Know what works to calm you down. Everyone has something that works to release stress and uplift their mood. Is it phone time with a friend? Going on a run? Stepping out and getting a change of scenery for 10 minutes? When you feel yourself getting worked up in a situation, take a minute to step away and calm yourself.
As a part of our series about “Emotional Intelligence, I had the pleasure of interviewing Melissa Miller.
Melissa Miller is the owner of Gratitude Investors, a business focused on increasing emotional wealth for individuals and companies through gratitude-based appreciation programs. They use science-based research and positive psychology to increase employee retention, productivity and performance for leaders and corporations. Melissa’s educational background makes her uniquely qualified to work with companies that want to take their recognition programs to the next level and attract top talent. Melissa holds B.A. degrees in Economics and Psychology from Centre College in Danville, Kentucky.
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 grew up in Central Kentucky on a family farm that has been passed down for generations. I have a big extended family that went to Mass every Sunday followed by lunch at my grandparents’ house. That home was filled with tons of practical jokes, teasing and laughter. We loved sports of all kinds and a card game called Spoons. If you have ever played Spoons, and experienced the mayhem that can result, you can envision exactly how those family gatherings fueled my competitive nature.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
When I was born, my paternal grandmother was young and energetic in her mid-forties. She fostered my love of houses, design and books. I still remember when I was five and Grandmama took me to get my first library card. We went every week to the library and both of us got a huge stack of books to bring home and read side by side. One thing I didn’t realize at the time that I was learning from her was an entrepreneurial mindset. She was a woman in a small southern town who started her own businesses and received two patents. Even though she believed a woman’s name should be in the paper only twice in her life — her marriage and her death — she didn’t live “small”. My inspiration to look at things creatively, along with my entrepreneurial spirit, came from her.
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?
My best friend, Tammy Johnson, has provided continuous inspiration for over thirty years. She has always encouraged and supported me through every adventure and stage, both personally and professionally, in my life. Many times, I think she believed in me more than I believed in myself. To have someone who offers such unwavering support is priceless. When I was facing a change or something that scared me, and I was hesitant to pull the trigger, she would laugh and say, “Worst case scenario, you can live in my basement.” Everyone needs someone who supports them and will offer up their basement if needed.
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?
The devil is in the details. And my geography skills are abysmal. Both of these statements are true. One winter, I was booking a private plane for my employer to fly to the Caribbean. I called, gave the name of the destination town, and made the reservation. The day before the trip, I was going over the itinerary and noticed a Mountain Time Zone reference. When I called the company to get clarification that the Caribbean is actually in the Mountain Time Zone, they explained the plane was booked for South Dakota. There is apparently a shared name between a town in South Dakota and the islands. Who knew? I almost got on my knees at that point to thank the heavens I prevented that mistake. I could envision this group of people deplaning in shorts, flip flops and cover-ups into fifteen feet of snow. Now when I get swept up in moving quickly, I try to remember to slow down and go back over the details.
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?
Get the best education you can. Not because of the paper degree you get to hang on your wall, but because education opens doors. A great education teaches you to be a problem solver and critical thinker. It also gives you a community of support even after you’ve graduated.
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 love Brene Brown’s Netflix special “Call to Courage”. In times that I need inspiration, or to bolster my belief that I’m on the right path, I watch it again. Her delivery, humor and research on vulnerability are a powerful combination. She shares President Theodore Roosevelt’s quote, “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; . . . who at best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.” Get in the arena and get your face dirty. And if you are going to hurl things from the stands — but play it safe yourself and not take risks — I’m not listening to you. That is incredibly freeing to let go of other people’s expectations and judgment. It’s a call to action for me. I am not going to be the person who sits on the sidelines and allows fear to hold me back. It will either work out, or it won’t, but I’m going to try.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
Almost as soon as I read, “It was about no longer being the kind of person who takes what she can get, and finally becoming the kind of person who creates exactly what she wants.”, something stirred inside me. For much of my life I found creative ways to work with what I could afford or settle for. However, this quote spoke to going for something bigger. It absolutely resonated with me to change how I viewed choices in life — from buying a car to relationships or to starting a business. I don’t have to settle. For anything. I can set my sights on exactly what I want and then go after it. I love this quote so much I have it on my phone screen and look at it every day as a reminder. The message lit a fire in me to pursue, with passion, what I want in life.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
We created gratitude-based appreciation programs for the workplace. Many companies have outdated recognition programs that don’t spur full employee engagement. We use science-based research and positive psychology to increase employee retention, productivity and performance for leaders and corporations. A Gallup poll in 2012 found that 87% of employees in the world are disengaged. More than 50% of employees intend to search for a new job because they felt underappreciated and undervalued. We want to change that. As we like to say, we are experts in happiness dividends. Our program creates happier employees and a better place to work, whether that is in person or remotely.
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?
Experience shows that gratitude and emotional intelligence are closely linked. We see emotional intelligence increased in the people we work with in almost every aspect of our programs centered around gratitude. The two traits work in tandem to create better leaders and workplaces. For example, gratitude can help control your reaction to negative events. Self-regulation, one of the five qualities of emotional intelligence, relies upon this control and gratitude is a tool to use to boost it. In a 2007 study by Alex Wood and his colleagues, they asked undergrad students to report how grateful they were and how they coped with stress. The researchers found the more grateful people were more likely to actively deal with their problems or look for the positive in the stressful event. Gratitude is a catalyst for amplifying emotional intelligence. Our workplace programs incorporate both.
For the benefit of our readers, can you help to define what Emotional Intelligence is?
Emotional Intelligence, also referred to as Emotional Quotient, is the ability to understand and manage your emotions while realizing how your emotions affect the people around you. The term emotional intelligence was first mentioned in a 1964 paper by Michael Beldoch. It gained wide-spread traction in 1995 when Daniel Goleman wrote his best-selling book on the subject. Goleman explained that EI has five components comprised of self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills.
How is Emotional Intelligence different from what we normally refer to as intelligence?
Intelligence can be measured by testing logical reasoning, spatial thinking and application of skills to identify gifted individuals. We all probably have taken an IQ test at some point in our education. In contrast, emotional intelligence is the “intangible” intelligence. You might hear it described that a person has “people skills”. Many successful people believe that EI is more important to your success than how high your IQ is.
Can you help explain a few reasons why Emotional Intelligence is such an important characteristic? Can you share a story or give some examples?
Every morning when we wake up, the day begins and so do our interactions with others. Your son comes into the kitchen and asks if you can spare money to fix his car. Your best friend calls to recap the argument she had last night with her partner. The workday kicks off and you join Zoom meetings with co-workers and clients. Life is a social construct and it’s essential to be able to function well in this relational environment. To be successful, you need both strong levels of IQ and EI. Theodore Roosevelt observed, “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” Emotional intelligence assists us in multiple ways while navigating relationships. It expands our ability to inspire and lead, helps us manage relationships, and smooths conflict resolution. Emotional intelligence is the mechanism for your success.
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.
I work with many different strong personality types. To keep everyone happy and meet their individual needs, I lean on emotional intelligence. I have learned to read their body language, recognize their stressors and adjust my approach accordingly. This may look different from person to person, but my constant is to stay calm, positive and open to communication with everyone.
Can you share some specific examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help a person become more successful in the business world?
Visualize the boss who melts down under stress, berates her employees and makes rash decisions. Now imagine a boss with high EQ who operates more calmly, listens to her staff, is easy to approach and makes informed decisions. These leaders would have vastly interactions with their co-workers and teams. They would also likely have different incomes. A study by Joseph Rode, a professor of management at Miami of Ohio University, found that emotional intelligence is linked to higher salaries and increased job satisfaction. Examining the five characteristics of EI shows ways they can be applied to business.
- Self-awareness– This means having a clear picture of your strengths and weaknesses. Leaders understand the areas they need support in and hire to build a team that complements them. For example, if you are great at sales but doing strategic budgeting drains you, you are smart to hire the person who loves data and task lists. Leverage your time doing what you excel in and build a team you trust to support the other areas.
- Self-regulation– Great leaders can control their emotions and regulate themselves in stressful situations. They stay calm, don’t verbally berate employees and make decisions based on facts — not rash emotions. A Gallup poll found the main factor in workplace discontent is not wages, benefits or hours, but the boss. The way a leader responds during stressful situations is a key determinant if employees trust and respect them.
- Motivation– People who are strong in EI are motivated and formulate goals. Studies show that employees are more engaged and productive when they feel they are working as a team toward a common goal. A smart leader recognizes this and drives the team toward their company’s mission.
- Empathy– Exceptional leaders have great social awareness and are curious about the people around them. They take the time to get to know their teammates, both on a professional and personal level. They can read body language and know how to respond accordingly. This all works together in stressful situations. For example, a leader looks over and sees a co-worker staring off, brows furrowed, and shoulders slumped in a project meeting. The leader knows the man’s mother has been ill. Following up after the meeting shows the co-worker they are seen and valued not just for the person they are at work.
- Social skills– Communication is key. Leaders with high EI are great at recognizing potential conflicts and using good communication to resolve before it escalates. They verbalize praise well. Unfortunately, a Gallup poll found 65% of workers said they received no recognition for good work in 2017. Communication and social skills are vital to foster engaged, appreciated employees.
To see an example of emotional intelligence in business, you can look at the success of Larry Fink, CEO of Blackrock, the world’s largest money-management firm. He built the company based upon the core values of self-reflection, teamwork and direct communication. That mindset filters from the top down to his leadership teams that embrace emotional intelligence seminars to improve their skills.
Can you share a few examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help people have better relationships?
People with high emotional intelligence often have better interpersonal relationships at home. A study by Dr. Nicola Schutte found people with high emotional intelligence had partners who had higher marital satisfaction and anticipated more satisfaction in the long term. There are several reasons this may be the case. People with high EI understand and regulate their emotions. They don’t brush their feelings aside and this leads to better communication with partners. They are also able to self-regulate and let more stressors roll off of them which creates a more even-keeled emotional landscape at home. People who are high in emotional intelligence are often curious about people and understanding the “why”. This enables discussions to lead to productive resolution rather than arguments.
Can you share a few examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help people have more optimal mental health?
Improving your emotional intelligence has multiple benefits for your mental health. Greater self-awareness leads to less negative self-talk. Recognizing the thoughts running through your mind allows you to regulate those thoughts and resulting emotions. Often, people with high EI don’t tolerate toxic people in their lives. They recognize the drain these people create and take steps to move out of these relationships. These are all healthy traits that lead to more optimal mental health.
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.
- Recognize that your thoughts create emotions. Be observant about your thoughts throughout the day and the feelings they generate. Once you notice the correlation, you can work on reframing the thoughts to more positive ones. Your emotional responses will adjust as well.
- Know what works to calm you down. Everyone has something that works to release stress and uplift their mood. Is it phone time with a friend? Going on a run? Stepping out and getting a change of scenery for 10 minutes? When you feel yourself getting worked up in a situation, take a minute to step away and calm yourself.
- Put a smile on your face. Emotionally intelligent people appear to be approachable and open to communication. A smile is one way to send a signal to others that you are sociable and positive. This also has the added benefit of tricking your body into feeling calmer and less stressed.
- Keep a journal. If you take a few minutes a day to write down your thoughts and how the day went, you will increase your self-awareness. Examine how you react when the pressure is turned up. Do you place blame on others or become angry at them, even when it’s not their fault? What worked well and what didn’t? Are you angry each time there’s a delay or something doesn’t unfold the way you want? The business world values leaders’ ability to stay calm and in control in difficult situations.
- Fine-tune your listening skills. People with high emotional intelligence listen for clarity instead of planning what they are going to say while the other person speaks. These people wait for the other person to finish speaking and clarify they understand what is being said before responding with a solution. They pick up on the non-verbal details of a conversation as well to prevent misunderstandings.
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?
Empathy and caring are the core values of emotional intelligence that can be taught to children with great success. Teachers can use questions like “What do you think she was thinking?” or “How do you think he felt?” during lessons. Open the door to children putting themselves in other people’s shoes. In general, the majority of schools do not incorporate emotional intelligence into the curriculum which is something that should be improved. The schools that have incorporated social-emotional learning programs into their curriculum have seen great results. These schools see a decrease in bullying and better academic performance.
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.
We spend one-third of our lives working. Old ways of thinking may be that it is unprofessional to bring things like gratitude or compassion into the workplace. Yet, studies show that appreciation and gratitude are key to creating the very type of workplace environments people actually want to work in. One of our most fundamental needs as humans is to feel appreciated. Leaders and companies who understand this principle, and practice gratitude, create productive, engaged employees. I would love to see a corporate mentality where leaders use this approach in every phase from hiring to retirement.
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 🙂
This hypothetical question gets asked many times at dinner parties or over coffee with friends. Oprah has consistently been my answer for years. I grew up watching The Oprah Winfrey Show almost every day. Oprah had such an impact on our culture and exposure to new ideas. Just a brief mention by her of a book or product could send sales skyrocketing. After her show ended, her absence in our family rooms each day at four o’clock left a void in this country that no one else has filled. I would love the opportunity to sit down with someone who is entirely self-made and is such an icon for our time.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
We would love for you to stop by www.gratitudeinvestors.com and learn more about our gratitude-based employee appreciation programs. Catch up on daily information regarding gratitude in the workplace on Facebook and Instagram at @Gratitudeinvestor or LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/company/gratitude-investors. You can also find daily inspiration on all things related to gratitude @180degreesgratitude on Instagram.
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.