Understanding virtual emotional intelligence
Understanding EI is important online as well as off, says Terence Brake.
In simple terms, Emotional Intelligence (EI) is the ability to perceive and manage the emotional experiences of self and others.
Emotions are always with us, and they are an integral part of learning. Positive emotions like optimism and enthusiasm tend to facilitate learning, while negative emotions like fear and frustration tend to impede learning. This is not always true, e.g. enthusiasm could impede learning, while fear could stimulate learning.
Just as in a physical classroom, the virtual facilitator must pay attention to – and manage - emotional dynamics, i.e. they must apply virtual emotional intelligence (VEI). The virtual environment, however, poses additional challenges to the facilitator because of reduced communication and emotional cues. For example, in most instances, neither the facilitator nor the learner sees one another’s body language:
- Facial expressions
- Head, hand, and eye movements
Given the lack of these powerful emotional clues, the virtual facilitator must rely on other indicators, e.g. voice (what is said and how it is said), text (written into chat and comment boxes), and behaviours (asking questions, responding to questions). Given the importance of emotions to learning, one of the most important tasks for the virtual facilitator is the creation and maintenance of a positive emotional climate.
If you’re having to work hard at keeping a high-energy level, the chances are you’ll lose energy at some point. Stay alert.
Always remember what the poet Mary Angelou said: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Ask yourself, 'Am I emotionally ready for the session?' Your emotions will influence how the participants respond, not just to you, but to the whole session, e.g. content, activities, and pace. Emotional contagion is real. Before the session ask yourself questions like:
- How do I feel right now? Happy/sad, confident/nervous, irritated/calm?
- If I have negative feelings, can I pinpoint the situations that have triggered these feelings?
- Are these feelings useful right now?
- Are these feelings justified? Am I overreacting?
- What can I do to detach from these negative feelings, at least until the session is over, e.g. do some physical activity, take some deep breaths? Even just smiling can help.
- Ask if any of these negative feelings have helped you solve a problem in the past?
- Can I visualise a successful virtual class and the feelings that made it possible?
Focus your attention on positive emotions, no matter how difficult. Emotions are attention magnets. Negative emotions attract other negative emotions, and positive emotions attract other positive emotions.
Pay attention to your energy level (obviously linked to emotions). Virtual classes fail fast if the facilitator’s energy is low and class momentum is slow. Participants become disengaged and distracted. Pay attention throughout the session. If you’re having to work hard at keeping a high-energy level, the chances are you’ll lose energy at some point. Stay alert.
Focus on your voice. In a virtual class, your emotions, energy, and meanings are conveyed primarily by your voice. It carries implicit messages about who you are, what you think about the content, and, most importantly, what you think about the audience. Pay attention to:
- Tone – friendly, direct, confident, vibrant
- Pitch – variation in high and low notes
- Volume – variations between soft and loud to create emphasis
- Tempo – altering pace to maintain interest
- Timbre – changing the emotional quality of the voice for effect
Finally, rehearse - and not just once.
In my experience, when you rehearse for a virtual class, the emotional tone of the class becomes stabilised and takes on a life of its own. An actor might be having a very bad day, but when she steps onto the stage her rehearsals take her into another place. She becomes detached from her immediate personal space and steps into a performance space.
About the author
Terence Brake is director, learning & innovation at TMA World
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