Try to maintain a positive attitude — Focus on what you love, what you’re grateful for, build your intrinsic motivation, and you’ll become more optimistic.
As a part of our series about “Emotional Intelligence, I had the pleasure of interviewing Bonnie Tsai.
Bonnie Tsai is the Founder and Director of Beyond Etiquette. She specializes in international etiquette and protocol, she has been formally trained in Continental European, British, American, and Chinese etiquette. She attended the esteemed Institut Villa Pierrefeu finishing school in Glion, Switzerland and Institute Sarita finishing school in Beijing, China. Rather than following a set of rules, Bonnie wants to illustrate how etiquette is about being the best version of yourself. With her multicultural background and experience in cross-cultural communications, Bonnie provides a unique and modern approach to traditional etiquette.
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 very fortunate to grow up in Taiwan, the USA, and Singapore, which allowed me to learn the meaning of etiquette in these three countries which house a variety of cultures. Because my family moved around internationally, I understood the importance of integrating myself with new cultures and customs. I also learned the subtle art of making others feel welcome especially because my parents loved to host weekly dinners with groups of friends from a variety of backgrounds. Even though I was the shy little girl who always hid behind my mother’s dress, I watched as my parents prepared for each event and hosted their guests with such grace and warmth. My parents instilled my passion for sports at a young age: my dad tossed me in a pool when I had just turned one and gave me a tennis racket when I turned three. These individual sports taught me how to be gritty and challenge myself while being a graceful competitor and teammate.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
When I left my job in advertising, I thought a lot about what I wanted to do and how I wanted to contribute to society. For me, it has always been important to help people. However, “helping people” can be an ambiguous term; I knew I needed to get more specific. I started thinking about my experience, skillset, and background, and how I can create something that will positively impact people’s lives.
My friends and mentors pointed out that my knowledge of etiquette is a skill that many need but have forgotten. From there, I wanted to create something more than just an etiquette consulting company; I wanted to be able to offer more to the world, which led me to think about the importance of communication. Communication is essential to any successful relationship, whether it is professional or personal because it is something we spend 75% of our day doing. That’s how Beyond Etiquette found its start.
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?
In 2017, when I was starting to look around for other jobs, Susan Franceschini, my old boss and mentor gave me my biggest revelation; she told me, “I don’t think you want to stay in advertising” and that changed my entire game plan for my professional career. She told me to think about what I truly wanted to do and what I wanted to offer the world with the assets and skills I had at my disposal. To this day, her encouragement and faith in me as well as countless others who have supported me along the way have allowed me to build a company that aims to create positive and lasting change in the world.
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?
This is a silly one. When I was at finishing school in Switzerland, one of our final tests was a hostess exam where we’re observed by our teachers on our hostess skills. It is where we’re hosting a lunch in a dining hall and they observe how we use our cutlery and our conversational skills. When the vegetables were getting passed around, all I could think of was that I needed to eat more vegetables so I grabbed more than I should have and got a couple of points deducted. It was a silly mistake that I instantly realized after I placed way too many vegetables on my plate compared to my guests. From then on, I always remind myself to leave more for others and ask for a second serving when I’m finished.
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?
Trust yourself and your gut, there will be times where people will doubt you and your capabilities, but if you believe that you can achieve what you’re dreaming of no one will be able to stop you. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise when you truly believe what you’re doing is right. Don’t be afraid to ask for help along the way, you’ll be pleasantly surprised and grateful for the support that shows up when you need it the most. Remember that no one can achieve success alone; even if you do, it’s a lonely path to be on. At the end of the day, you’ll want to be able to share the joy in your success with people you love.
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?
Grit written by Angela Duckworth is one of my favorite books to read because it shows you that just like emotional intelligence it can be learned and improved on rather than being solely based on your natural-born talent. It explores why naturally talented people frequently fail to reach their potential while other far less gifted individuals go on to achieve great heights of success. This often reminds me of Kobe Bryant and the story of him waking up in the middle of the night to practice shooting. People often say he’s an extremely talented player, but he also put in countless hours to perfect his skill when no one else was watching. This book also touches on how you can teach grit to children, adults, and teams alike because you need to have both talent and grit to build skills that lead to future achievement.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
Viktor E. Frankl once said, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” This quote has always encouraged me to choose my response in a thoughtful manner especially when things aren’t going the way I want them to. It reminds me to not let my emotions dictate how I react and that I have an opportunity to use my response to create a better outcome.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
We are offering virtual courses for our community at Beyond Etiquette. Everything has become remote due to the pandemic and we still want to reach those who want to gain confidence, advance their careers, and build lasting relationships despite most of our connections being online. As we are adjusting to new norms, the rules of etiquette will evolve to fit the times we’re living in. However, the core values of etiquette which are kindness, respect, and courtesy will continue to ring true. Communication is also a key element in our courses because, now more than ever, we need effective communication to better understand one another as we all handle stress and uncertainty differently. The courses we offer showcase how etiquette, communication, and emotional intelligence still apply to our daily life whether it is online or in-person and has a huge impact on how things turn out.
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?
Being an etiquette coach, I teach and instill values of self-respect, self-awareness, social skills, and consideration for others by extending kindness and respect to them. At its core, that’s what etiquette is all about. Emotional intelligence and etiquette go hand-in-hand because emotional intelligence requires us to recognize other people’s emotions and adjust our behavior accordingly. In etiquette terms, this means having the self-awareness to relate better to others and treat people with respect and kindness.
For the benefit of our readers, can you help to define what Emotional Intelligence is?
Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize your own and other people’s emotions and identify the differences between them as well as labeling each emotion correctly. Emotional intelligence has four main sectors: self-awareness, self-regulation, social awareness, and social skill. We all possess skills in these four sectors, while some are more naturally versed in certain aspects than others, we can always learn to develop and enhance our levels of emotional intelligence.
How is Emotional Intelligence different from what we normally refer to as intelligence?
Emotional intelligence is different from what we normally refer to as intelligence because it involves surveying our immediate surroundings which include the people we’re with and the situation we’re in. It’s about being able to manage our emotions and adjust accordingly as we respond to other people’s emotions whether they are happy, anxious, or frustrated in order to create a harmonious environment. Whereas intelligence represents abilities such as fluid and quantitative reasoning, visual and spatial processing, knowledge of the world, and problem-solving abilities. To put it into simpler words, intelligence quotient (IQ) is what we refer to as our hard or technical skills and our emotional intelligence (EQ) are what we call soft skills. Both of these skill sets are critical for embracing innovation and indispensable to one’s success.
Can you help explain a few reasons why Emotional Intelligence is such an important characteristic? Can you share a story or give some examples?
One’s emotional intelligence influences one’s level of resilience as it’s a valuable tool to utilize in the face of adversity. Those who display higher levels of emotional intelligence are less likely to give in to the negative effect of stressors. This not only applies to the success in your professional life, but also how you foster long-term relationships in your personal life because those with higher levels of emotional intelligence exhibited greater resilience and were less likely to experience burnout or fall into depression. There is a direct relationship between high levels of emotional intelligence to more successful interpersonal relationships. When one has higher levels of emotional intelligence it is more likely for them to develop affectionate and satisfying relationships as well as social skills overall. Having high levels of emotional intelligence impacts all aspects of our lives and helps us achieve our personal, physical, professional goals, and more.
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.
In 2017, the organization I worked for was hosting our largest event of the year with 1000 people which meant things could go south quickly if it wasn’t handled properly. We only had a small group of volunteers that helped attendees with check-in which meant guests sometimes would get irritated after waiting in line for an extended period, especially if we can’t locate them on the guest list. As one of the client-facing staff members of the organization, it was my responsibility to mediate any situation to ensure guests were satisfied and happy. While I was handling a registration issue, a group of attendees forced their way to the front of the line and expressed their frustration that they weren’t on the guestlist even though they bought their tickets weeks ago. I knew at the moment that I could’ve chosen to lose my temper and berated the guests for being disrespectful and cutting the line, but it would only escalate the situation. Right then and there, I used my emotional intelligence and kindly asked the guests to give me a brief moment while I finish checking in the guest in front of them and I will get to them soon after. I then turned to my colleague and asked them to help me wrap up with my current guest so I can jump into resolving the group’s issue. Even though being berated by guests is never pleasant, I knew responding with emotions would only cause more damage. I thanked them for their patience and once their issue was resolved, they expressed their gratitude for having their problems taken care of so quickly.
Can you share some specific examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help a person become more successful in the business world?
A Harvard and Stanford study revealed that technical skills only contributed 15% to your success in the workplace, which means that the other 85% is your soft skills. Research has shown that individuals with higher emotional intelligence are better equipped to work cohesively within teams, deal with challenges more easily, and manage stress which enables them to pursue objectives more efficiently. When you have higher levels of emotional intelligence you can effectively communicate even during stressful situations and create a positive environment for everyone to work in. More often than not, promotions don’t come from how smart you are and how good you are at your job, but more how people enjoy working with you and for you. You could be the smartest person on your team, but difficult to work with whereas your counterpart is not as talented, but easy to collaborate with; they are more likely to get promoted because people enjoy working with them more even if their technical skills aren’t as good as yours.
Can you share a few examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help people have better relationships?
Empathy, which is the ability to understand what another person is experiencing even though you may not have that identical experience. This is a major component of social awareness and can assist you in communicating more effectively with others. When we’re communicating with empathy or practicing empathy, we have to remember that consensus isn’t the goal, it’s about finding a slice of common ground. When we’re practicing empathy, we have to listen with the intention to understand while being focused on “their” value system and not ours.
Self-regulation is another important facet of emotional intelligence as it is to better understand how our body reacts to emotions. When people experience positive emotions, they are generally happier and feel mentally balanced; whereas, negative emotions make them feel stress, anxiety, and depression which can lead to a loss of control. Self-regulation and self-management do not mean the absence of anger; rather it’s about remaining in control of your emotions and not allowing your actions to be emotion-driven. When one is experiencing negative emotions, reflection and self-analysis can help you identify what you are feeling and determine the cause of the emotion which allows you to respond rationally. Not only does it help you respond calmly, but also helps you harness personal needs to achieve goals and better support others during fluctuating emotions.
Can you share a few examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help people have more optimal mental health?
Research has shown that low levels of emotional intelligence are linked to certain mental health conditions such as depression, social anxiety, and substance abuse. Increasing our levels of emotional intelligence not only helps us become more successful in our professional lives, but it also fosters positive and stable relationships in our personal lives which allows us to have a healthy support system we can lean on when we need it. Additionally, having high levels of emotional intelligence builds our resilience and helps us navigate difficult situations while communicating effectively with others.
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.
- Practice active listening skills — They involve asking questions, focusing on the speaker, avoiding interrupting or redirecting the conversation, and providing feedback to the other person. Most importantly, when you practice active listening, you have to set aside your judgment.
- Take responsibility for your actions — If your actions or words hurt someone’s feelings, apologize. Don’t try to brush things under the rug or avoid the person. When you apologize and take responsibility for your mistake, not only are people more willing to forgive you for the incident, but it also creates an opportunity for the both of you to better understand one another.
- Seek feedback — It may seem scary to ask for feedback from a trusted friend, mentor, or family member, but it’ll offer you a different perspective on how you appear to others and gain a better understanding of yourself. You should also reach out to your colleagues and supervisor for feedback on how you behave in certain situations. By gathering information from different sources will allow you to see a different side of yourself or a different pattern of behavior you weren’t aware of before. By choosing to be vulnerable and seeing yourself from a different perspective, it’ll allow you to gain invaluable insight into the effect of your mannerism and communication style on others.
- Examine how you react to different situations — Do you rush to judgment before you have all the facts? Do you become upset every time there’s a delay or something doesn’t happen the way you want? Do you blame others or become angry at them, even when it’s not their fault? The ability to stay calm and in control in difficult situations is highly valued. Examine and reflect on how you think and interact with other people.
- Try to maintain a positive attitude — Focus on what you love, what you’re grateful for, build your intrinsic motivation, and you’ll become more optimistic.
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?
Yes, we learned many things at school, but a majority of it doesn’t apply to what we do in our daily lives when we become adults; whereas, cultivating emotional intelligence and practicing it will help students overcome future challenges and communicate their needs and thoughts more effectively. Teachers are direct and indirect role models for students especially at a young age; therefore, authority figures in their lives need to model and impart respect especially because kids are constantly observing and learning their behavior from adults. My school had four school values, “Honesty, Respect, Kindness, and Responsibility” and those four values have been deeply ingrained into everything I do and how I treat others. Another would be practicing empathy and active listening, I believe these two go hand-in-hand. Again, this would go back to teachers being role models for students as they observe how teachers handle situations and respond to them. Overall, I believe in order for the educational system to help students cultivate emotional intelligence they have to start with the administration and teachers, and other authority figures that students will come in contact with because you can’t teach or cultivate emotional intelligence without practicing it yourself.
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.
Taking responsibility for what you say, there’s a lot of discussion on how to be a good listener and how important it is to be an effective communicator. However, we must also remember the responsibility we have as speakers when we send our message whether it is in-person or online. Our goal should be to help make the message easier for the receiver to “hear”. I say that because we often get into Twitter feuds or leave negative comments on other people’s social media posts without thinking about the consequences since we’re hiding behind a keyboard, but our words still carry a lot of power and can create a lot of damage. We spend 75% of our day communicating, whether it is sharing an idea or discussing the latest news with our friends. Based on how much we spend our day communicating with others, we need to be mindful of what we say before we click send or say it in-person, this also has to do with the level of our emotional intelligence and how we self-regulate. For example, if someone is yelling and screaming at you, would you be able to fully listen to what they have to say or would you become defensive or shut down? Therefore, make sure when you are upset and want to express how you’re feeling, moderate the intensity of your emotions so they feel relaxed enough to listen and understand how you’re feeling. Your ultimate goal is not to hurt the other person, but to deepen the connection between you. Being a responsible sender is just as important as being a good listener.
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 two people I would love to have a private meal with, Brené Brown and Simon Sinek. Brené Brown uses her research to help tell stories of courage, empathy, vulnerability, and shame. Her ability to inspire and help people realize how courageous it is to be vulnerable and flip the traditional perspective on how vulnerability is a weakness has been life-changing for me and many others. She is a big inspiration to my company and why I chose to not only teach etiquette but also communication because of how important it is to our lives. Simon Sinek has inspired me to aim to be a great leader and influenced how I have built my company around my “why” rather than what I think the market needs. Learning the difference between leaders and exceptional leaders who can shape and change the culture of a company or even the market has been eye-opening for me. Therefore, having a meal with both of them or even one of them would be one of the highlights of my life.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.