Emotional Intelligence for Diversity Work: Be a Bookmark.

If you talk about Diversity & Inclusion in your professional work, Emotional Intelligence (EI) could increase your effectiveness.

This is independent of coursework, books and professional development you have undergone to build your competence. Even direct personal experiences as a member of a minority group does not guarantee you the EI required to operate at the top of our profession because how we understand and empathize, is what allows you to execute these skills profoundly. It’s not what you know, But how you translate this to others.

Influencing others requires responding with healing words, lessening division and distance. This empathy is beyond what most people offer during daily interaction. To exercise these skills is not necessarily difficult but must be intentional.

If you deliver information so that others grow in the diversity realm, you bear responsibility to do this while understanding four areas of Emotional Intelligence:

Self Awareness — Do we know our motivations, emotions and reactions?

Self Management — Do we act as we should?

Social Awareness– What is the outside world experiencing?

Relationship Management– Do I maintain quality human relationships of reciprocal benefit?

The term self is in the first two categories. Being Emotionally Intelligent requires; Self Awareness– Having in-depth knowledge of how and why you act as you do and Self Management –How you use this emotional power to get what you desire. You have the most control over Self Awareness because these are ways in which you interact with the world. Self Management however, is about how the external world relates to you.

Using E.I. with Diversity & Inclusion (Top two categories)

This can shed light on information about your own D&I experiences:

  1. How do you identify with a group?
  2. What personal experiences do you have that relate?
  3. What do you believe based on your experiences?
  4. How do your beliefs affect your feelings or emotions?
  5. How do these beliefs manifest themselves both overtly and covertly?

If you have been trained in multicultural and diversity pedagogy you have worked to tease out these answers. When you are asked these questions, you may respond more cerebral than emotional as a matter of professionalism, but practitioners still get impassioned when delivering this information.

If we regularly reflect on our actions during these times, our skills would be greatly enhanced. Let me use an example of how to be a bookmark instead of a highlighter when you are engaged in a D&I conversation.

Example: If I am engaged in a discussion and my expertise is being utilized regarding my experience as a disabled person (which I identify with). The discussion shifts to intersect with another aspect of uniqueness of disability and a sexual minority (which I do not identify with). What do you think is the best response to illustrate the highest level of Emotional Intelligence?

a) Continue to make my points, afterall, we are similar and I know this well enough to speak on it.

b) Speak from my identity, but acknowledge others in the room that may have a closer identity or experience.

c) Make no distinction because the intersection is less important than the main group. I have an agenda to get through and I don’t want to risk throwing off my time or speech.

Answer is (b)

I hold a spot in line for them to speak even if they are not an expert. I invite them to have a place in the dialogue. This is being a bookmark! I hold space so that people can be brought to a specific place. Think of this as a place holder so that others are reminded of a representation or struggle of a group. Protect and support them as they speak about their experience, (Especially if they represent that group). This can be as simple as someone raising a hand and sharing with us how they identify.

Watch out if you take on attributes of a highlighter instead Being a highlighter means brightly proclaiming and underlining the importance of every point you think needs to be said. If someone else in that room fits that description more than you, and is willing to speak, please stay a bookmark even if you are eloquent and proficient.

The concern when becoming a highlighter is that although using your expertise may be well intentioned, the subtle silencing of others who fit the minority being discussed can also be seen as a form of micro-aggression. Historically, this has been used by majority populations to cover over the subtlety of other groups’ unique contribution. However, this can also be used between marginalized groups as an infighting tactic that is particularly divisive.

There are appropriate times to be a highlighter. When others are in direct harm or there is no representation and you must stand to represent a group without representation. Granted, it is difficult to know exactly who is represented in the room, but this is why it is crucial that you be aware and provide opportunities for this to present itself.

If you are the professional in the room and have already established credibility you have made it. There remain many people that still need a hand up. It is your charge to provide them the opportunity of graciousness. This creates a room willing to participate because you have invited, encouraged and validated their experiences. This is the best sort of empathy that one can create. You do not need to let them take over the conversation and it can be done quickly. A public acknowledgement and an invitation to share their thoughts with an encouraging comment from an expert, is more than many receive in their daily experience. I have literally sat through hundreds of talks, workshops and seminars on D&I, but the instances of being invited, encouraged and validated have been few; but I remember them well.

Using E.I. with Diversity & Inclusion (Bottom two categories)

This can shed light on feelings and emotions of your audience or group:

  1. What is it that society knows about this group?
  2. What personal or historical beliefs or biases exist?
  3. What were individuals taught in their upbringing about race, diversity or inclusion?
  4. What dialogue, education or exposure have participants experienced?
  5. Are their previous hardships or trauma that people have had that might contribute to their overall ideas or beliefs?

These perceptions are more extrinsic. Social Awareness is important for D&I because current beliefs of society affect people’s perception on both sides. The adage of “ know your audience” takes issue here. The challenge of E.I. is that diversity and inclusion requires that people discuss beliefs that are deeply held. A legacy of silence and marginalization associated with minority groups is understood. Majority populations who may feel resentment for being seen as the cause of may not be aware that these feelings exist within their own selves.

Relationship Management takes on additional importance because to be seen as a person who has connections both in the moment and after, is a hard task to manage when speaking about such emotionally charged topics. Being an advocate sometimes means introducing emotional conflict into the system that is set on the status quo. To be able to produce enough emotion to facilitate change while maintaining good reciprocal relationships is a talent that must be practiced.

Professionals that deal intimately with peoples thoughts and emotions with the goal of educating and promoting others (such as Diversity & Inclusion) must remain acutely aware of how Emotional Intelligence can benefit them and their audience.