Like so many of us these days, I’ve built a carefully fortified wall around my news consumption – but when I hear the no-nonsense dulcet tones of Governor Andrew Cuomo as he delivers his daily COVID-laden blow to the people of his state, his fellow New Yorkers, my borders begin to do a little crumble. I’ll admit to a soft spot for a wise guy with a heart of gold – but what strikes me repeatedly, regardless of party or affiliation, is the constant balancing act required between fact and compassion, bad news and signs of hope, to successfully deliver critical information to an audience gripped in fear. The secret sauce? Emotional intelligence. And you don’t have to hold high office to spread it around.
One January day in 2017, Dr. Erick Chan, a fresh-faced gastroenterologist who can be found in the warren of halls, elevators and secret doors that make up the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, sat quietly opposite my husband and me and delivered the news that I was dying. After years of his and other specialists’ warnings that alcohol could irreversibly damage my compromised liver, I had blithely continued my passionate relationship with Chardonnay who, like any good friend, always picked up when I called.
It takes extraordinary skill to guide the focus of your (shockingly) shocked patient out of the overcrowded shame arcade into the silent, gaping stratosphere of fear, then back toward the realm of the very real, where next steps are taken. The numbers on his screen were indisputable – but presented through a filter of emotional intelligence, the balance between facts and genuine feeling, I could absorb complex, frightening information because I felt emotionally grounded in his delivery.
According to Daniel Goleman, an American psychologist who helped popularize the term, emotional intelligence is defined by five characteristics: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills.
I see it as the ability to really listen, even when you’re doing the talking.
Needless to say, I managed to stick around. But if Dr. Chan hadn’t been such a good communicator, would I have listened? I most certainly would not be here to tell the tale.
Shelley Tatum Kieran is partner at MOCA+.