I consider it an honor to hold safe spaces for my clients in private practice and the corporate sector. In these therapeutic and psychoeducational sessions, I do my best to affirm, teach and challenge my listeners. I not only want them to learn from the content but also from my person and how to create safe environments for themselves.

Emotional Intelligence (EI) is the skill set that accounts for 90% of what sets high performers apart from others with similar technical skills. These competencies are proven to create successful leaders and healthier work culture. Regardless of our position, each of us is a leader in our own right, and we each have the responsibility to be good citizens and build teams and relationships that are healthy and non-toxic.

In this season, where there is an increased conversation around psychological safety, equity, COVID-19, and civil unrest, I would like to challenge you to view the skill set of emotional intelligence from a different lens. The more I train on EI, the more I’d like to bring awareness that historically marginalized individuals use this skill set differently in the workspace. I hope those of the majority culture to elevate their emotional intelligence and critical thinking to see more clearly and move accordingly to all that is happening right now (and has been occurring) in this country.

For example, historically, Black people have had to use emotional intelligence for survival. They have had to be empathetic and increase their social awareness by consistently reading the room, knowing what to say and how to say it. They must know how to move and interact not to make White people uncomfortable because doing so may cost them their job or their lives.

However, this same action of “reading the room” is not reciprocated as many White individuals subconsciously feel that they “own” the room. It is not until they are called out on their microaggressions that they become defensive or dismissive instead of moving to a place of self-awareness and regulation. A White person will say something racist to a non-White person because their privilege has given them the freedom to speak out of ignorance (unknowing) and insensitivity. There is no practicing of the pause. There’s no assessing the situation to determine how their words will land and be received. 

One example of Black EI is what has been known as Code Switching. This is when a Black person will modify their tone, cadence, speech, hair, attire, and even their walk to protect themselves and minimize a White person’s bias.  However, code-switching is a linguistic term that means transitioning from one language to another.

A more accurate term would be masking. This is what we call in the psychological field when referring to the modified behavior that neurodivergent, specifically those with autism, do in neurotypical spaces. In essence, it is hiding one’s authentic self.

For African-Americans, this learned skill is a transgenerational adaptation from the time of enslavement and personal trauma. Sadly, this emotional quotient (EQ) has been used to keep us “safe” externally. However, research has shown that it negatively impacts the well-being of Black individuals because this behavior change has Black people showing up as only part of themselves or a dysfunctional version of themselves.

What is disappointing as a clinician is that I see how my Black clients find ways to successfully navigate the workplace and White spaces by using high emotional intelligence professionally but fail to use it in their personal lives. Ideally, I would love to see more Black people adjust their EQ as a self-care tool where they can create healthy mental and emotional boundaries, assertively use their voices, and acknowledge and process their feelings, particularly when experiencing race-based trauma.

Black people do so much to try to functionally exist in this country, viewing neighbors as fellow human beings, yet are not afforded the same respect. The discomfort endured to maintain the majority’s comfort is appalling, yet it’s understood. Black people are simply trying to live by any means necessary, even if it has been to our detriment and loss.

I share more about how inequity (not just racial) has impacted the emotional intelligence skill in my forthcoming book, The Color of Emotional Intelligence. Want to learn more, go to workingwelldaily.com/Books.