You are probably aware of the term “emotional intelligence,” which was first coined in 1964 but only really gained in popularity in the last 25 years or so. Emotional intelligence boils down to the ability a person has to be able to manage one’s own emotions, and to be able to recognize and respond to — and perhaps even influence — the emotions of those around her. Some people have more of it, some people have less of it, and companies are making big bucks training workforces to harness it for maximum business impact.
But have you heard of “conversational intelligence?” This idea builds off emotional intelligence, but with an emphasis on how two individuals speak with one another. The idea behind conversational intelligence is that you are able to introduce into dialogue “conversational rituals” that help build trust, teamwork and lead to mutual success.
Conversational intelligence is used primarily to promote business success, but it translates very nicely into any kind of relationship. It’s built on neuroscience that has identified what conversation styles trigger the brain in positive, or negative, ways. And it, unsurprisingly, teaches techniques for how to have conversations in such a way that triggers the brain positively. For more on the specifics, Judith E. Glaser has published a quite interesting book on the topic, and I recommend reading it.
As interesting as the concept is, however, when studying it, I couldn’t help but think that, neuroscience aside, conversational intelligence really comes down to speaking the truth in love. It’s the Gospel.
The longtime practice of and the mission behind OSV Publishing is to “speak the truth through charity in a way that unites” — to not shy away from the challenging issues, or challenging conversations, but to approach them with love, and in a way that seeks the unity that can only be found in Christ. It’s an approach that Pope Francis championed in this year’s message for the World Day of Social Communications, celebrated this year on May 21.
When it comes to communications, “Once we have practiced listening, which demands waiting and patience, as well as foregoing the assertion of our point of view in a prejudicial way, we can enter into the dynamic of dialogue and sharing, which is precisely that of communicating in a cordial way,” he wrote. “After listening to the other with a pure heart, we will also be able to speak following the truth in love (cf. Eph 4:15). We should not be afraid of proclaiming the truth, even if it is at times uncomfortable, but of doing so without charity, without heart. Because ‘the Christian’s programme’ — as Benedict XVI wrote — “is ‘a heart which sees.'” A heart that reveals the truth of our being with its beat and that, for this reason, should be listened to.”
In other words, the truth is much more effectively communicated if it is done so in a way that does not trigger the brain negatively! Those who communicate in this cordial way, Pope Francis explains, demonstrate love for the other “because they care and protect their freedom without violating it.”
This applies for those of us in the field of media and communications, but it doesn’t end there. As Pope Francis wrote, “the commitment to communicating ‘with open heart and arms’ does not pertain exclusively to those in the field of communications; it is everyone’s responsibility.”
How might we challenge ourselves to speak the truth in love? On social media, what if we make a point to be kind, even when someone says something that is less than charitable? Within the Church, what if we approached dialogue with humility rather than as a member of “a side” that seeks to win? What if, in our workplaces, we spoke to one another directly and generously, rather than resorting to gossip behind the backs of our co-workers? What if, in our marriages, we abandoned the silent treatment or stopped expecting that our spouses should be mind-readers, and instead respond to conflict with patience, that invaluable fruit of the Holy Spirit? What if, in our families, we taught our children the difference between right and wrong with peace and compassion, not frustration, directing our actions and emotions?
As Pope Francis wrote, “From the heart come the right words to dispel the shadows of a closed and divided world and to build a civilization which is better than the one we have received.” May we work — through our actions and our words — to make it so.