I did not argue a lot with my parents when I was a teenager. I really just wanted them out of my way so I could do whatever it is I wanted to do. In order for them to be out of the way, I had to cooperate with them at some level. Cleaning my room, getting decent grades, getting home on time, all motivated by a desire to do what I wanted. Dysfunctional? Maybe. My 15 year old son, a totally different story. He is now 6 foot tall from time to time he tests his strength against me. I did that with my older brothers so the behavior is familiar to me and we have fun with it. Where we differ intensely is with the desire and need to be right. Being right is very important to him. Hopefully this is a phase because it wears me out! I try to teach him a very important principle that someone taught me in my early 20’s, would you rather be happy or would you rather be right? Sometimes, you cannot have them both.
There are two levels to every conversation, the topical level, and the emotional level. The emotional level almost always outweighs the topical level. As you engage in a conversation you are acutely aware of the emotional level and allow it to play a part of the conversation. In the business world we call this emotional intelligence. There are evaluations that can be employed to determine one’s level of emotional intelligence, this is a requirement for executive roles in many organizations. Going beyond emotional intelligence is what FOX News correspondent and recent participant in TED NewYork Sally Kohn calls emotional correctness. She calls herself a progressive lesbian talking head who happens to work at FOX News, a typically conservative news media organization. Sally lives in a world of political disagreement with her co-workers, her on-air guests, and the many viewers who don’t hesitate to send the hate mail. What she has learned to do over time is to find the compassion for others that she wants them to have for her. She calls this being emotionally correct. She pays attention to the tone and feel of what is said and how people say what they say. She believes that political persuasion does not begin with facts and data, it begins by being emotionally correct. Her favorite email from a viewer starts out by saying that the person is not a fan of her political leanings or tortured logic, but is a big fan of her as a person. This emotional correctness is a way to find common ground and breakthrough differences.
I have a different phrase that describes this, I call it hearing your heart. When I am in conversations I am always listening to the heart. What is at the root of what is being said? I was told that as a leader, the most important thing I can do is ask questions so most of the time the questions I ask relate in some way to the heart, or motivation. Once I understand that, I understand where people are coming from and what’s important to them. If we aren’t on the same page when it comes to motivation or matters of the heart, that is when it gets difficult for me. In the healthcare industry, specifically in hospitals, everyone understands that beyond all the daily minutiae that we deal with there is a patient in a bed somewhere. We work diligently to serve the need of that patient, that is what we are there for. We talk about this in team meetings and reinforce the patient perspective frequently. When I speak with someone and it looks like they are putting something else ahead of the mission, I struggle. To me, their heart is not in the right place. If I sense their heart is not in the right place, it is a struggle for me to make any progress with that person. Emotional correctness is very important to me. I can look past all of our differences, political, religious, race, sex, and viewpoints if I can find the compassion to hear you. Explaining all of this to a 15 year old is nearly impossible. Creating a culture that begins with compassion and emotional correctness only takes one act from a leader carried out consistently over time. I would take the consistent act of leadership any day over the need for my 15 year old to be right, but, I know his heart is in the right place so I have that going for me.