This is a blog series that is based on my travel experiences through different towns and cities in the United States. In each city, while conducting a workshop or attending a professional conference, it is customary for several of us (usually mental health or coaching professionals) to go to dinner one or more evenings. Our conversations and experiences as a community of professionals always leads to some interesting, thought-provoking, and often fun discussions on a wide range of topics. Sometimes we meet waitpersons or fellow restaurant customers who are really fascinating and always willing to share their relationship stories with us. I want to share the themes and insights that come out these experiences. However, to protect the innocent, names are disguised and details are left out to avoid revealing private information.
First stop: Coral Gables, Florida. What a quaint, ethnically diverse town. Within a few blocks of the Miracle Mile, we found Spanish, Cuban, Caribbean, and other Latin cuisine restaurants. The architecture is classic Spanish and the hospitality is warm. Our favorite eatery here was Ortanique on the Mile. Cindy Hutson and Delius Shirley, the chefs, really do produce an inspiring and delectible array of Carribean inspired dishes. The ambience is classy, quiet, and well designed. White tableclothes, soft non-boppy music, and warm unintrusive waitfolk makes this a perfect place for a romantic dinner.
The dinner topic of the evening: Psychopaths. Yes, it is true that helping professionals
have strong stomachs because we had no difficulty savoring eats and drinks while discussing some pretty disturbing stories. Why is it everyone has had an experience of working at a company that was managed by a CEO or executive who met all the criteria for psychopathy? What is it about that job, who hires them, or what our culture demands from our C-Suite executives that correlates with lack of empathy, enjoying other people’s misery, or making ruthless decisions that affect hundreds of employees. We all agreed that one root cause was the cultural context that rewards drive, ambition, aggression, and authoritarianism in leaders. It is a blind-sided view of leadership that actually discourages or defeats inspirational, emotionally intelligent leaders from making it to the top.
Another concept that came from the conference we all attended was the idea that in workplace communities, psychological safety and interpersonal sensitivity were key variables in highly successful teams. Google researchers revealed this finding from their intensive study on perfect teams. So no matter who you put together in a team, what their contexts or portfolios were, and how much they socialized outside of work, psychological safety (which means how safe members feel revealing mistakes or personal stories without fear of judgment) and interpersonal sensitivity (which means team members read and respond to each other’s emotional cues) were the primary factors that determined whether they worked well together, respected and liked each other, and produced innovative, creative products.
So how is it we ask managers and team executives to help build soft emotional intelligence skills in teams and we hire ruthless, cold-hearted, dictator-types to run the company? How do we bridge this disconnect and correct for this contradiction? In a multi-national business milieu increasingly influenced by relational cultural norms (for example from Asian cultures), American executives will need to develop their social and emotional intelligence competencies to lead innovative corporations in this century.
Vagdevi Meunier, Psy.D., Master Trainer for the Gottman Institute and National Marriage Seminars and Licensed Clinical Psychologist, has been educating, counseling, and consulting for over 25 years. She is the founder of the Austin-based Center for Relationships (@ctr4relships). Follow her on Facebook at the Center for Relationships and on Twitter @VagdeviCGT.