Understand the difference between your emotions and your feelings. Emotions are biological states associated with the nervous system, while feelings are mental associations and reactions to emotions, and are influenced by personal experience, beliefs, and memories. For instance, sadness is an emotion that can lead to feeling disappointed or vulnerable. Joy can make you feel thankful or calm.
As a part of our series about “Emotional Intelligence, I had the pleasure of interviewing Alexandra Hoffmann.
During her career with large corporations, and the French Government, Alexandra Hoffmann has developed an expertise in Business Resilience.
In 2018, Alexandra launched Alexandra Hoffmann Consulting (AHC), which helps businesses build resilience capabilities through Consulting, Coaching and Training services so that they can quickly and efficiently respond to disruptive events. AHC promotes diversity, synergies and blends complementary professional expertise and background through various partnerships.
Alexandra has a Master’s of Science in Corporate Security from John Jay College of Criminal Justice, is a Certified Coach and a Certified Yoga Teacher.
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 Paris, France. I had a happy childhood with my parents and two siblings. We traveled quite a lot and had an international exposure quite early. When I was 11 years-old, my family went through a crisis as my sister got sick. The “crisis” was very sudden, and my parents did their best to manage through it. After that, life was different for all of us. We had to adapt to a new reality. As one can imagine, it was challenging at times, but overall, we shared happy moments and built great memories!
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
As far as I remember, I have always been attracted by a Law & Order career. As a teenager, I wanted to fight for justice and defend victims. The family crisis we went through may have triggered this. I also know that my grandfather was in the military during WWII and fought for the Allied Countries. It is always hard to figure how much family history is passed on to you. In any case, very early, it was clear to me that I would build a career around “people security and safety”.
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?
Many people have helped and supported me along the way, including my parents who gave me the first push to get out of my comfort zone and land an internship with the French Embassy in Vietnam when I was 21 years-old!
But the one person I would like to acknowledge here is my first boss, Bob Littlejohn. At the time, I was just finishing my Masters’ Degree in Corporate Security back in NYC. I wanted to get a job with a Corporate Security Department, which is always challenging as an entry-level employee. I went to one of my Corporate Security Professors and asked him if he would accept to take me as an intern. He agreed and gave me a chance. Three months later, he would hire me as a Consultant, then three months later, he would hire me as a full-time employee. Beyond giving me a jump-start in the Corporate Security world, Bob taught me 3 things: 1) the importance of building and nurturing relationships, 2) the importance of getting up each day and looking at myself in the mirror to check where I stand, and 3) to elevate others, to allow them to learn, grow and fly on their own.
That was the beginning of my career in Corporate Security and Crisis Management twenty years ago.
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?
I believe most mistakes I have made in my career are related to communication. Sometimes, I can get overwhelmed by my emotions or by someone else’s emotions. I then get into the fight or flight mode and handle the situation poorly, instead of managing it with a “cool” head. I find it interesting that it never happens when I need to deal with an incident or a crisis, but only for “BAU” matters. I yet have to explore this.
Nevertheless, the lesson is clear to me: even if I am professional, certified and experienced at my job, relating to others is the key to my successes or to my failures. I need others to pursue my career, as an employee or as a business owner. Today, as a business owner, I work on my emotional intelligence daily.
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?
I would say to her/him:
- Be willing to step out of your comfort zone every day, own it and make the most of it
- Always be grateful
- H.O.P.E — Help One Person Everyday
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?
Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, by Malcolm Gladwell. This book was an eye-opener for me. It made me understand the power of intuition. It also made me realize that in order to listen to my intuition, I need to be aware of my emotions. If I do not pay attention to them, both can be mixed and lead me to have inappropriate responses to external events.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face” by Eleanor Roosevelt (which got translated into “Do one thing a day that scares you”).
This quote resonates with me because I got the most out of life, learned and grew up when I did scary things, both personally and professionally. I now list them as my “badass” moments. These moments give me the strength, courage, and confidence to move forward.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
Today, my most interesting project is my Company. It was launched in early 2019, and the COVID crisis has had a big impact on it, but a good one. It has forced me to review my entire strategy, to rethink what type of company I want to build, and to dive deep into the CEO mindset, which is not so easy after 18 years as an employee. 2020 has been a good year for me. I have met incredible people, made new friends, and learned so much. On top of that, I gave birth to my second child right in the middle of the first French lockdown! 2020 has been a particle accelerator.
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 seen firsthand how critical Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is throughout my career in Corporate Security & Crisis Management, which led me to become particularly interested in this topic. Today, I like to say that planning is nothing, people are everything.
Having acknowledged this, several years ago, I decided to explore this field and I took various paths to do so. I expanded my yoga practice to learn about the underlying philosophy of yoga and became a Certified Yoga Teacher (200 and 500-hour Teacher Training). Then, after an intense 18-month-course while pursuing my operational job, I became Certified as a Coach for individuals and organizations back in 2016. In 2020, I started getting trained in Neurosciences to understand how our brain works and its impact on our EQ.
Thanks to this multi-faceted approach, I gained the ability to not only learn EQ theories, but to experience it myself as well. I gradually became more aware of the tools that can help foster one’s EQ, and I have used them ever since in my job to support my teams and my customers.
For the benefit of our readers, can you help to define what Emotional Intelligence is?
I define EQ as the will and ability to connect to one’s emotions and to others’ in order to have the most appropriate behavioral response at any given time. By appropriate, I mean ideally, we should have interactions in which everyone feels listened to, valued, respected, and uplifted. But first and foremost, we need to read ourselves. We need to understand our own emotions, learn how to deal with them, how to manage them. I disagree with the trend saying that we should “control” our emotions. To me, it is an oxymoron. Emotions are literally triggered by the hormones in our brain. All human brains have been wired like this. So, the point is not to control them, but to acknowledge them and to work with them, instead of going against them, so that we do not let them take control. If we look at synonyms of the verb “to control”, we have “restraint”, “constraint”, “restrict”…Personally, I do not want to live a life where I am so hard on myself. And I certainly do not want to teach this to my children. Let’s always remember: what we do to oneself, we do to others…
How is Emotional Intelligence different from what we normally refer to as intelligence?
Intelligence is based on the ability to think while EQ is based on the ability to feel. We typically say that someone is intelligent, or smart, based on how much he/she knows. “Intelligence” refers to our cognitive abilities, i.e. our ability to acquire knowledge, to learn and to solve problems. We can quantify IQ.
EQ refers to the individual as a person and to the quality of the interactions this person is able to generate. EQ refers to what is intrinsic to human beings, and to what connects us. Contrary to “intelligence”, connecting to one’s emotions and others’ requires us to let go of our rational thinking. We need to align our body, our heart, and our brain.
Can you help explain a few reasons why Emotional Intelligence is such an important characteristic? Can you share a story or give some examples?
EQ is a critical element as it directly impacts our ability to build collaboration. If you feel that I truly hear you and connect with you, you are much more likely to trust me and to help me.
In a crisis, this characteristic is especially critical because trust and communication can be distorted by stress and its physiological response. By being aware of the pressure that affects you and your colleagues, by acknowledging and expressing it, you are opening a door for others to acknowledge the same for themselves. Being the one that has opened this door and accepted to disclose a vulnerability, people will see you as authentic and trustworthy. This is how we build high performing teams.
If I go one step further, in my area of work, building this level of care and connections with others starts before a crisis hits, thrives amid complex situations, and is strengthened after the crisis has ended. Having this three-fold approach allows us to build up our EQ.
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.
EQ helped me a lot during the first coronavirus lockdown in France (March to May). At that time, my partner and I were feeling stressed by the developing situation, we had to figure out how to entertain our 3-year-old son in our appartement while I was 8 months pregnant, we had to keep working, and take care a full household 24/7. Emotions (and pregnancy hormones) were running high and this was a perfect situation for conflict to arise. By setting a vision, that of keeping our family healthy and sane, genuinely debriefing on our feelings daily, and giving us some space for “crazy” and “messy” and “disorderly”, we were able to defuse most of the conflicts and to enjoy this very special time together.
Additionally, acknowledging the need to connect to the outside world, I embraced the new virtual world and allowed myself to connect with more people than I could ever imagine before. Thanks to that, I have developed a global network and joined a couple of global communities where we support each other, we help each other grow, we can thrive, and grow our Companies.
Can you share some specific examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help a person become more successful in the business world?
A very good example of how EQ can help a person be more successful in the business world is a job interview. We all remember our very first interview, in which we were stressed out, solely focused on getting the job, while ignoring the person in front of us!
With more experience, we realize that being successful at a job interview is heavily dependent on our ability to build a rapport with the interviewer, to get her/him to see us for what we are. The only way to do so is to take a step back, to breathe, and to genuinely be interested in the interviewer himself/herself. Only then, can we showcase our potential, our “hard” skills, and discuss about the role.
Can you share a few examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help people have better relationships?
EQ can help us have better relationships as emotions are key components of human interactions. People are often mistaken into thinking that communicating is only about sharing information, but there is a lot more to it and missing this can lead to misunderstanding and conflict. People pay much more attention to how we say things rather than what we actually say. This “how” encompasses both our choice of wording, our tone, our facial expression, our gesture, and our body language. By aligning all this with the message we convey, we are much more likely to get heard, and to get the person to follow our lead. On the contrary, if someone tells us something that is not congruent with “how” he/she said it, we are likely to notice it and to feel that this person is not trustworthy.
Can you share a few examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help people have more optimal mental health?
Daniel Goleman established that the first step to raising our EQ is to be self-aware. I deeply believe that acknowledging our emotions and allowing ourselves to express them impacts both our mental and physical health. For instance, at some point in my career, I was regularly suffering from high levels of stress and this had physical repercussions as I had regularly back pains. However, I noticed that talking about it with my partner and my Managers, acknowledging that I was stressed, and, more importantly, facing the reason for me to be stressed, alleviated the tension in my mind and the pain in my body.
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.
1) Understand the difference between your emotions and your feelings. Emotions are biological states associated with the nervous system, while feelings are mental associations and reactions to emotions, and are influenced by personal experience, beliefs, and memories. For instance, sadness is an emotion that can lead to feeling disappointed or vulnerable. Joy can make you feel thankful or calm.
2) Accept your emotions, all of them — They are what makes us human. They allow us to connect to other human beings. Babies can sense emotions and read emotions on our faces. It allows them to learn how to “read” the world. Emotions are paramount to our core strength and our resilience capabilities.
3) Talk about emotions — not all the time! — but learn how to express them with yourself and with others. Starting with someone who is close to you can help. And when and where appropriate, ask people how they feel and acknowledge that it is ok — Never guess or second-guess someone else’s emotions. The door will shut immediately. And if you make a faux pas, it is ok too. Just apologize.
4) Work on your mindset — if you want to trigger positive emotions, think about positive things every morning before you start the day. Being grateful for we have can be a great start. This positive energy will immediately radiate on others during your day.
5) Practice a meditative activity, where you do not hold on to your thoughts and emotions. Having a regular meditation practice works well, but other activities like biking, painting, dancing, or going for a walk work wonders too. Having a manual activity or moving your body is a great way to reshuffle the cards.
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?
Even if the situation is slowly improving, the existing educational system, at least in my country, still focuses on IQ, rather than EQ.
I find it interesting that we typically refer to the skills pertaining to EQ as “soft”. As many authors and experts have already started to explain, there is nothing “soft” about being able to interact with someone, to collaborate with a team, or to handle conflict, to name a few. These skills are plain essential, and more so than a lot of the tangible content we learn at school. I believe schools should introduce an EQ class where these skills are explained to children. There are now numerous children books on emotions. Children are smart people and when we find the right words, they understand fast. Teaching tangible concepts is easier than teaching the invisible, but if we want our children to be better than us (isn’t it what progress is about?), we ought to face this challenge. I would end by saying that parents play a major role in this teaching too.
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.
If I was to have a world-wide influence one day, my main message would be one of collaboration and authenticity. I recently learned the acronym H.O.P.E, Help One Person Everyday, which carries the idea that you can make a difference in someone’s life on a daily basis and contribute to a happier world. If we were all to apply this simple rule, the world would be much more collaborative. We would focus on the collective aspects of our lives. Emotional intelligence would be at the core of all communication. In order to genuinely help someone, we have to connect, acknowledge his/her view of the world, his/her needs, then act accordingly.
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 so many people I would be honored to have a private breakfast with, but I would definitely love to meet Sara Blakely, the CEO of Spanx. She is a true inspiration to me, and so is the company she built 20 years ago.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
My LinkedIn profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ahoffmann/
My website: https://www.alexandrahoffmannconsulting.com/
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.