Have you ever been in a situation where you didn’t know what to do and been given the advice to “just be yourself?”
Depending on your mood, that might not be a good idea! Let me explain...
Here’s an example: when I’m driving somewhere and realize that I’m lost, I figure I’ll just keep driving and by some clairvoyant insight, I’ll find my way.
Correct me if I’m wrong here, but the ladies are much smarter than most of us guys in this situation. They’ll stop and ask for directions.
But in other situations when I’m exercising good Emotional Intelligence, I ask for advice, like; “What do you think about this?” Or, “How do I get to the Shoreline Restaurant?” Or whatever.
When I’m in a lousy mood, angry, upset “just being myself” is not the best advice especially since I’m a “typical guy.” And a pilot. But most often people will say, “Relax, just be yourself and you’ll know what to do.” If your EQ is below average, you might reconsider...
What is Emotional Intelligence or EQ and How Does It Impact Safety?
The term was made popular by Daniel Goleman in his 1996 book of the same name.
He defines Emotional Intelligence as the ability to recognize, understand and manage our own emotions as well as recognize, understand and influence the emotions of others.
In practical terms, this means being aware that emotions can drive our behavior and impact people (positively and negatively), and learning how to manage those emotions – both our own and others – especially when we are under pressure. Obviously this has big implications for aviation safety.
We all know people who are in full control of their emotions. They're calm in a crisis, and they make decisions sensitively, however stressful the situation. I think we would all agree that Captain Sully comes to mind here.
Some people can even read the emotions of others. They understand what to say to make people feel better, and they know how to inspire them to take action.
People like this have a high EQ. They have strong relationships, they’re personable and they're likely to be resilient in the face of adversity.
This kind of high EQ is something that most of us aren’t inherently long on. Given our potential EQ shortcomings, it’s important to be aware of this and compensate accordingly. Henry the Nerd, “Relax, just don’t be yourself! What??”
“Just be yourself” wasn’t the best advice for Henry, a young nerd. Henry was 21, still lived at home with his mom, was basically anti-social, still in college, spent a lot of time isolated in his room, playing video games, without a lot of friends. But he did have a few buddies at school.
But he was lonely. So, one day he was surfing the net and came across a dating site. He figured, “What the heck, I might as well give it a shot.”
He saw the profile of a girl who looked like someone he might be able to have a relationship with. Then he began to freak out; what am I going to say to her, how should I act, what should I tell her about myself? Those kinds of questions.
The next day at school he saw his buddies hanging out so he went up and told them about meeting this girl online. Then he asked them the same questions he was asking himself, what am I going to say, how should I act, what should I do with her, etc?
These guys knew Henry pretty well. They knew he was a loner, never been on a date, and spent way too much time alone. So they circled up and started talking amongst themselves.
After a few minutes, one of the guys broke away from the group, came over to Henry, looked at him and said, “Hey Man, we like you and we know you pretty well but we also know that you don’t have much experience with girls.’
So, after thinking this over we decided that when you meet this girl, the best thing you can do is... “Just DON’T be yourself!” (True story...the guy was my former brother-in-law!”)
What’s Your Emotional Intelligence Quotient (EQ)?
Is your IQ in the genius category, above 140 but your EQ (Emotional Intelligence Quotient) is below 100 and descending?
Most of us are intelligent, some highly so, with corresponding high IQ’s (Intelligence Quotients), or else management wouldn’t turn us loose with people’s lives and some very expensive equipment.
For example, one of my new hire pilot buddies at TWA had a photographic memory. He studied very little but maxed the frequent exams that we had in B707 systems ground school. I mistakenly thought I could keep up with his extracurricular activities, going out and partying every night, and maintain a similar grade.
It only took me a couple of weeks to figure out, after partying with him and watching my weekly exam scores plummet, that no way was I going to be able to keep up my after-hours antics with him and continue my flying career.
A Fighter Pilot’s Challenge in Staying Safe While Exercising Good Pilot EQ
One of the pilots I met and interviewed at Oshkosh for an article was Dr. John Marselus. John is a graduate of the United States Air Force Academy with over 3,000 hours in the A-10 Thunderbolt and F-15E Strike Eagle along with commanding at several different levels in the USAF.
In his own words, “One thing I found out was that the way I acted when strapping on $50M worth of a sleek hound of death fighter aircraft and how I relate to others in more normal circumstances had to reckoned with. As a fighter pilot, we’re taught to make split second decisions with precision and accuracy since it’s really the most disciplined flying in the world.
I discovered that those fast reactions with short concise communications do not work well in meetings or when listening to people. I still catch myself analyzing someone’s idea before completely listening to them. Your article on emotional IQ is good and perhaps my example might help others avoid learning the hard way.”
The Crucial Connection Between Pilot EQ, Situational Awareness and Stayin’ Alive!!
Situational awareness has been an aviation buzz word for some time. Situational awareness is knowing what’s going on around us, taking it all in, processing it and coming up with a judgment of whether what we see, feel and experience is good or bad, dangerous or safe, threatening, friendly or not, approachable or should I stay away.
Some pilots are better disposed to good situational awareness than others. For example, different personality types have different emotional qualities. There’s an ancient psychological personality typing system called the Enneagram that classifies all personalities into one of 9 categories, or types based on a predominant emotion, i.e. fear, pride, anger, etc.
Personally, I’m predisposed to fear, which makes me suspicious and very vigilant to my surroundings. My usual first response to a situation is something like, “How hard is this going to be?” “Am I smart enough to handle this,” etc.
But this makes me highly attuned to situations and people around me. Consequently, I have good situational awareness. I always felt like I would have made a good cop; able to sniff out possible suspects, etc.
This could be because of some threat that I might have sensed as a kid and, as a result, I’m always on the alert for a potentially threatening situation.
This personality trait has paid off in a flying career free of incidents and inclusive of friendships with people that I trusted and found that I could let my guard down and, yes, “just be myself.”
If your relationship life and your situational awareness are not what they should be, here are 10 tips that will help increase your Pilot EQ. These just might help make you a safer pilot, and help you extract more joy from your flying career as well...
10 Simple Tips to Increasing Your Pilot EQ
These are some very basic tips that I have practiced for years and have found helpful. Now they come naturally, most of the time.
1. “Reach out and touch someone.” (In today’s paranoid culture, be careful how you use this one!) It’s been proven that a simple, often apparently unnoticed touch when you’re talking to someone, “bonds” you in some small but important way.
2. Introduce yourself to others first rather than waiting for them to do so. This gives you the advantage of getting their first name which leads to...
3. REMEMBER THEIR NAME! This takes practice since we’re so focused on our own agenda that their name usually just flies by.
4. USE first names. This is an oft overlooked, yet powerful way to convey to another person that you care about them. As you go about your day, observe how few people use first names in conversation. Also notice how impersonal that feels and how those people who do use someone’s first name seem to get a better response. Try it; you’ll like it!
5. Compliment others when you recognize a job well done or see someone who goes out of their way to help in a situation.
6. Recognizing and complimenting someone’s efforts is a great way to cultivate a “servant’s” heart. Look for ways to help others without a reason to do so. It’s the old, “Practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty.”
7. Concentrate on asking other people how they’re doing. And then.....wait for their answer and listen with passion! Too often we’re rehearsing our own agenda in our head and could care less about their response. This drastically lowers your EQ!
8. Listen more. It’s amazing how great a conversationalist people think you are when you just listen to them.
9. Let go of having to be perfect. That doesn’t mean not being accurate. Perfectionism is different than accuracy.
10. Focus and expand on the positive in situations, people and events.
This is obviously not a complete list of EQ qualities. Come up with your own. Sometimes the best way to do this is to examine your own life and the areas where you rank low in EQ and just do the opposite! That would be a good place to start.
If any of this makes sense, here’s an EQ quiz that you can take: http://www.ihhp.com/free-eq-quiz. After you take the test if your results don’t meet your expectations get back to me and let’s talk.
The quiz just might help you see if you’re good relationship material, if you’re going to have a fun, productive, happy flying career, if you’re going to rank high on the flight attendants (or your mates) list of favorite pilots or, like Henry...you shouldn’t “just be yourself!”
(Dr. John Marselus is involved with a collegiate aviation flight program that he built for flight and UVS (Unmanned Aerial Systems) students at San Diego Christian College. He has been formally trained as a safety officer, had been selected to serve on a number of safety boards and has a deep perspective on safety. He is the Aviation Department Chair at San Diego Christian College and is also a world-wide recognized expert on UAS operations. http://sdcc.edu/