Using EI in conflicts and negotiations

Photo by  Frank Busch

Photo by Frank Busch

The concept of emotional intelligence (EI) in international diplomacy is relatively new but not ignored in the diplomatic world. Former American ambassador Chas W. Freeman, Jr recognised that traditional diplomacy and sanctions have only caused countries entrenchments and adversarial positions, while “mindfulness” (the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something) should be a core concept within diplomacy, but currently lacking in practice. While mindfulness seems to be different from EI, one cannot be emotionally intelligent without being mindful.

The term “emotional intelligence” (EI or EQ) was first coined by the researchers Peter Salavoy and John Mayer. It was later more commonly used after Dan Goleman published his same-named book in 1996.[3] EI is defined as the ability to “recognise, understand and manage our own emotions” and to “recognise, understand and influence the emotions of others”. Saying that someone is emotionally intelligent translates to someone being emotionally aware of how emotions can influence human behaviour and people, and how much someone knows or can manage emotions.

As the discussion of whether EI is important or if it should even be referred to as intelligence continues, so does the debate prevail about whether it can be learned or trained or born with it. Yet, in the field of diplomacy, where it is necessary to form complex human relations within a stressful environment, acquiring such “intelligence” is essential to have. Diplomats, as well as staff working in international organisations, should know or, at least, attempt to learn and understand EI.

So far, the biggest drive for EI was influenced by technology CEOs such as Aetna’s Mark Bertolini, LinkedIn’s Jeff Weiner, and Google’s Chade-Meng Tan – who introduced wellness and EI training to their employees. Such initiative is also starting to be used by today’s diplomats too.

Former South Korean ambassador Hyung Hong offered the approach of Daoism, Hinduism and Buddhism as they focus on harmony and complex human relations which go beyond ‘good versus evil’ concept. Pulling in such learning enables diplomacy to be a genuine act and effort to find a balance of powers through respectful and authentic dialogue. The United Kingdom’s House of Commons has told more than 100 parliamentarians to take a course on mindfulness so that these practices can be spread to areas of health, education, business, and the criminal justice system. Accordingly, the House organised a mindfulness session with Dr Jon Kabat-Zinn, an academic at the University of Massachusetts, which was attended by 40 politicians from 14 different countries.

Another case of mindfulness was with US Congressman Tim Ryan who wrote about how mindfulness can “recapture the American spirit”. He notes that: “As the world watches US and China play a potentially dangerous game of chicken amid many other conflicts, bringing mindfulness and emotional intelligence skills to diplomacy is critical.”

Lady Ashton, who was the former High Representative of the European Union, was credited for her capability of using EI during the Iran nuclear talks. In the diplomatic world, her emotional intelligence was seen as a diplomatic triumph of coming to a deal closure despite the sensitivity and difficulty of the negotiations.

Overall, EI and mindfulness offer the opportunity to find alternative solutions to prevailing issues. EI allows players to refine their abilities and control their thoughts, opinions, reactions and emotions. It allows being in the status of taking in criticism, demonstrating empathy and compassion, while also being able to learn. EI has also been seen to allow multiple parties to come together for equal negotiations, enabling both sides to be understood.

Here is an illustrative example:

“Two monkeys are fighting for a banana in a tree. Each has an iron grasp on the banana and pull and pull. Eventually, either one or both will tire and fall out of the tree, or the banana will slip from their hands and be lost forever. If instead, the monkeys paused before acting and were aware of their own emotions and that of their “foe,” they might let go of their tight grips on the desired fruit, gently set it down, and share in its delights.”

Evidently, international diplomacy is more complicated than this example. Nevertheless, if EI is applied, diplomatic efforts may become quicker as players are more present, more mindful and deeper committed to finding balance and harmony between their nations.