The following article is one of a series of texts about Emotional Intelligence stimulated by reading Daniel Goleman’s book about Emotional Intelligence, by teleworking on the Internet and research work observing the workings of a number of primary schools in Geneva, Switzerland. See also an introduction to Emotional Intelligence and Emotional Intelligence in Schools.You might also like to read Are we learning or just managing competences? and Prayer – going beyond emotional intelligence.
Emotional skills on the Internet
Confused images of emotions
The Internet has a rather confused image in terms of emotions. On the one hand, as a complex technical system, it is frequently portrayed as evacuating emotions and depersonalising relationships. Or if there are emotions, they are seen to be doubtful, fake, phoney, unreal – with notable stories of people playing at what they are not. At the same time, the Internet is pictured as the land of extremes: sex, violence, racism, religious fanaticism,… For those who are more in the know, emotions can still be quite strong. Flaming is a common phenomenon, in which people blow their top on-line. Rather like car drivers busily picking their noses with what they imagine to be unseen impunity, computer drivers blast off at others from the supposed security of their private space on the safe side of the screen. This lack of self-restraint is not limited to the on-line community, however, but is part of a more widespread move to unbridled individualism, lack of self-restraint and the absence of consideration for others.
Taking another perspective …
Seeking to attribute particular emotions or their absence to Internet use may prove to be misguided if not futile. A more constructive approach to emotions and the Internet might be to raise the question of what emotional and relational skills are required in the on-line world and how these might be acquired or enhanced. Here are some suggestions:
Attentive reading, thoughtful writing
Almost all on-line exchange is text-based. As a result, emotional and relational skills have a great deal to do with picking up emotional signals in what others write and being aware of the emotional impact of what you write yourself. As text lacks many of the emotional clues that enrich face to face exchange, it is all the more important to pay particular attention to how words are used. What convictions, value judgements and emotions do words express and how are they perceived by reader(s)?
Writing, as it is taught in schools, has to do with grammatical and lexical correctness and, if you are lucky, the appropriateness of the structuring of ideas. The initial effort necessary with emotional aspects of writing is one of awareness. Ways and means have to be devised to draw people’s attention to this facet of on-line exchange. Beyond awareness, the old adage “practice makes perfect” has never been truer than with writing! .. and writing for others has the added advantage that not only can you be less complacent and self-indulgent, but also there is no better testing ground for how emotions are expressed and understood.
Dealing with your own emotions
All those involved in teleworking must be aware of having feelings related to loneliness, abandon and lack of recognition creeping up on them. A couple of days without messages from people that count and you begin to wonder what is happening. Not only do you need to know how to deal with such feelings yourself but, being aware of them, you can be of great help to others working on-line by your consideration and concern in how and when you write to them. Setting up a small group of people whom you can talk (or write) to about such issues can be a great help. Ideally creating such a “considerate culture” amongst those people that count the most for you would be the best. At the beginning it may seem an unnecessary burden when work is bustling to get done, but in the long run it will improve communication and efficiency.
What’s more, in communication carried out at a distance almost uniquely by e-mail it is easy to misinterpret what is written and attribute intentions that are not necessarily there. Gravitating in the on-line world requires making a clear distinction between your own emotions and those you attribute to others and what they really think and feel. Once again awareness is the first step so that people become attentive to this aspect of communication. Some people are naturally sensitive but others need to make an effort. It helps to ask yourself what you are feeling and how these feelings are being expressed in what you write. Ideally you need to be able to ask for clarification when there is a doubt. This can be difficult in a helter-skelter world where results are required quickly and emotions are seen as extraneous. There’s a need to create a considerate culture in which it is known that speed of delivery can result in loss of quality especially when it leads to ignoring potential misunderstandings and conflicts.
Collaborating with others, especially on-line, requires a certain amount of self-restraint as well as concern and respect for the others involved. Misplaced or ill chosen words can do much damage. In working on-line, there’s a very great need to understand and to clarify the work that is being done together. Many current ways of working involve chiefs and Indians but not necessarily direct collaboration. In collaborative working, there’s a great need to encourage all the members of the team. Recognising the value of the others in the group and letting them know you appreciate them can be quite a help. Compliments and praise are all too rare. Good leadership has a lot to do with helping everyone in the group move towards common goals. You need to be open to what others are suggesting and be able to capitalise on their ideas however foreign they may seem to you. At the same time, you need to be able to assert your opinion without seeming aggressive or domineering. Knowing when to lead and when to follow is a very useful asset.
Ideally you should be able to discuss these considerations with your fellow teleworkers. However, such meta-considerations are not always welcome. It can be useful to discuss such relationships with others who have similar experiences. How about setting up a small peer group? Such on-line exchange can be a gold-mine as not only does it allow you to make the most of the experience of others but it also brings you to formulate your thoughts clearly in writing for others and helps you realise the value of your own experience.
We need to begin with how we learn ourselves. Are we curious about what is going on around us? Do we ask questions and try to find out as much as possible about a subject that interests us? We need to be able to ask those essential, naive questions at the risk of appearing a blithering idiot. Only when you admit that you don’t know is there any chance of learning. What and how can we learn from others? School – and beyond it the individualistic society we live in – has drummed into us the idea that copying is bad. There is no shame in admitting that we can learn from others. Someone who was very important for me once said “You can learn something from every person you meet.” I must admit, I find it very hard to live up to.
Being aware of the process of learning can be a great help in helping others learn. The whole concept of learning, especially on-line, is shifting away from the provision of information to being able to raise an awareness of learning processes and help others master these processes for themselves. As mentioned elsewhere here, discussing personal experiences in learning and teaching with others doing similar work can be a great help especially when it is done in writing as on-line exchange requires.
Alan McCluskey, St-Blaise. First published on Connected Magazine April 25th, 2000.