When Annoyed, See Through Their Eyes. When you start to have a negative reaction to someone, ask yourself why. Then, try to see the world through their eyes. Why does he keep talking about his accomplishments? Is he feeling a little insecure at this party? Why does she keep cutting off her sentences midway? Is someone shooting her a look?
As a part of our series about “Emotional Intelligence, I had the pleasure of interviewingKatharine Manning.
Katharine Manning is the author of The Empathetic Workplace: Five Steps to a Compassionate, Calm, and Confident Response to Trauma on the Job (HarperCollins Leadership February 2021) and the President of Blackbird DC. For fifteen years, Katharine advised the Justice Department on victim issues in its most challenging cases, from terrorism to child exploitation to large-scale financial fraud. Katharine now uses her expertise to help organizations prepare for and respond to the challenges they face involving employees and clients who may be in trauma, from claims of sexual harassment or assault to large-scale impacts like the pandemic. A member of the California bar, Katharine also served as an attorney with the law firm Pillsbury Winthrop in San Francisco, where she represented Fortune 500 companies in class actions, insurance, and media cases. She is a graduate of Smith College and the University of Virginia School of Law.
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?
It’s a pleasure to be here! I grew up near Washington, DC. DC is a town that people move to because they have a
mission, whether that’s politics, the environment, civil rights, the economy — whatever it is, you can make a difference in it here. That taught me from an early age that we all have the power to shape the world through our work. For me, I had an early experience of domestic violence in my home. Fortunately, my mother had the resources and the wherewithal to leave and I didn’t grow up in a violent household, but that early experience shaped my commitment to helping victims.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
When I got to college I decided to volunteer on the hotline at the local domestic violence shelter. One day when the hotline rang, I answered to a piercing wail. The caller had just learned that her ex-husband was abusing their daughter during court-ordered visitation. I was the first person she spoke to after she found out, and I was nineteen years old. I had no wisdom to offer, so I did the only thing I could do, which turned out to be the only thing she needed: I listened. Eventually she calmed. She caught her breath. And then she hung up. In that moment, I learned the challenge and power of listening. Because she could vent her feelings, she was able to go on and mother her girl. And she did. She was a fierce warrior for her daughter, who I know is okay today because of her mom. That experience with someone whom the legal system had so failed propelled me to law school and to my path today working with victims and others in trauma.
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 wife, Susan, has been the stability in my home that has allowed me to take risks in my career, from leaving a law firm to move 3000 miles away to start work at the Justice Department to subsequently leaving my government job to launch my own company and write a book. She is smart, strong, fun, and adventurous. She inspires me every day.
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 think I’m naturally a pretty empathetic person, but I’m also a lawyer and when you go through legal training, you’re given one very specific skill: To listen carefully to a set of facts and glean the legal implications of it. Early in my time at DOJ, I was on a panel for an audience of law enforcement officers. This was just after the Virginia Tech shooting. The gunman there committed suicide. One of the officers in the audience asked, “If the suspect dies, what is our job? What are we supposed to do to help the victims?” I had my lawyer hat on and said, “When the suspect is deceased, there can be no criminal charges and our obligations end.” It’s not a satisfying answer. It’s a lawyer’s answer. Fortunately, I was joined on the panel by a wise law enforcement officer and victim advocate named Steve Hess. Steve actually heard the question, and he gave the right answer. He said, “As officers, we carry with us all the cases we’ve been involved in. For most of those cases, we don’t see a satisfying ending, and our burden is to find a way to live with that and keep doing our jobs. One way we do that is by continuing to support those victims. Even if there isn’t a criminal investigation, we can provide them with resources and continue to check in as their needs change over time.” I will always be grateful to Steve for opening my eyes — the law is one lens through which to view the world, but it’s a narrow one. Be willing to keep your eyes and ears open to understand what is actually needed.
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?
One of the hardest things for a young person who wants to help those in need is boundary setting. I know I struggled with it. When I started out, I wanted to take into my home every battered woman and child I came across. I wanted to save them. One thing I’ve learned is that you can’t save anyone but yourself. We can provide help. We can listen. We can give tools. But each person’s path is her own to walk. When we try to swoop in and save someone else, we diminish her autonomy and we deplete ourselves. Recognize both your power and its limits.
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 read Cal Newport’s book Deep Work a few years ago and it has shaped so much of my work since then. The book teaches that if we truly want to make an impact, we have to shut off the distractions and dive deep into our field. For me, it’s been the difference between wanting to write a book, and writing a book.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
I love quotes! I have so many favorites, but the quote I always come back to is from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, What are you doing for others?” It is central to how I live my life. Life is service. We are here to support each other.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
I’m so happy that my book, The Empathetic Workplace: 5 Steps to a Compassionate, Calm, and Confident Response to Trauma on the Job, will be released in February. I started working on it more than two years ago, and yet I think it is arriving at exactly the right moment. As we face the coronavirus, our national racial reckoning, environmental disasters, and economic and political upheaval, we’re seeing skyrocketing rates of anxiety and depression. At the same time, we are more isolated than ever and our emotional skills are dwindling. When we respond well to trauma, we build strong bonds and increase trust, which leads to higher productivity and loyalty. The Empathetic Workplace gives people the tools to support each other through this challenging time. I like to say that it provides practical advice to help those who work with humans respond to issues that are uniquely human.
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’ve worked with victims for more than 25 years as a counselor, advocate, and attorney, including 15 years as the Justice Department’s expert on victim rights, where I guided the Department through its response to victims in cases like the Boston Marathon bombing, Bernie Madoff, and the federal case against Larry Nassar, the U.S. Women’s Olympics gymnastics team doctor.
For the benefit of our readers, can you help to define what Emotional Intelligence is?
Emotional intelligence is an awareness of our own emotions and the emotions of others and the skill to manage both in a way that is healthy and productive. It is an understanding of empathy and the ability to wield it.
How is Emotional Intelligence different from what we normally refer to as intelligence?
When we think of intelligence, we generally think of the solitary genius who makes an incredible scientific discovery or draws connections between disparate issues in a way that illuminates them and teaches us something new and exciting. That is a wonderful form of intelligence, but not the only one. The ability to recognize the feelings of others and to see and manage our own emotions is a powerful form of intelligence that benefits us and the world.
Can you help explain a few reasons why Emotional Intelligence is such an important characteristic? Can you share a story or give some examples?
Interestingly, it turns out that people with average IQs outperform those with the highest IQs 70% of the time. Researchers puzzled over this for years, but eventually came to believe that this is due to differences in emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is really a superpower. It’s the best predictor of high performance in leaders. Those with high emotional intelligence also make more money — on average $29,000 per year more than those with low emotional intelligence. They have higher quality and longer lasting friendships. When we have the ability to navigate complex human emotions deftly, we are better able to manage work, home, and ourselves.
Would you feel comfortable sharing a story or anecdote about how Emotional Intelligence has helped you in your life? We would love to hear about it.
When I was at the Justice Department doing policy work, it was tempting sometimes to assume that the people who disagreed with me were motivated by some ill intent or delusion, which made me want to make my own points more loudly to break through them. Unsurprisingly, this was not very effective. If I instead sought truly to understand their point of view, I was usually able to find some path forward that met my needs as well as theirs, and even more crucially, preserved the relationship — because one of the most important lessons I learned in government was that today’s enemy is tomorrow’s ally.
Can you share some specific examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help a person become more successful in the business world?
Google did a study of teams to try to ascertain why some teams are more productive than others. They analyzed different configurations of teams — ones where everyone had similar skills or everyone had different skills. Teams with one strong leader, many strong leaders, or no strong leaders. Teams that socialized outside of work and those that did not. Nothing seemed to explain why some of the teams succeeded and others failed. Then they hit upon the idea of psychological safety: Teams where members felt comfortable asking questions, admitting failures, and sharing personal difficulties were significantly more creative and productive. In particular, where a leader has the self-knowledge to understand his own challenges and the self-confidence to discuss them openly, team members feel more able to share their struggles and trust soars.
A friend is the head of internal investigations at a Fortune 100 company. Inspired by the TED Talk, The Danger of a Single Story, on her first day with her new team, she explained that she understood that they were all lawyers and investigators and administrative personnel, but that they were also parents and children and spouses and friends and they had numerous other identities that shape who they are, including at work. She invited each of them to take thirty minutes at a staff meeting to share their own story, however they would like to tell it. She went first. She shared her experience as a child of immigrants and talked about the death of her brother. Her openness inspired other team members to share their own personal stories. The tight bonds this formed among team members increased productivity and resilience and allowed them to withstand future challenges (like the coronavirus) by coming together.
Can you share a few examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help people have better relationships?
So many relationship challenges can be avoided if we can do a better job of listening and acknowledging what the other person is going through. A lot of the arguments we get into are an adult version of the childhood ping-pong game “Did not/did too.” The reason we get stuck in these loops is that we cannot hear someone else’s point of view until we ourselves feel heard. A favorite quote of mine is from Theodore Roosevelt: “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Once the person feels heard, we can express our own views and get to a resolution. Please note that acknowledgement doesn’t mean agreement. It’s a simple, “I understand.” “Got it.” “Thanks for telling me how you feel.” Then you can move on to, “Here’s my perspective…”
Can you share a few examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help people have more optimal mental health?
When we can manage our own emotions and recognize the emotions of others, we are better able to weather life’s storms without making them worse. Emotional intelligence allows me to understand that someone else is angry, or sad, or frustrated, without getting swept up in that emotion myself. It also helps me to avoid getting sucked in when someone, for instance, wants an argument because of something that has nothing to do with me.
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.
- Get Quiet. Your brain is picking up messages all the time, but it’s harder to hear them when your mind is racing. Practice keeping a quiet mind. You’re probably catching some of the other person’s emotions, so keeping an eye on your own feelings can help you know what the other person is feeling, and you’re more likely to understand that if you can get quiet. Meditation is a great way to strengthen this.
- Be Curious. Observe those around you and ask yourself what they are experiencing. Everyone laughed at that joke except Ben. Why? What is his facial expression? How is he holding his body? Is he distracted, angry, sad? Practice this in your daily life. We are given information all the time about the emotions of others, but we miss it because we are focused on ourselves and our own experiences. When we tune into them, we have the opportunity to help others and to help ourselves.
A friend experienced the power of curiosity during a life-altering conversation — when her doctor told her that she had cancer. As he spoke, her vision became incredibly narrow and inwardly focused on the horrific future she envisioned for herself. But in that horrible moment, she had a tiny glimpse outside of herself. She looked at her doctor and she realized that he was very upset. That made her curious. Why was he so upset? Then she remembered that he had lost his wife a year earlier to the same type of cancer that he had just told her that she had. Suddenly, instead of focused only on her own experience, she felt a desire to comfort him. “I am sure this is really hard for you, to have to tell someone that she has the same kind of cancer that took your wife. Please know that I am okay, and we’re going to fight this together.” And guess what? Her words of comfort to him worked to comfort her, as well. She felt stronger. She also felt a tight bond with her doctor, which buoyed her. What got her through that difficult conversation was a brief moment when she noticed what someone else was experiencing.
- When Annoyed, See Through Their Eyes. When you start to have a negative reaction to someone, ask yourself why. Then, try to see the world through their eyes. Why does he keep talking about his accomplishments? Is he feeling a little insecure at this party? Why does she keep cutting off her sentences midway? Is someone shooting her a look?
I once sat on a plane next to a woman who was grumbling nonstop about the early wake-up, the flight delay, the nearly-missed connection, the bag that probably hadn’t made it, and so on. I listened and occasionally nodded sympathetically until she ran out of steam. Then she said, “I hate flying. It always scares me. My husband used to calm me down.” She paused. “He died a month ago.” I asked about her husband; he sounded like a wonderful man. We then talked about our work, art, books, and more. I was really glad to have met her. You never know what someone else is going through. Be willing to understand their experience.
- Read. Studies have shown that reading, especially literary fiction, builds empathy. The best of all is to read literary fiction from the perspective of someone whose experience is different from your own. A few I love: Jazz by Toni Morrison; The Life of Pi by Yann Martel; The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak; A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara; Bel Canto by Ann Patchett; and A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles.
- Watch Out for Bias. Biases warp our connection to others and cloud our vision. A friend saw that impact when she took over a new team at work. The man she was replacing was an avid athlete. He prioritized good health and appeared to believe that physical fitness and a strong body correlated to mental fitness and fortitude. A woman on the team was heavyset. Let’s call her Julie. When Julie approached her boss with ideas, he often dismissed them. In doling out responsibilities, he tended not to give Julie the most important assignments. Julie began to doubt her abilities and her worth to the team. She stopped volunteering for projects and considered leaving the company altogether. Then my friend took over the team. She did not have the same bias as her predecessor. She saw the work that Julie did and realized that Julie was smart, dedicated, and had fantastic judgment. Within a few weeks, she had promoted Julie to become her deputy.
Biases affect us all. The key is to recognize and interrogate them. What are we not seeing in someone else because of our preconceptions about their abilities and experience? It also helps to educate ourselves on the effects of stereotypes. A fantastic book on this topic is Whistling Vivaldi by Claude M. Steele.
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?
Definitely. I love the book The Empathy Advantage by Lynne Azarchi. She recommends playing out scenarios with kids — you see someone sitting alone at lunch. What should you do? A friend is angry about something that happened at recess. What should you do? Reading is great for kids, too! In particular, read aloud and then discuss. What do you think the main character is feeling right now? Why do you think she did that? Human interactions are complex; we have to help them to understand.
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.
My mission is to help people respond better to those in trauma by listening, acknowledging their experience, sharing information, empowering them with resources, and returning later to check in (the steps can be remembered in the moment of interaction with someone in trauma by their acronym, LASER).
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 🙂
Melinda Gates! I admire the work she is doing and would love to talk with her about supporting those in trauma.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
On my website, you can sign up for my newsletter and I’ll email you the introduction to my book, The Empathetic Workplace: 5 Steps to a Compassionate, Calm, and Confident Response to Trauma on the Job. You can also listen to my podcast, The Empathetic Workplace, where I talk with empathetic leaders and experts in listening, management, and supporting others through crisis. I’m also on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.