benefits of coaching, she and Kelly Mannel, a participant in the Daniel Goleman Emotional Intelligence Coaching Certification, fostered a collaborative coaching relationship that has had a tremendously positive impact on Joy, both personally and professionally. Read on to learn more about her experience as a coaching client.

What were your expectations and goals when you first began working with a coach?

I’m going to be very honest; I didn’t have high hopes. Having been involved in leadership development throughout my career, I experienced many didactic programs. I was told, “read this book,” “fill out these worksheets,” or “do x, y, and z,” but it never resonated with me.

As a result, when I was approached about getting a coach, I was very transparent in my hesitation. While I appreciated the opportunity, my experience as a basketball player throughout my life taught me that coaching needs to happen in the moment for me to connect with it. Having an extra homework packet to do isn’t going to effectively help me grow.

I wanted a coach who understood the fast-paced environment in which I work and someone to bounce ideas off of. Someone who could help me prepare for important meetings or do a dry-run before a large presentation.

My employer was open to that feedback; that’s how I came into contact with Kelly. We went to lunch before the organization contracted her and we instantly hit it off. I shared with her what I wanted in a coach and those were the same qualities on which she has built her practice.

Kelly understood the mindset I wanted to develop–which requires tuning in to people on the frontlines while also thinking in terms of big picture strategy. And she understood my need for real-time feedback. That initial meeting made me very excited about the opportunity for personal and professional growth and enhanced my belief in myself.

Were you already aware of Emotional Intelligence and its role in leadership? How did EI assessments and a focus on competency development enhance or shift that understanding?

I was aware of it, but coaching brought the practical applications of Emotional Intelligence to my attention, both personally and professionally. As a career-oriented single mom and the caretaker for my parents, I mistakenly believed I had to separate personal from professional. Through coaching, I began to realize that we’re all the same at work and in our personal lives. The Emotional Intelligence skills I was learning were a foundational self-discovery to navigating all these aspects of my life.  

Assessing my EI gave me an opportunity to pause and reflect on the roles of Self-Awareness and Emotional Balance in my communications and reactions to others.  Kelly’s coaching style was strengths-based. She helped me see my growing edges as opportunities.

In what ways has being coached impacted your career?

I have to say, I draw on it every day. Particularly in my current role as COO, I use so many of the tools I learned to coach my own staff. It’s been a foundational opportunity for growth in my career as well as for personal growth.

Could you share some of the benefits of Emotional Intelligence coaching beyond your professional life?

Yes, so at the time I met Kelly, I was about six months post-divorce. The goal was to establish an effective co-parenting relationship for myself, my ex-husband, and our son. Coaching helped me utilize Emotional Intelligence to become a more effective communicator. I took those skill sets and applied them to my personal situation, to better navigate those uncharted waters.

Coaching taught me the value of mindfully pausing, so I could see the situation for what it was and not get swept up in negative commentary often associated with a life event such as divorce. I could remind myself we had a shared love for our son. Focusing on the fact we both wanted what was best for our son enabled me to have greater empathy, even in the midst of the rough patches. I learned I can control, or at least begin to modulate, the mindset I bring to situations. Honing a more positive mindset is a core benefit of EI coaching.

Did anything about your coaching experience surprise you?

I enjoyed it; that was a surprise. I went into it thinking, “Oh Lord, I don’t have time for this,” but I looked forward to it. To this day I keep an active relationship with Kelly; I consider her a good friend of mine. I know if I ever need to run an idea by her I can just call and we’ll have a productive conversation.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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Get Coached!

Want get coached in Emotional Intelligence? For a limited time, we’re offering a personalized EI development 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.

Become a Coach!

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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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.

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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!