Emotional expression — This competence involves communication. How do you express emotion in your words, tone of voice or body language? The next time you are feeling a heightened emotion while relating with someone, pay attention to those cues. Then look at the cues of the other person as well. These cues can be very instructive in learning how to better read a situation and how better to more constructively respond.
As a part of our series about “Emotional Intelligence, I had the pleasure of interviewingElizabeth Wilcox.
Elizabeth Wilcox is an author, writer, entrepreneur, and producer of learning content for youth and adults. Her second book, The Long Tail of Trauma (Green Writers Press, November 2020), explores the impact of trans-generational trauma on our social and emotional development and the reparative power of relationship. Through her consultative work, she has helped develop and build the learning platform for EQ2, a social and emotional training program for caregivers of trauma-impacted youth, as well as the evidence-based emotional, cognitive and social early learning program, Begin to ECSEL. A long-time entrepreneur whose first venture was an online career magazine for college graduates and who later developed an educational support site for Greater Boston parents, Elizabeth is currently launching AuthorPods.com, a learning platform that connects authors and readers in order to schedule and participate in discussions about books. The Long Tail of Trauma follows publication of her first book, The Mom Economy: The Mothers’ Guide to Getting Family Friendly Work (Berkley, 2003), which shared findings of interviews and surveys of over a hundred women on how to identify, address, and secure work that met their personal and professional needs.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
As both a writer and entrepreneur, I have long sought through my professional and personal life to better understand the foundational role of childhood and the importance of relationship in learning, success, and mental health.
While as one of seven children I enjoyed a stable, loving, and secure childhood, my British mother did not. She was separated from her mother at the age of three during Operation Pied Piper in World War 2 and subsequently spent her childhood in a succession of boarding schools and foster homes where she was mistreated and abused. Her own mother also endured complex trauma through both World Wars. While that legacy of trauma has had limited impact on me, its effects did become very evident in my mother’s later years when financial hardship triggered the onset of depression and PTSD.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
Experts who work in mental health stress how important it is for us to see past the mask of trauma to connect to the core self. Despite the effects of childhood trauma and maternal separation on my mother, she has consistently provided her children and those in her care unconditional love and belief in their capabiities. She has modeled courage, resilience and perseverance while being a tireless advocate and supporter of each of her children, encouraging me to pursue my passion for writing and to not fall prey to self-doubt. She also has gifted me with the sharing of her own maternal history so that others can come to understand the impact of trauma, particularly adverse childhood experiences (ACE), on our ability to relate, learn and grow.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
Emotional Competence, or Emotional Intelligence as it is more commonly called, is defined as the ability to identify, understand, accurately express, and constructively manage emotion. My father, now deceased but to whom I was very attached, was very emotionally competent, and attachment and emotional competence, it turns out, are instrumental to our lifelong learning, mental health, well-being, and success. My father provided them both. My mother, on the other hand, provided structure, routine, and unconditional love and support. Together they provided me the foundation from which I would one day be able to set and pursue goals with the confidence necessary to succeed personally and professionally.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
My biggest mistake occurred early in my career when I was a business journalist for a trade magazine in London. I made the mistake of adding a zero to a company’s reported loss. The publisher issued a correction but the mistake was mortifying and I almost lost my job. That mistake taught me to check and double check my work and to pay greater attention to detail.
The road to success is hard and requires tremendous dedication. This question is obviously a big one, but what advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your success?
My first piece of advice would be to say that there is no single path to success. When I graduated from college, I was told that in order to be a journalist I had to first work as a reporter for a local newspaper. Instead, I moved to London, became a stringer and freelance journalist, and then moved to Hong Kong where I worked as a personal finance columnist, radio anchor, and CNBC television producer. After I moved back to the US, I became a web editor, producer, and enterpreneur who specialized in learning content. All the time I employed and refined my writing skills, which speaks to my second piece of advice: young people should seek out work that employs skills they want and like to use, rather than skills at which they may be proficient but may not enjoy. As my brother once told me, he always had a very good shot but he’d be a miserably unhappy sharp shooter.
Is there a particular book, film, or podcast that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
I’d have to include two, both of which shaped my early career. The first was the book The English Patient, by Michael Oondaatje. His prose is poetry and his exploration of love and the self set in the context of an ending war was extraordinary and transportive. It set a bar for me that I will never come close to reaching but to which I will always aspire. The second early influence was the radio program, Fresh Air. In the evenings, as I breastfed my newborn on my bed, I would listen to Terry Gross in admiration as she weaved her way through interviews, connecting to her subjects in unexpected ways. If only, one day, I could do that not only in my professionial life, but in my personal life as well, how much I would learn, I thought at the time and still believe today.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
Favorite life lesson quotes change for me all the time, depending on my life stage or even frame of mind. One that seems particularly relevant to me at the moment is one that relates to the website I am currently building, AuthorPods.com, a learning platform that connects authors and readers to schedule and participate in discussions about books. It is a quote that I read to my children when they were young from the book Babe, The Gallant Pig, by Dick King-Smith: “Farmer Hoggett knew that little ideas that tickled, and nagged, and refused to go away should never be ignored, for in them lie the seeds of destiny.”
As I mention in the About section of my new website, AuthorPods.com was first a little idea, one that struck me while I was simultaneously developing a marketing strategy for my second book and consulting with two educational organizations on creating learning platforms for their work. But over time, I began to see a need for such a learning platform, a place where the singular reading experience could extend into a shared exchange between authors and readers. When Covid-19 hit and my book was close to launch, the idea that had tickled and nagged and refused to go away could no longer be ignored, AuthorPods took root.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
I am working on a number of initiatives, all of which are intended to foster learning and growth. The first is AuthorPods.com, that learning platform where readers can invite authors to speak to their books groups and authors can speak directly to their readers about their latest work in private and public talks. The second is a series of articles I am writing for Edutopia on how trauma impacts learning. The third is another book which is an historic fiction about a woman from rural 19th century Vermont who rose from poverty to become a successful and nationally known entrepreneur.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. Can you briefly tell our readers a bit about why you are an authority about Emotional Intelligence?
I have spent the last four years researching, writing, and developing learning platforms that speak to the importance of emotional intelligence and its growtth.
For the benefit of our readers, can you help to define what Emotional Intelligence is?
Emotional Intelligence, also known as Emotional Competence or even sometimes EQ, is the abiliy to accurately identify, constructively express, understand and regulate emotion.
How is Emotional Intelligence different from what we normally refer to as intelligence?
Intelligence is typically considered to be based on our cognitive abilities. Emotional intelligence relates more directly to our emotional competencies which in turn affects our social and cognitive skills as well.
Can you help explain a few reasons why Emotional Intelligence is such an important characteristic? Can you share a story or give some examples?
Emotion is our first means of expression and communication. A baby cries to express displeasure. A mother or caregiver responds. This back and forth between a child and a caregiver is foundational to our development. In those early years and through our relationships with our caregivers, we learn not only to express our emotion, but also to identify, understand and manage our own emotions and those of others. Those early efforts at regulation, supported through a responsive, attuned and sensitive caregiver, is what is known as coreguation and it evolves into self-regulation — our ability to manage emotions, behavior, and thinking. Even as we age, if we cannot regulate, we cannot think, as we are too consumed by emotion to be rational or to behave in a manner that supports rational cognitive processes and productive social interaction. Our cognitive and social processes are hindered. Acute trauma, particularly early childhood trauma, can significantly impede the development of emotional intelligence and our ability to relate. But that does not mean that we cannot develop these competencies later with the help and support of others. As Dr. Beth Casarjian, Clinical Director of The Lionheart Foundation which has develop the EQ2 program, states: “What is harmed through relationship can be healed through relationship.”
Would you feel comfortable sharing a story or anecdote about how Emotional Intelligence has helped you in your life? We would love to hear about it.
When I first began researching my second book, The Long Tail of Trauma, I believed I would write a straight-forward, third person, maternal history that began in 1904 and extended to current day across multiple generations of mothers and daughters. As I began to write my story, however, I realized that to write my story well, to understand how world events impacted these women — who they were and who they became — I had to imagine how they felt and the emotions they experienced. I had to be able to identify, understand, and express those emotions through the written word. Moreover, because my book is a memoir that examines the legacy of trauma as it manifests in my mother and to some extent in me, I had to learn to be aware of my own emotions in the telling as well. I had to take a candid look at my own triggers that precluded me from recognizing how she felt and see past her mask of trauma in order to become more empathic and understanding of her.
Can you share some specific examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help a person become more successful in the business world?
We all know that IQ does not determine success. In fact, EQ or what is also called Emotional Intelligence or Emotional Competence is widely considered much more instrumental in our lifelong learning, mental health, well-being, and success. You don’t have to read studies for proof. Just think about the person who can “read a room” , the negotiator who knows just when to press and when to hold back, and the business owner like the recently deceased Zappos CEO Tony Hseih whose company’s success was steeped in what has been called umatchable company culture complete with a so-called happiness quotient that proved so critical to Zappos’ growth. So important is Emotional Intelligence that some venture capital firms, such as those listed in this Fast Company artiicle, are now making it a critical factor in determining whether to invest in a company, its leaders, and its staff because EQ skills matter in how we lead, attract, discern, retain, and motivate staff and how effective those staff are in relating to one another and producing good work. These are not what are commonly considered hard skills. They do not seem to relate to balancing a budget, conducting market analysis, or developing a strategy for increasing market share. Or do they? None of us can optimize for success by acting entirely alone. We need skills, knowledge, and input from others, both as individuals and in the collective as well. The ability to understand, collaborate, be discerning in our dealings and proactive in our relationships help us — and the organiztions for which we work — excel.
Can you share a few examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help people have better relationships?
Emotional intelligence involves not only being able to manage and be aware of our own emotions, but also those of others. I may be aware that I am frustrated but such awareness is of little help in my interactions if I can’t see or understand that the person with whom I am trying to relate has feelings too. Relating, after all, is at the core of relationships. What does that mean in practice? Think of a business relationship. You feel that the price that you have been offered is insulting and you are irrationally upset but you also aren’t willing to take the time to consider what the person offering the price is feeling. To effectively interract you would be better served to pay attention to your and the other person’s feelings and to think about the cause as well. If you can accurately identify, understand, and manage these emotions, you will be able respond in a more appropriate and productive manner. The same holds true in more personal scenarios. Imagine you lack emotional regulation, a key component in Emotional Intelligence. Any time you detect even a hint of criticism you shut down or get defensive. As a result, not only will those with whom you interact be less inclined to engage in open dialogue but finding a common solution will be more difficult. Being aware of and learning to manage our own emotions and others can lead to better relationships and better outcomes.
Can you share a few examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help people have more optimal mental health?
Emotions are human and natural and include four shared primary ones — happiness, sadness, anger and fear — as well as a whole range of feelings associated with them. Not being able to express, understand, identify or manage emotions can be damaging to our mental health on many levels. For example, extreme highs or extreme lows that are sustained and unregulated can manifest as manic behavior or depression. Unresolved trauma also can lead to unregulated and sustained feelings and emotions that can be damaging to our mental health. But conversely, being aware of our emotions and knowing that emotions are fluid, not static, allows us to better cope with challenge and disappointment. That awareness and knowledge also can make us more resilient which is so important for optimal mental health. Knowing that feeling sad or feeling angry is okay and that those feelings can and do change is also normalizing in itself.
Ok. Wonderful. Here is the main question of our interview. Can you recommend five things that anyone can do to develop a greater degree of Emotional Intelligence? Please share a story or example for each.
Again emotional intelligence is comprised of four underlying competencies: the ability to accurately identify, constructively express, understand, and regulate emotion. Each of these can be supported and developed with intention and practice.
- Emotional expression — This competence involves communication. How do you express emotion in your words, tone of voice or body language? The next time you are feeling a heightened emotion while relating with someone, pay attention to those cues. Then look at the cues of the other person as well. These cues can be very instructive in learning how to better read a situation and how better to more construively respond.
- Emotional Identification — Often we don’t pay attention enough to how we feel. But being able to identify how we feel is very important in supporting own own self awareness and our awareness of others. It’s an important starting point in any journey toward understanding. One way to promote this capacity in yourself is to make a mental note as to how you are feeling. Acknowledge that a feeling exists and then take a moment try to identify what it is. Then try to identify the cause of that emotion. If that emotion is unregulated or hard to manage, on reflection ask if there is there anything you could you do differently next time to better manage the emotion before it escalated? One activity that can help with promoting self awareness is reflective journaling. Mindfulness activities such as guided meditation also can help.
- Emotional Understanding — Emotional understanding both of our self and others is closely tied to empathy and empathy is essential in building Emotional Intelligence. It also helps us better relate. Again, reflective journaling can help us not only identify a particuar emotion we experiences but also think further about the cause of that emotion, bringing greater awareness as to why we might have been triggered in a particular way. As you think about your emotion, whatever it is, always rememer emotiions and feelings are natural and a part of the human condition, so give yourself permission to feel. It’s not the emotion or the feeling but what we do with those feelings that matters. To increase emotional understanding, practicing gratefulness also can help. Research shows that when we feel grateful, we can cope better with stressful, negative, and frustrating situations. One psychologist I know supports the practice of gratefulness by setting a chime at intervals throughout the day, using those moments to remind herself what she is grateful for.
- Emotional Regulation — Emotional regulation is closely tied to self regulation — the regulation of emotion, behavior and thought. If we can’t constructively manage our emotion, we can have trouble managing our thought and behavior as well. The Lionheart Foundation, a non-profit that provides programs that promote emotional literacy, often refers to mindful underreaction which encourages us to take a moment to stop and breath when triggered or feeling an emotion that is escalating within us. Mindful underreaction can help us more clearly think before we react. Meditation also can help promote better regulation of emotion, thought and behavior.
- Professional lntervention — For some, increasing emotional awareness or regulation can be very difficult without professional help, particularly if there is unresolved trauma in one’s past. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can manifest in all sorts of ways. Difficulty self-regulating, depression and sustained and heightened anxiety can be just a few of the myriad effects of unresolved trauma. Experienced mental health professionals who specialize in trauma treatment can be instrumental in providing the necessary support toward healing.
Do you think our educational system can do a better job at cultivating Emotional Intelligence? What specific recommendations would you make for schools to help students cultivate Emotional Intelligence?
No doubt. Teaching and learning is a bidirectional process. Teachers need to be able to relate and be responsive to their students and students need to be able to relate back. If students or teachers are dysregulated or overwhelmed by emotion, they cannot engage and they cannot learn. Depending on the student and teacher needs, schools now commonly offer professional training in how to implement evidence-based social and emotional programs in the classroom. These programs are even more essential right now. At the moment, I am doing research for an article in Edutopia on the effects of trauma within schools and how we can create more trauma-sensitive care structures. Educational professionals stress the unique and significant challenges to both teaching and learning that are arising as a result of COVID-19. Remote learning is not only negatively impacting human connectedness but also resulting in significant levels of learning loss. Whether at home or at school, students needs to feel heard and understood and distance learning and lack of social interraction can make it harder for students to connect to one another and to relate to teachers as well. Programs that support and promote social and emotional awareness and regulation are critical. These programs should start not in kindergarten but in early childhood, when the brain is most malleable and social, emotional, and cognitive foundations are being laid.
Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I would like to see social and emotional learning programs integrated into every school at every level. I would like to see children being taught to be aware of and to manage emotion in themselves and others through evidence-based social and emotional learning programs that are fully integrated into school curricula.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂
I am a big believer in collective learning. To learn, we need to be able to connect with others, to collaborate, to be able to identify strengths and skills in others that we lack in ourselves. We must create cultures in which communication is both encouraged and supported. I would welcome the opportunity to meet True Ventures partner Ann Crady Weiss, who founded both Hatch Baby and Maya’s Mom, to speak to her about what it takes to grow a mission-led business that prioritizes learning, community and communication.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
My author site is www.elizabethwilcox.net. The new learning platform that I founded to support learning and dialogue between authors and readers through conversations about books is accessible at www.authorpods.com
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.