Last week, the world stopped and watched the Kavanaugh proceedings; it witnessed why emotions matter, and why emotional intelligence must be considered a core competency. We should all reflect on and learn from what occurred here, because the emotional intelligence displayed at the proceedings are reflective of the state of our society, in every segment.
Long before emotional intelligence was studied, Abraham Lincoln put it in context: “The mystic cords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
I assert that developing our emotional intelligence skills is the surest way to reach “the better angels of our nature.” Let me explain.
Emotional intelligenceis a misunderstood science and is viewed by many as a “soft skill,” and therefore rarely effectively applied. My colleagues at Yale and I described this in our op-ed “Why companies need discussion, debate — even defiance — in the workplace,”making the argument that emotionally intelligent people are better decision-makers, enjoy greater wellbeing, are better able to help others regulate their emotions, are more effective at their jobs, and more respectful and compassionate with family, friends and colleagues.
Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify, use, understand and manage your own emotions, the emotions of others and emotional relationships with others.
There is no question that the two-day hearings were highly emotional for all involved, including the viewing audience. We witnessed raw emotions play out in good ways and in bad. We also witnessed the power of emotional intelligence, the destructive force of lashing out solely based on emotions, and the consequences of not factoring emotions into the equation.
What we saw and heard were examples of people with high and low emotional intelligence.
Christine Blasey Ford exemplified high emotional intelligence under tremendous pressure. Her ability to regulate her emotions with grace and dignity garnered credibility and respect, and taught us that regulating emotions does not mean not showing emotion. Her emotions were visible for all to see and hear, conveyed in an intelligent rather than an emotional way.
By contrast, Brett Kavanaugh exemplified low emotional intelligence.
I can relate to Kavanaugh’s anger. I have also had my reputation discredited. Because of the work I have done in making emotional intelligence a core competency in the organizations which I have led, however, I was able to react to a horrible situation in an emotionally intelligent way.
Kavanaugh’s emotional response made him less believable. With the sexual assault allegations against him turning into a “he said, she said” issue, he showed poor judgment — as a judge, he particularly should have understanding that the ways people react to their feelings — as well as why they feel the way they do — can be an important indicator of credibility, temperament and judgment.
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) exemplified high emotional intelligence when he listened to the women who confronted him at the Capitol, and heard how they feel and why they feel the way they do. He, unlike most of his Republican colleagues, seems to have paid rapt attention to Ford’s testimony. This brought him to reach “the better angels” of his nature, reaching out to his colleague, Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), to find a compromise solution in a polarized situation.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), whose father has struggled with alcoholism, showed remarkable restraint at Kavanaugh’s insensitive “I don’t know, have you?” reply when she asked if he ever has been blackout drunk. In waiving the opportunity to fire back with an emotional response of her own, she exemplified high emotional intelligence.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and his Republican colleagues appear to have been directed to factor out emotions altogether throughout the hearings, as well as any further evidence that could provide insight on Kavanaugh’s credibility, temperament, judgment and overall fitness. In doing so, they exemplify low emotional intelligence.
Over my career, I have been called on to address conflicting versions of stories many times. I have found that these situations require thoroughness of inquiry. Four things are essential for reviewing and understanding:
how the parties feel, and why they feel the way they do;
all available evidence;
the perspectives of others;
and, after reviewing the first three, how you feel and why you feel the way you do.
Because of the emotional intelligence of Flake, all of the parties involved now have had a few more days to apply their emotional intelligence in deciding whether their emotions and the emotions of others matter.
Judge Kavanaugh, in his testimony, appealed: “I ask you to judge me by the same standard that you want applied to your father, your husband, your brother or your son.”
I ask everyone, particularly the men involved, to go further.
Take the time to determine how the women in your life feel about the situation and why they feel the way they do. What you will hear are perspectives that should move you. Given the ratio of women who have experienced some form of sexual abuse at some point of their lives, odds are that at least one woman in your life has been impacted. After hearing this, gauge and understand how you feel.
Going through this, you will find that your emotions and those of others are impossible to deny. When the time comes to decide, and if you respond intelligently, you will “swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched ... by the better angels of our nature.”