When we first created our Emotional Intelligence and Diversity model and published our four workbooks, we could see the invisible question mark on peoples’ foreheads. What did these two different arenas, Diversity and Emotional Intelligence, have to do with one another? Yet it was our insight that there is a powerful connection between our emotions and how we react to differences that served as the catalyst for our model. It was clear to us that differences stimulate emotional reactions. Rare is the person who is neutral in the face of differences. They can excite and interest us, triggering curiosity, fascination and the motivation to learn more. On the other hand, they can upset and irritate us, stimulating annoyance, frustration and fear.
Emotional Intelligence and Diversity
1. Acknowledging Emotional Reactions
Recognizing and dealing with these emotional reactions to differences is at the heart of being effective with diversity. Acknowledging the feelings stimulated by differences is the first step and the introspection that leads to self-knowledge is a fundamental part of EQ. Beyond admitting our emotional reactions, we need methods to deal with them to direct their energy and power in positive ways and emotional intelligence gives those skills.
2. Dealing with Ambiguity
The endless differences diversity brings often present confusing and unclear situations and difficult dilemmas. There are few always and nevers, rights and wrongs when it comes to knowing how to deal with differences. Another way emotional intelligence helps is by giving us the ability to deal with this ambiguity.
3. Developing Empathy
Emotional intelligence also helps us develop and demonstrate empathy, perhaps the most crucial skill in dealing with differences. Not only does walking in another’s shoes enable us to experience and show understanding and compassion, it builds connections that allow relationships across differences to grow.
4. Decreasing Bias
That leads to another key role EQ plays in dealing with differences. It helps decrease bias. Contact theory has shown that when people connect across differences, knowledge is built. However, knowledge is not enough to counter bias. It is the reduction of anxiety that reduces prejudice, not the acquisition of knowledge. Lessening the fear of the other and calming the fight flight response in the face differences are emotional intelligence competences.
5. Building Inclusive Environments
Finally, dealing effectively with diversity requires the ability to create inclusive environments whether in relationships, work groups or organizations. Attending to the feelings and the feedback of others, being able to relate to different personalities and making all feel welcome are emotionally intelligent behaviors. As we always say, “Diversity is a reality, inclusion is a choice.” Emotional intelligence gives us the behavioral keys to inclusion.