I’m sorry, but… I don’t intend to be rude… No offense, but… With all due respect…

just-trying-to-be-honestIsn’t it amazing how facile we are at excusing ourselves when we want to hurt someone?  If I preface my hurtful comment with an excuse, is it suddenly ok?

We know that emotions are real – they are biochemical signals that affect every living cell in our bodies.[1]  Thanks to research on mirror neurons, we know our emotions even affect others.[2]  In fact, emotional pain and physical pain are essentially the same to our brains.[3]  So next time you’re saying something hurtful, ask yourself:  Am I using emotions as a weapon?

Emotional Intelligence to Change

How can we change?  In the Six Seconds Model of Emotional Intelligence[4] there are three key steps, or pursuits.  Know Yourself is about being aware.  Choose Yourself is about being intentional.  Give Yourself is about being purposeful.

So take that moment where you’re about to say, “I’m just trying to be honest…”:

Know Yourself:  What are you feeling?  How are you reacting?

Choose Yourself:  Do you have any other options?  What effect do you want to have?

Give Yourself:  What’s truly important in this situation?  Where do you want to go in the long term?


Change Words or Change Intention?

To go a step further, it’s not enough just to not SAY the mean words.  In fact, the words are not the issue at all.  Just think of the classic Southern matron saying, “Well bless her heart” – very lovely words, that usually meant, “I want to scream at this person.”   Any words can be said in many ways – the question isn’t just what we do, but HOW we do it.

The Know Yourself and Choose Yourself parts of the Six Seconds Model are shown in this graphic.  The question is:  Do we have integrity between what we’re doing/saying and HOW we’re doing that?


Remember, the question isn’t “what’s polite” – this isn’t a model of “being nice,” it’s a model of emotional intelligence:  being smart with feelings.  In other words, using emotional data to be more effective.  As I wrote early this year, using a billiards tables as a metaphor, we need to pause an consider: Where do I want the ball to go?[5]

So what’s the impact we want to have on our colleagues, friends, employees, kids, etc?  Our choices ARE having an effect, is it the one we want?


A Step Further: Can I Stop Being Mean-Hearted?

Recently I was honored and challenged by my daughter:  We were talking about a teacher who is frequently inconsistent and inauthentic (probably because her self awareness is so low), and I said something mean.  In a gossipy way, I was participating in the conversation.  Dishing.

Emma stopped the conversation, and in a sort-of-amused but sort-of-disturbed way said, “Whoa, Daddy you’re never mean about people.”  While I’m proud that she has this perspective, and justly scolded for my behavior, the truth is she’s incorrect.  I’m often judgmental and harsh – at least in my own head and heart.

Many years ago I witnessed a brutal destruction of a beautiful community.  I saw how easy it is to tear something down.  At that point, I resolved to do a better job of watching my own words – but it’s not enough for me anymore.

There’s a beautiful interview Oprah did with Brené Brown about Brown’s work on vulnerability and her commitment to wholehearted living.[6]  I love Brown’s work, her blend of authenticity and research.  It’s about the courage to “step into the arena” of life – which requires vulnerability.  Maybe we could make an excuse that being “mean hearted” is a small part of being whole-hearted… but it’s just an excuse.  Really that “dishing” is just a form of self-protection.  Of making myself better than others.  If I’m going to truly be who I am, I’ve got to let go of that illusion of self-protection.

This brings us to the third part of the Six Seconds Model.

It’s easy to say, “Oh, I shouldn’t say mean things.”  Harder to do.  Harder still to say, “I want to stop being mean.”  So why would we?  If we don’t have a compelling reason, we won’t change.

So we need this third circle, the Why:


If we can align these three rings, we are putting our best selves forward.  We have integrity between action and intention – and with purpose.   We do the right things, in the right ways, for the right reasons.  This reason I’m committed to practicing emotional intelligence is that it gives me a way to create integrity – alignment between who I am and who I mean to be.

How about you? 



[1] Here’s an interview with Dr. Candace Pert, former Chief of Brain Science at the National Institutes of Health.

[2] Dr. Marco Iacoboni is one of the preeminent researchers on the link between mirror neurons and emotion.  Here’s a report of a meeting we had with Dr. Iacoboni, and a link to his website.

[3] There have been numerous studies of this phenomenon, one of the pioneers was a 2004 fMRI study by Eisenberger et al, showing that the same brain areas are implicated in both physical pain and emotional hurt.  Here’s a link to a summary at the Brain Institute at the Oregon Health & Science University.

[4] This overview explains The Six Seconds Model of Emotional Intelligence – the three pursuits and eight specific competencies.

[5] Joshua Freedman: Where Do You Want the Ball to Go? (2013)

[6] Oprah.com Connections: The Wholehearted Life: Oprah Talks to Brené Brown (2013).


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Joshua Freedman

Joshua is one of the world’s preeminent experts on developing emotional intelligence to create positive change. With warmth and authenticity, he translates leading-edge science into practical, applicable terms that improve the quality of relationships to unlock enduring success. Joshua leads the world’s largest network of emotional intelligence practitioners and researchers.
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