“Pausing to breathe before acting”, Danute Debney Shaw of CelaPhontus and Parveen Panwar, Mr. Activated

Pausing to breathe before acting — Taking a subjective pause before an important action (unless that action is getting out of the way of a train) may be critical. When I was involved in negotiations work for an airline, I was always mindful to pause and breathe before taking any significant step in the proceedings. It helped […]

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Pausing to breathe before acting — Taking a subjective pause before an important action (unless that action is getting out of the way of a train) may be critical. When I was involved in negotiations work for an airline, I was always mindful to pause and breathe before taking any significant step in the proceedings. It helped me stay in the present and be aware both emotionally and intellectually. This does not mean taking an audible gulp of air, but more about skipping a beat, and giving yourself the opportunity to gently oxygenate the brain. Particularly helpful if dealing with controversy or confrontation.


As a part of our series about “Emotional Intelligence, I had the pleasure of interviewing Danute Debney Shaw.

Danute Debney Shaw is a decision strategist and thought leader, with over 25 years of combined experience in the areas of management, organization and law. Her work has ranged from being a network operations supervisor, followed by unit manager for a large broadcasting corporation in New York while just out of college; to developing the documentation content for a quarterly report produced by a homeless health and human services organization on Skid Row, in Los Angeles, while attending law school; later working for the federal courts as a law clerk/judicial assistant, in the area of Bankruptcy Law; then as a contracts negotiator in San Francisco for both domestic agreements and those with foreign companies for a large airline; moving on to Washington D.C. as a staff attorney working for a financial services law firm, and as a contract attorney on large litigations, government investigations and on mergers and acquisitions. These are some of the highlights of her background. Having had constant opportunity to see how businesses and personal lives fell apart, and how sometimes they were able to be rebuilt and put back together, Danute was able to develop and expand her understanding and insights as to the types of decision-making which led to successful outcomes, and which did not: how incredibly successful people in both business and personal lives made situations work for them, and how they solved their problems. Having always provided support where possible in working for groups, organizations and individuals using her own paradigm of decision strategy, Danute has turned in recent years to creating her own company — CelaPhontus in order to expand those efforts. Her focus now is on thought and process development. Working with others to incorporate all of our personal tools and skills of subjective awareness/emotional intelligence, rational understanding and creative resource, in order to facilitate more focused approaches to expansion of opportunity and purpose on the one hand, and to support change and challenge-engagement on the other. All of which can lead to more powerful, success-strategy outcomes and greater resilience. This is Danute’s commitment.


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?

I was born and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on the outskirts of town in a suburban environment: I attended a private grade school, followed by an all-girls college prep academy, and then university. This would sound conventional enough, except for my family background. My parents and grandmother had a very immediate and dramatic history which inspired me a great deal. My mother and grandmother, among other tragedies which they faced, were in a Siberian labor camp and my father was in a German labor camp, during World War 2. It certainly left them marked with this trauma but underscored their success in decision-making and resilience in life. I bring up a few of their experiences in my new book “How The Tin Man Found His Brain,” Balboa Press, 2020. In fact, I intend to document my grandmother’s journey in living through the Russian Revolution, World War 1 and World War 2 in Europe in my next book, which I hope will be out late this year. She was an ultimate survivor and thriver, and set the example on how subjective awareness/emotional intelligence when harnessed with rational and creative strategy can bring about powerful results.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.

As with most of us, there are usually a number of people along the way in life from whom we can draw powerful inspiration, whether they are teachers, sports heroes, in the entertainment industry or other known public figures. But, sometimes more intimately our parents, family and friends provide the deepest influence. For me, it was my family who set me on my path, and who demonstrated to me what is possible. I think they did this by not only inspiring me through their life example and teaching, but also by not limiting my vision or options, and by always encouraging me. Independence, problem solving and self-confidence were highly prized and encouraged in my family.

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?

Gerry Jaskulski, it is not so much that he gave me an impetus to be who I have become today, but he believed in me and hired me right out of school at Marquette University to work at the ABC Network in New York. It was a big step and set me on a course of possibilities on a scale that might not have been possible had I remained in the Midwest where I was born.

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?

From any number of situations that did not work out as anticipated along the way in life, I learned that our concept of “mistake” can be misleading. It has been my experience that those decisions we make with the best intention, understanding, and the best effort always yield some form of growth and new direction… If we are open to it. In my own life, every time I took steps in life thinking, “Ah this is where I am going”, life would create a shift, or a twist, and some door would close and another option, even if only a window would open. All of those twists and turns have led me to be able to speak about choices and decision-making. And I can honestly say even some of the darkest hours, like having been diagnosed with cancer some years ago, have helped lead me not only to encouraging places, but to the encouragement of others.

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?

This is a “big one.” Find ways to learn and develop “trust in yourself.” It is very challenging to find, understand and make the best decisions for ourselves if we don’t know, understand and trust ourselves first, to make them. Another one would be to learn to “make conscious decisions.” Give yourself the room and space to see what it is you are undertaking, and what it is you are turning down. We can only make the best decisions based on the information and understanding we have at the time. As they say, hindsight is 20/20. In this way, even if you are tempted to look back and think you made a mistake, you will realize you actually didn’t. Had you been ready at the time, you would have seen the options differently and possibly undertaken them differently. Regret is a true waste of energy and emotion. And it is a great way to be unfair to yourself.

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?

Interestingly, I really enjoyed the metaphors found in “The Matrix.” I refer to them in my book. Most, if not all of us to some degree spend time going through our lives mechanically. We try to meet whatever expectations we, or someone else has placed upon us and don’t actually “see” the world around us, to even identify what is really going on. This approach to life can lend itself to a lot of emotional flailing and reaction…It only ends up inhibiting the subjective power of emotional intelligence. I also very much enjoy Gary Zukov’s “The Seat of the Soul.” Reading the words in this book feels like a familiar voice speaking to my soul.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?

“You have a choice to live your best life everyday, no matter what the circumstances”. I like this quote because so many people run around every day grappling with, and for power and control, which are in their broadest sense illusions. Yes, we can control a car, and a boss has power over his subordinates to a certain degree. But to my mind, the truest, strongest, and really only power we actually have, is the power of choice in the decisions we make. These decisions create our lives at the deepest level, and they lay the foundations for what we may unfold in our futures. Every day, by exercising the power of our emotional intelligence in undertaking whatever steps need to be taken, or dealing with whatever must be dealt with, we can make the best of all the days of our lives.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

Like some thought leaders, consultants, strategic planners, and many others in various fields and cross-disciplines, my work is really focused on helping people. I will be spreading the word on my current book “How The Tin Man Found His Brain,” which is a collection of essays and commentaries presented not only as a backdrop for my own work, but also to support those of us who are faced with challenges of various kinds. Its main purpose, is to awaken, or perhaps reawaken our consciousness… To help and encourage all of us to use the best and most of the personal power we all have within us. “Tin Man” will ultimately be part of a trilogy. As I’ve mentioned however, my next book will be about my grandmother and her journey. It only has a working title right now, “The Five Lives of Agnieszka.” A truly inspirational journey spanning decades and continents. Moving forward this year, and with time permitting, it is my hope to put together some internet pieces for YouTube and perhaps Podcast. I will be available for private consultations on a limited basis. And, last but certainly not least, I will be an ongoing content contributor to “myHealthyYou”, a well-being and lifestyle platform which is being developed and should be available by August of 2021, by App.

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 would not consider myself an authority, but rather a student of the value and importance of Subjective Awareness/Emotional Intelligence and its role both in professional and personal contexts, for the best part of the last 30 years. The same conscious self-awareness, self-trust and management skills are required in all areas of life. Being raised by people with such vast experience in the active engagement of their own emotional intelligence was a teaching in itself, but with the extensive and varied professional training and personal experience with human failures and success in life, my knowledge base expanded greatly.

For the benefit of our readers, can you help to define what Emotional Intelligence is?

When many people seek a definition they go to the internet…..

According to Oxford

“the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathically”

In order to better understand our emotional skills, American Psychologist, Daniel Goleman, who first popularized the term Emotion Intelligence, identified 5 key elements:

1 — Self-awareness

2 — Self-regulation

3 — Motivation

4 — Empathy

5 — Social Skills

And the 4 basic components of Emotion Intelligence are noted in Google (via an article on HRZone) as:

1 — Self-Awareness

2 — Self-Management

3 — Social Awareness

4 — Relationship Management

One common, though not infallible resource is Wikipedia. This is how Wikipedia defines “Emotional Intelligence”

“…is a thought model that claims that to be successful, people must be able to know their own feelings. They must also be able to guess and influence the emotions of other people, and of groups of other people. There are several different models that disagree about the exact definition of the term. Even though there does not seem to be an exact definition, the model itself can be applied in various ways, across different domains.”

How is Emotional Intelligence different from what we normally refer to as intelligence?

It is interesting that Wikipedia suggests that the term “Emotional Intelligence” can be applied in various “ways and domains” “without” having an exact definition. Not everyone arrives at their answers in life through the same model and means. There are people who arrive at the “right” or “correct” answers in more subjectively driven, “a”- rational ways. That means not necessarily an “irrational” approach to an answer, but merely one that was not consciously, arrived at by going through a logical process, for example: “from this, to that, therefore an outcome.” It has been suggested some time ago in the Education community, that an incorporation of this type of subjective, “Emotional Intelligence” needs to be considered in IQ tests.

Since we have not arrived at a clean and clear definition of “Emotional Intelligence,” I will take liberties and interchangeably call it “Subjective Awareness” for purposes of discussion. Because, if you continue to look around for definitions of “Emotional Intelligence,” it soon appears that under some definitions it can encompass all insight and awareness which is not “objective,” or rationally arrived. That could include intuitive awareness as well. The expression “Emotional Intelligence” speaks to the concept of “emotion,” but is that entirely synonymous with “feelings” in this context? It is not clear. There is no strict answer. Is all “Self Awareness” emotion or feeling? What about Self-Regulation, Self-Management or Social Awareness? Couldn’t aspects of these skills draw upon a rational strategy based from objective, logically derived and developed solutions? It seems so. And, many of these questions remain open.

Can you help explain a few reasons why Emotional Intelligence is such an important characteristic? Can you share a story or give some examples?

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

Referring to the previous, brief exploration of trying to wrap our minds around the idea of “Emotional Intelligence,” I will relay a story that has remained with me, and which I have used to help crystalize this notion of incorporating the use of subjective awareness/emotional intelligence. Many people may remember this story from the news. I often refer to in talks, as well as in my book. The reason that I have as much detail about our “Hero’s” feelings and actions, is because in one of the television interviews conducted, the reporter actually asked him what was going through his mind, and his full answer wasn’t cut out of the soundbite. Some years ago, on what may have been a Monday morning, people were standing on a train platform outside Washington D.C. The platform was above ground just outside of the main city area in the direction of Maryland. They could all see the train coming in, when a man in a suit apparently dressed for business, fell straight off the platform and onto the tracks. There was panic on the platform because the most obvious, and logical solution would have been for two or three people to jump down and lift the man off the track and back onto the platform, but the train was coming in pretty fast (they have slowed the speed for trains approaching a platform for various reasons in subsequent years) and they could already see it down the track-line. One man I will call our Hero had a flash. Amid all the panic and emotion around him, he was prepared to manage the situation. He said he just “knew” he could save the man. Now, again this is not an irrational thought, but an a-rational one. It’s like his brain giving him the conclusion to the math equation without showing the work. Next, because this man had some mechanical training, his rational thinking kicked in with an analysis of the situation. The undercarriage of the train had an arch. There was gravel under the train rails, instead of the cement which would have been there if this platform was further in town. Now, his creative thinking stepped in. He thought to himself (and I paraphrase) he is a small man and so is the man on the tracks…If he jumps down and pulls the man center between the two rails, then lies on top of him, the train will roll over both of them. That is exactly what happened. He could feel the train graze over the top of his head. So except for the train conductor, who must have thought momentarily that two men had been killed, and the people on the platform who probably thought so as well, once the train cleared the station it was apparent that both men were fine. Something no one else on that platform could have tried, or should have tried. But, our Hero read the situation and used all his faculties, including his subjective awareness, and very focused emotional intelligence to come up with the best expedient solution which would not cause harm to anyone and would take care of the dilemma, successfully. In other words, he kept his cool, thought it through and managed his emotions as well as the situation, resolving it.

Can you share some specific examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help a person become more successful in the business world?

Being successful in the business world requires a constant consciousness, presence and personal management of situations in context. Someone once said to me, “Oh I can’t think that much”. I clarified that it doesn’t require constant “thinking,” but it does require “awareness”. Successful, business people are always reading other people and situations, and managing them. I once had a personal consultation with a man who was highly placed in a company that had a product to sell. We were discussing his concerns with some aspect of business strategy, and I started to tell him about my paradigmatic approach of consciously (not inadvertently) drawing upon all your internal resources: subjective awareness/emotional intelligence, logic and creativity. He looked skeptical, but something I said triggered an awareness. The man told me that, come to think of it, whenever he is brought in to participate in an important client call with a regional rep, he can pretty much tell from between 5–10 minutes of his rep pitching the client, whether the deal will close. He doesn’t know how, but he is virtually always right, irrespective of whether the client sounds entirely enthusiastic or doubtful. The man further elaborated, that this meant even if someone sounded overjoyed with the product, he could tell the deal still was not going to close, and vice versa. Is he being entirely psychic? Perhaps. But, he is obviously a keen observer and very aware of what prospective clients are conveying; how they are looking, and what impression they are giving between the lines of what they are saying. He responds to this subtext in order to manage the situation most effectively, and with the clearest information and assurances he can provide regarding his product. Outcomes can’t be guaranteed however, opportunities can be maximized, and challenges can be met more effectively by being tuned-in, aware and emotionally centered.

Can you share a few examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help people have better relationships?

More emotional awareness, more self-trust, more honesty in personal relationships and transparency when possible in business and personal life can only enhance the understanding, communication and success of these relationships. Emotional Intelligence is at the heart of understanding, empathy and management of self as well as others. Our own ability to engage our emotional intelligence in a strong and balanced way does not guarantee outcomes (in a relationship there is at least one other person involved and responsible for the communication within the engagement) but it allows us to be our best selves in the interaction, and when both parties undertake this approach, that leaves lots of room for growth and better relationships.

The following are two situations that come to mind, with different results.

I once worked with a woman who had some personality challenges, which everyone around her was aware of, but couldn’t do much about. Her work product was good so…. This happened right before I intended to start law school, and she wanted to engage me in an argument on the value of undertaking the study of law. She told me her daughter was planning on going to law school. I told her that was great. But then, she said her daughter came up with all these reasons why that wasn’t such a good idea, so maybe she would not go in the end. I told her that I was sure that that would be fine too, because she, my co-worker, only wanted what was in her daughter’s best interest. Well, she couldn’t argue with that because I was supporting her, and not in conflict with her. Ok, that worked. And we managed to continue to have an amicable if not close relationship. This woman’s emotional barriers did not permit her to have pleasant, empathetic relationships at work. But, those who were able to self-manage their own emotional awareness were also able to interact with her effectively, by being empathetic toward her and endeavoring to manage the exchange.

In another instance, I was at a dinner party where the hostess, my friend and her new husband were having some people over. For some reason, the husband decided to start on a very inappropriate tirade regarding an organization that I also belonged to at the time. I tried to respond in an understanding manner, but he decided to interpret that as condescension. He could settle for nothing less than that my outrage match his. The truth was that I did completely understand his disappointment and anger; I just hadn’t the same experience and couldn’t rail on at this dinner party, particularly when the other guests at the table had no relationship to this organization or the issues. Well, I had to leave with my companion. He happened to be someone who had occasion to work with the hostess. It all became a mess. She called to apologize the next day and I said it was ok, but she no longer stayed in contact and she no longer worked with my dinner companion. This was an instance when I must say that I held on as long as I could at the dinner table without escalating the situation, but the husband could have skipped a beat and refocused his emotional intelligence in the context of the situation. It ended up affecting relationships negatively all around. No further development was possible after this.

Can you share a few examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help people have more optimal mental health?

I am not a psychologist, but I am a big proponent of recommending that people who are facing challenges with their emotional and psychological processes, seek out counseling and support from appropriately, trained professionals.

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.

As we are now aware, the expression “Emotional Intelligence” does not seem to have one clear definition. However, some generalization can be achieved in determining tools and practices which can assist us in developing greater facility with our own sense of emotional intelligence.

  1. Self-awareness — Everything begins with the awareness each and every one of us has about ourselves and the world around us. It’s part of the balance and constructive tools that we bring to the “party,” and which help all of us play well together. As a light, day-to-day example, I have a friend who has a habit of expecting people to do things she would consider an inconvenience if they were expected of her. She wants to chat on the phone when she wants to chat on the phone; to visit when she wants to come visit. She is not a selfish person, just unaware in the moment sometimes. Her friends occasionally have to remind her. Fortunately, she is generally sensitive and empathetic… Stay present. Practice being aware and emotionally present in the moment in your activities and when engaging in life in general. This is not about “being” emotional, but “accessible.”
  2. Conscious behavior — Emotionally, understanding who we are and what may be going on around us, then responding to those encounters both personal and professional, is highly useful and sometimes even critical. I am going to refer back to some people who heightened my conscious awareness and emotional intelligence. When my mother and grandmother were being arrested in the dead of night by the Russians and sent to Siberia for my grandfather’s underground rescue activities during World War 2, they were allowed to bring as much as they could carry with them. My grandmother brought all her best jewelry and valuables. This was not because of fear of losing her valuables, but because valuables can be bartered. She always advised me to get only the best jewelry, because you never know when you will need to give a beautiful ruby engagement ring away for a loaf of bread. Conscious, present behavior and emotional balance helps you to not only manage a situation but anticipate future challenges
  3. Pausing to breathe before acting — Taking a subjective pause before an important action (unless that action is getting out of the way of a train) may be critical. When I was involved in negotiations work for an airline, I was always mindful to pause and breathe before taking any significant step in the proceedings. It helped me stay in the present and be aware both emotionally and intellectually. This does not mean taking an audible gulp of air, but more about skipping a beat, and giving yourself the opportunity to gently oxygenate the brain. Particularly helpful if dealing with controversy or confrontation.
  4. Responding rather than Reacting — Unless the situation calls for immediate action and does not allow a moment for greater consideration, best not to react. Whenever we hear of companies or countries “reacting to the situation,” there is virtually always a course correction down the line. Sometimes all we can do is react, and fix things later if need be. But, a response doesn’t have to take a great deal of consideration, depending on how complex or important the proposed action may be. Our minds can sometimes run down a list of points to consider very quickly. An example would be the story I mentioned earlier of the man who saved a fellow train passenger when he fell on the train rails. Our Hero, as I called him, appeared to be reacting quickly to an urgent situation: when in reality he had gone through a strategy of response in his mind before he acted.
  5. Be willing to understand someone else’s position — We cannot arrive at empathy as part of our emotional intelligence skill without endeavoring to understand the position and concerns of others. This can be tough sometimes if we have no frame of reference for the concern or situation involved. But, we have imaginations, and we have heard and seen so many examples of simple and dramatic situations which people real and imagined have been in, through various media resources. Let us practice being willing to learn something we may not already know. This exercise can only broaden our perspective, understanding and even our abilities…. And hopefully our emotional intelligence.

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?

The educational system continues to work in a more expansive direction overall, I believe. Different states and communities value different policies in their educational curriculum, but as people on the whole march toward greater perspective and enlargement of vision, attributes such as Emotional Intelligence may become more significantly reflected in their view of the priorities. If so, then this in turn will have an impact on the importance of fostering all of the talents and skill of their children, as they develop into young adults.

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.

Years ago, there was a campaign for people to “Smile and you will be happy”. Mine would be: “Stop, See, Listen”. Personal, individual, conscious awareness may be the best way to bring about more understanding and empathy collectively, and a good approach to strengthening emotional intelligence.

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 🙂

There are really so many people… If I were only able to choose one, it would be Oprah Winfrey. I would love to sit and discuss all her marvelous work, and vision for the future. She has helped open so many doors to that future, and there is yet more work to be done.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

My company, CelaPhontus — website is www.CelaPhontus.com. My author website is www.DanuteDebneyShaw.net.

Please like and follow CelaPhontus on:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CelaPhontusLLC (@CelaPhontusLLC)

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/company/celaphontus-llc/ (@celaphontus-llc)

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/celaphontusllc/ (@celaphontusllc)

Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.

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