Daniel Goleman guru of Emotional Intelligence speaks at Smith College


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Neural Synapse

18 months of planning spearheaded by Smith Executive Education for Women and bringing together multiple Smith College offices came to fruition on November 29.  The Student Events Committee, Dean of the College, Wurtele Center for Work and Life, Center for Early Childhood Education, Department of Education and Child Study, and Smith College Campus School collaborated on this exhilarating event. More than 300 students, faculty, and community members, packed Weinstein Auditorium to hear Daniel Goleman speak about new insights into Emotional Intelligence. Especially intriguing is the research on social intelligence.

Three main points were of particular interest:

  • Social Emotional Learning (SEL)
  • The Social Brain
  • The Social Brain Online

SEL has tremendous potential to address issues like bullying, poor conduct, substance abuse, and truancy in children from pre-school through college. Curricula that helps children re-pattern their brains to increase self-awareness and self-control, negative behaviors can be reduced. Dr. Goleman used the example of an awkward kid trying out for soccer. One of the top athletes on the team began putting him down. Instead of getting upset or defensive, the newcomer shared that he was really talented at art and could draw anything. He acknowledged to the potential bully that he’d probably never be really good at soccer, but that he thought he could learn a lot. The experienced player took the newcomer under his wing and began to show him the ropes.

What happened here and how can we apply it to our “grown-up” interactions? Basically, by owning his own talent, the newcomer gave himself a “put up” (the opposite of a “put down”). The other kid’s brain responded (more on this in a minute) and mirrored the positive feelings of the new kid. Then the new kid followed up by giving the athlete a “put-up” thereby sealing the deal on a mutually beneficial interaction. Think about this the next time you feel fearful or defensive. How might you change your own response and, potentially, change the outcome of the event?

Now, back to the comment above that “the other kid’s brain responded”. Dr. Goleman talked about the Social Brain, the discovery of “mirror neurons” throughout the brain that he likened to Wifi. These neurons pick up others’ emotions, movements, and intentions. This concept provides some interesting insights into the Managing Relationships aspect of Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence model. It turns out we have a big impact on every interaction we have with another person. Our emotions, movements and intentions are transmitted to that other person before we say a word. And at the same time, we’re picking up waves from their neurons and mirroring them! The challenge here is to become more self-aware and more able to manage ourselves. The benefit is the positive impact this can have on all of our interpersonal relationships.

The Social Brain Online is a fascinating area of research and has real implications for the world in which we live and work today. As mentioned above, the social brain is designed to transmit information from one person’s brain to another in close proximity. In other words, in face-to-face interactions. So what happens to our brains when we’re communicating on the phone or via email? On the phone, there are many clues as to the other’s emotional state: tone of voice, pace of speech, and pitch to name but a few. But online or via email, it’s a different story. All of that ancillary information is stripped away.

The result is “flaming” – an email that delivers a lot more anger than was intended. This is all exacerbated by the social brain/video monitor interface. It works like this: you type a message that you think is positive. The problem is that the positive stuff that would be communicated by posture, facial expression, tone of voice, etc. if you were delivering your message in person, all stays on your side of the device. The person receiving your message doesn’t get any of the context and so perceives it, at best, as neutral. That’s the “negativity bias” to email. Send something you think is neutral and it is likely to be perceived as negative, and so on down the line. It’s only if you know the sender really well that your brain overcomes this negativity bias based on history.

Think about the impact on your own interactions if you were to understand and develop the Emotional Intelligence to overcome your negative patterns of reaction (SEL), manage yourself to have the maximum positive impact on others (the Social Brain), and remember the negativity bias when communicating electronically (the Social Brain Online). The ramifications of these simple changes are really very significant: improved self-awareness and self-management, enhanced social interactions, and better online communications.

So, go out there and cultivate positivity and watch for the results!

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