Emotions are present in every aspect of our communication, whether or not we are aware of the existence of it. For example, you are having an emotional reaction right now as you read this opening introduction. You either feel a sense of connection to what you are reading, and want to continue, or you believe you already know enough about the subject and feel it would not be worth your time to continue.
When I refer to having emotions present with intelligence émotionnelle all communication, both written and spoken, it does not mean you are having an extreme emotional reaction. Rather it means you are reacting in a particular manner about what it is you are feeling or hearing, and you are responding accordingly. Now there are instances in which the words, spoken or written, are so provocative or inflammatory that it does in fact prompt a strong emotional reaction from you. Those are the moments that you must carefully chose your response, which can be challenging to do at times.
As an educator, and someone who teaches principally online, my interactions and communication occur with learners most in written form, which means I’m receiving classroom messages, emails, and written classroom posts. The reactions I experience occur the moment I read something that has been posted or written and sent to me. My response is often immediate, unless I feel something negative and I am aware of the need to wait and process my response. I may also have to wait and conduct further research for an answer, which forces me to wait on providing a response.
I realize there has been much written about the subject of emotional intelligence, and there is an established definition of this topic as well. However, my view of becoming emotionally intelligent is somewhat different, especially as it is related to the work of an educator. I want to expand upon the idea of recognizing and managing emotions, by viewing the reactions and responses to what we read and hear as levels of mental processing. I want to discuss the importance of moving past Level One or reactionary responses to our learners, which is where emotional responses occur, and move into Level Two or the place within the mind where well-informed and emotionally intelligent responses are formed.
Level One: Emotionally Reactionary Responses
How I view the mind’s ability to process information, for the purpose of what I’m writing, is through the distinction of two different levels. Level One processing occurs when information or input is received. At this level, information is received and processed through filters that include biases, beliefs, opinions, perceptions, and so on. At Level One, processing occurs automatically. Rarely do we ever consciously think about the influence of our biases, beliefs, and opinions as we are reading or listening to information received. It’s within this initial level that our responses to requests received tend to be more immediate, almost automatic, sometimes reactive, and when prompted from the wording within the response, emotional.
Because Level One responses occur so quickly, and often without consideration for how emotions influence the outcome, these reactions would not be considered the most emotionally intelligent. Consider the last time you received an email or message from one of your students. How quickly did you respond? Did you stop and think about how you felt or the emotions you experienced?
More than likely you realized how you were feeling but did not recognize the impact of those emotions on the actions you were about to take and instead, you immediately addressed the message. If the response was not communicated in the most appropriate manner, you may also later regret how you reactively responded or wish you would have chosen a better reply. This is the value of hindsight and looking back after actions have already been taken.
Level Two: Emotionally Intelligent Responses
I consider this level of the mind’s ability to process information to be the heart of where logic, reasoning, and rational thinking occurs. A Level Two response is more proactive in nature, which means there is time taken to intentionally consider what has been stated or requested, prior to formulating a response. This does not mean every communication request received by a learner needs to be processed in this manner. However, as an educator I’ve found it is important for my instructional practice to be more mindful of how I respond to learner requests, as a means of becoming emotionally well-developed.
As an example, when a learner sends a classroom message or email and expresses their unhappiness with his or her grade, and the tone of the message conveys extreme frustration, what is your immediate response to this situation? There are a number of possible answers to choose from for this scenario, beginning with an immediate or reactionary Level One response that informs the learner about the grading scale and feedback provided. The next possibility is to provide a Level Two response and explain at length the justification for the current grade, which may lead to an ongoing series of lengthy email exchanges.