Diversity work as emotional intelligence

Samuel Schindler
EEO Training Officer
City & County of San Francisco

I facilitate diversity and harassment awareness/prevention training sessions in the City of San Francisco's Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Division by incorporating author Daniel Goleman's concept of emotional intelligence (Working with Emotional Intelligence, Bantam 1998). The concept of emotional intelligence basically refers to how well we manage our relationships and ourselves. It means being intelligent about emotions—being smart in a different way. It's comprised of five basic competencies: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills. These competencies cover basic emotional and social skills that are essential to (1) knowing our feelings and reactions in the moment; (2) managing our emotional reactions; (3) persevering in the face of frustrations; (4) being attuned with a broad diversity of people; and (5) having the skills to persuade, lead, and settle disputes and foster teamwork.

The point of introducing emotional intelligence to courses based on the fundamental tenets of the City's Non-Discrimination and Harassment Free Workplace Policies is to more meaningfully connect EEO principles to our daily interactions with colleagues and fellow employees. How do we perceive and respond to each other under the demands and stresses of the moment? Looking at ourselves, what are the filters through which we identify, monitor, and synthesize the cultural complexities of our work environment? To what extents are our actions deliberate in the sense of being grounded, centered, and conscious vs. reactive as in defensive, dismissive, fearful, angry, or subtler automatic behaviors? And what are the origins of our reactive patterns, and what sets them off? These questions cannot be thoroughly answered without ongoing diversity awareness work including examination of our cultural perceptions and competencies.

The preceding questions have important implications for our mission, for teamwork, for success and for personal fulfillment. This is so because reactiveness frequently interferes with rather than facilitates the task at hand. Unconscious patterns often impede rather than foster development of respectful, supportive relationships that teach and inspire us. More importantly lack of self-awareness, along with emotional ignorance of our impact on others, often results in actions that disrespect and injure. The result is alienation, demoralization, resentment and efforts to get even. Thus, we cannot have a high level of emotional intelligence if we are oblivious to these questions or unwilling to inquire within about them.

Diversity awareness work is an integral part of being emotionally intelligent. Seeing diversity work in this light helps us see how it is vital to our own self-awareness, emotional health and achievement. We can take comfort that we are all in this work together, challenged to unravel our reactive defenses and to refine our social and emotional competencies. In the process, we learn that there are many truths—other than our own—and that we are all teachers and learners. Each of us has unique insights rooted in our life experience and identities. We also have wounds to heal and blind spots to clear up. The ultimate reward can be finding a deep personal strength anchored in gentleness and compassion for each other and ourselves. We open up and more deeply appreciate the multifaceted complexity, vulnerability, power and dignity of our humanness. The synchronistic result is a more effective, productive, sensitive work, and provision of services.

Samuel Schindler can be reached at (415) 557-4953 or by fax at (415) 557-4803.