Looking for Emotional Intelligence!
It has been an incredibly interesting Christmas break for me this year. I managed to have two whole weeks off and spent virtually every moment of it with my family, which, frankly, was wonderful.
Aside from that, I have never, NEVER, had so many contacts from dentists offering positive feedback on their professional and personal development, reporting where their career is now; but perhaps the most compelling and, I must confess, emotionally overwhelming comments, are from people who were struggling with their social/emotional interaction/intelligence in the past. They refer back to the one-to-one sessions we spend with people, talking through the psychology of dentistry, understanding how to become better communicators, understanding that they have every reason to feel aggrieved that Krebs cycle on their undergraduate curriculum has little bearing for someone suffering a 9,000 UDA contract deadline.
It should come as no surprise that working with people to become more emotionally centred and authentic, developing their gravitas and allowing them to become the best version of themselves, has enormous advantages for them. Those who can formulate the best arguments and dialectics win. Everything. Surprise, surprise.
That said, I had a number of contacts as well which mooted “I don’t really know if I’m emotionally intelligent or not.”
Those that are, or have become so, can easily answer this question when they look at others.
Asking the question is actually the first step in finding out whether you are emotionally intelligent or not. Because if you are, then it is perfectly in your ‘comfort zone’ for you to ask this question. If you are not, then even the concept of finding out will probably feel slightly threatening. You might hear the answer that “No, other people do not tend to think you are very emotionally intelligent, and yes, your life probably would be better if you put some effort into this.”
Again, it really should not come as a surprise to anyone that people who learn to formulate words, phrases, perhaps even arguments, do ‘better’ than people who cannot. Being emotionally robust enough to not overreact or react inappropriately when a patient challenges you over something, again, is only to your advantage. It’s why when we do an unscripted Q&A and a delegate asks how to respond to a hostile patient, the response is recorded by phones and furiously scribbling pencils all over the room.
So, rather than take this apart piece by piece, perhaps it is worth trying to list a number of signs that are the simplest way of recognising our own intelligence. I am going to put a little bit of emphasis into this because, for most of 2020, we want our blog series to be centred on clinical procedures and detection of the clinical dilemmas we will face (Cracked teeth have got to be a good one as they are so confusing, and we will come on to that later this year).
Let’s just start with a simple list of 10 signs of deep social intelligence:
- You find it easy to Smiling is good for you and it is good for other people. I am not talking about a creepy smile, where you look like something out of the Joker movie. I am talking about an authentic, real smile of warmth, conciliation, mutual greeting, of bonding and kindness. We have mirroring neurones in our head, which means when you see people laugh out loud or indeed see them smiling, you cannot help but want to smile too. Try watching someone laugh out loud a lot and see what happens to you as it continues. You’ll probably giggle too. It’s a bit weird, frankly. Genuine smiling is simply a positive experience for everyone and, as such, you should use your smile. My goodness, I expect some of your patients are attending solely to enhance their smiles. So many dental practices have the word ‘smile’ in their titles. Dentists know smiles are important so should use the real thing, not just the word. Either way, it is important that we all know that smiling increases your endorphin release, it increases patients’ endorphin release and it will make them feel that the experience with you, overall, was much better. You should learn to smile. The best way to learn is to practise in a mirror. I mean this literally: sit down on your own and smile at yourself in a mirror, or smile on your phone. Does your smile look creepy?If it looks creepy, you need to practise something authentic, something real. You have to think happy thoughts to make this happen and, by all means, you should. Have no doubt, TRULY HAVE NO DOUBT, things you practise doing are things you get better at. Things you never practise are things you do not get better at. It is that bloody simple. Practise your smile and use it. If you can’t smile then come talk to us, we’ll find out why and fix it.
- Posture and body language. The entirety of your being and how you present yourself to the world largely consists of your face, your words, your voice and your body. Body language is widely reported as being about 70% of communication. It is why I hate speaking to people on the phone and it is why, when I lecture, I like to stand and move so I can communicate in the way that feels most authentic to me. Body language and posture are imperative with this, and whilst you are seated in the dental surgery you may not get to use nearly as much as you would like. You certainly cannot really stand and pace around the room, as that would just look a little weird. What you can do, however, is hold yourself with gravitas. Hold yourself with authority. Hold yourself without slouching. Hold yourself with a sense of pride. Hold yourself with a sense of compassion. All of these things will come across and add to your presence and being. Again, how are you going to do this? Practise. Get a good friend to video you. During our Aspire days, I will take photos of those who have requested, whilst they are slouched down, closed off, meek and remote. It is easy to fix and can only be an asset to you.
- Strong Eye Contact. Again, this is not about being a creep. I am not asking you to lean forward without blinking, stare at your patient as though you are trying to bore into their soul like some kind of hypnotic baddy from a Marvel movie until your eyes bleed. But do not be afraid of eye contact. Someone who is highly socially intelligent will willingly hold eye contact with anyone in a room at any time. Again, I am not talking about eye contact that is so prolonged it becomes discomforting, but I am talking about having your eyes ready to show that you are actively listening to your patient/audience/colleague. To show that you are not afraid to look at people eye to eye. This can be really, really difficult; and for people who are very non socially intelligent, I sometimes ask them to shake my hand, and we talk face to face for perhaps 10 or 20 seconds with unbroken eye contact. If they look away, we will ask them to start again. During these rather intense sessions, you can literally see people’s brains get used to the idea of doing it, and what seems impossible suddenly becomes possible. This is then easy to practise and translate into daily practice and again makes such a difference to the way patients perceive you, how they listen to you, how they react to you and what happens in terms of good outcomes at work.
- Fluid hand gestures. Hands are part of your body language. They perhaps rival eye contact for how you interact with people. Wildly gesticulating hands are distracting and unpleasant, but subtle and authentic use of your hands – in ways that are synchronous with your emotions and feelings behind the words you are using – are an essential part of the excellent communicators’ arsenal. Even the very best speakers do not like videos being shown of themselves where their hands are cropped out of the scene. Fluid hand gestures are worth masses, and it is worth taking the time to look at the best speakers, particularly on sites like TED, to see these animated, charismatic and compelling speakers. Their hands are an integral part of the whole presentation. This is for you to practise as well. Talk about something heartfelt and, as you do, you may well find one or both hands naturally coming over to your heart. When you are talking about something that upsets you, you find your hands on the side of your face; talking about exciting events in the future will have your hands reflecting the exciting times ahead. They are such an important part of body language expression, they deserve a paragraph all on their own. Contrast this to a conversation you may have with someone where they sit on their hands, where their hands are in their pockets, where their hands are closely folded over their chest, closed off, unanimated, difficult to read. Practise with your hands.
- You allow others to talk more. Learning to communicate freely and clearly with different people is essential. This is probably best exampled by doing simple psychological assessments on patients. This becomes intuitive and effortless once you have practised it enough. Working out that if somebody is highly neurotic about how they ended up in your dental surgery, you really do need to listen to their whole story. This story may be mostly factually irrelevant. It may have a lot of emotional hyperbole and it may have bizarre tangents that the patient dives off on which are seemingly inexplicable; nevertheless, for them, they may be highly relevant and that is the way they feel they need to communicate. The outcome for you is essentially a patient who feels like they have been listened to, or one who does not feel they have been listened to. You definitely want the former not the latter. Nearly every great Casanova of their time knows that the best communicators allow the person they are genuinely engaging with to speak as much as they need to. This follows on nicely to number 6.
- You listen and relate. Listen and relate really means finding threads of commonality. Again, on our emotional intelligence training days we explore this a great deal, as there are almost always threads of commonality you can draw from any conversation. Let’s pretend you are a non-sporty person and you ask your patient what they were up to at the weekend, and they say, “Well, I went to a football match as my son was playing football and then we watched football in the afternoon, then we just chatted about football and the morning after started with Match of The Day…” If you know nothing about football or are disinterested in football, in fact cannot really stand football, this might be difficult for you to relate to or find a thread of conversation or commonality. But how about something like this, “My goodness, it is such a wonderful thing you get to do so many quality things with your family. Does that happen every weekend?” Or “It’s great you have a shared passion with your family. I bet the kids look forward to that as much as you do.” What you have done there is ignore the fact that the patient is a football fanatic and you have simply found something, a thread of commonality that you genuinely believe, which is quality time with your family. Again, this may seem like one example out of a million that you want to take note of; but have no doubt, it becomes – with practice – completely spontaneous and effortless to do. Threads of commonality are easy to find once you have gone through enough scenarios. Once it has become clear that you are going to require it on a frequent basis, your brain does it automatically and it naturally flows. Neuroplasticity is real and you can grow the circuits you need. Threads of commonality are what leave other people saying “Wow, he is such a nice person, he is so easy to talk to, I really found I had a lot in common with him.” In reality you may have virtually nothing in common, but that is not really the point when you are using social intelligence to put patients and staff at ease.
- You are comfortable with physical touch. Please do not get this one wrong. This is not meant to be some weird creepy endorsement of inappropriate physical touch. Do NOT jump in at the deep end and start touching people! It is worth us recognising however that physical touch can be enormously powerful if used at the right time and in the right way. Humans crave contact with other humans and, at the most emotional moments, physical touch can be cathartic. Again, let me make it clear, I am not endorsing you hugging all your patients, although I do start to see this ever more frequently on Instagram feeds, as if it is the norm to grab every patient who comes through the door and hug them like your life depends on it. However, somebody deeply upset about something in their life, probably does feel some comfort from a hug, from affection, from closeness with someone they trust. It may be completely wrong for that person to be their dentist and that’s not the scenario I mean. But using true platonic physical affection for those in need or giving each person a truly high-quality handshake is massively powerful. You do know your handshake says a lot about you, I hope? Is it weak, limp and repulsive? Is it too long, sweaty and rather vigorous? There is a perfect handshake. It’s easy to learn, you just need to be taught. Affection is a natural human response. Perhaps I can use myself as an example here: If somebody is deeply upset, I do find it very difficult to treat them like a family member, although that is what we are told to do a lot of the time. I will, perhaps, however, authentically use my voice and my body language and even with the back of my hand give them a gentle touch on one of their arms – just let them know how deeply their story has affected me, and if there is anything I could ever do to make it better, then I would. This has without doubt enhanced the conviction of empathy, sympathy and deepened our connection.
- You develop gravitas. We come to number 8, which is how you hold yourself across the board, by combining a number of the things above. The use of gravitas is interesting. Gravitas was taught in most school curriculums since the time of the Roman Empire. It was largely abolished from western education during the time of the British Empire, as young British public school boys were thought to be better off simply as clones of the rigid English educational system; but prior to this time, gravitas and all of its meaning, all of the decorum and authenticity, and all of the bearing, poise and calmness that it offers were taught to children from the age of four up. Personally, I am completely convinced that it is one of the most important aspects of personal development for people that entirely lack it. We have demonstrated a few times already that it can be taught and it can be learnt, and its effects are enormously beneficial for the learner. Walk and talk with swagger, use your gravitas. It’s a subject too big to cover here but is covered in detail on our forthcoming online platform.
- You use your voice, your timing and use non egocentric speech. Not everything is about you. I don’t know if you’ve ever had a conversation with someone who, whenever you were talking about what happened at the weekend, immediately starts telling you about what happened at their weekend, and how what you have done is actually rather about them and how their holiday was actually slightly longer than yours and how their car is actually similar to yours but slightly newer, and the conversation steers back to them. They may talk at a frantic pace and this is probably because they feel they are in a social competition. Actually, social situations are comforting and not competitive; they are enjoyable and not a type of confrontation where you strive to ‘win’. Slow down your speech, use pauses appropriately and be confident enough to give up the limelight on a whim. Speak at a slower pace, make your words resonate – so when you do say something, people feel compelled to listen to you.
- Keep calm under criticism. It was Ralph Waldo Emerson who said: “Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted.”
It is almost inevitable that you are going to be criticised in life, and your options for this criticism are firstly to work out if it is justified or not, to react or not, to reply or not, to turn it into a positive…or not.…
If you truly feel that there is no criticism that could ever be justifiably directed towards you then you are making a hell of a presumption. Indeed, it is no less than believing you are perfect in every way and beyond reproach or even comment. Sadly, dear reader, this is not true. You are flawed. You are, at times, malevolent. You are, at times, selfish. You are, at times, insecure, and I am too. I work hard to not be, but I am never going to get completely there. This means that some criticism is due, some criticism is justified and it’s probably helpful.
If criticism is unjustified and it is relentless and unfair, then by all means, point out that it is unjustified, unfair and seemingly relentless. This may well be enough to stop it. What you must not do, however, is overreact with reciprocal criticism or an aggressive defence that then begins to feel like an attack from the other person. It may well be that if you have been criticised it is entirely justified and may well help you.
If you feel it is not, or you are not sure, then you can say, “Well, ok, I have listened to those words and I am going to take it on board and have a really good think about it, and if your criticism is really justified, which it may well be, then I am going to be grateful and I will let you know that I am grateful.” At least the person criticising you knows they have been heard; and if their criticism is justified then you really should be grateful, because it probably means they care, it probably means you are worth something and they feel that you can be improved upon.
Of course you are going to meet sociopathic, narcissistic, picky, awkward patients who are motivated by nothing other than a wish to put someone else down to make themselves feel up (2–5% of the population). Some people feel important when they get to give other people advice and so seek opportunity to do so, be it criticism or not. It’s worth looking up Harry Enfield’s character – “I don’t believe you wanted do that, man.” Plenty of people really will seek opportunity to be listened to by anyone (probably as they have no friends and their families have long since outgrown and marooned them) and, as their dentist, you have been utterly compelled, coerced and conditioned to listen. Again, learn to spot those, as that criticism is not helpful, as the ‘ear-bending’ is a ploy for attention and engagement. Learn to spot that (it’s so easy, and we’ll teach you: the body language and facial expressions of excitement when you ask for more detail are an infallible giveaway, BTW), and let that false critic’s words slide off your teflon coat of armour (which we will help you build).
All of our courses have emotional intelligence training completely ingrained within them, and this is going to evolve more and more as time goes by. I look forward to sharing this with you at some stage in the near future.
See you soon on our Advanced Operative Aesthetic and Restorative Dentistry course to get started!