[M – Mindful] Take ‘CARE’ to be ‘CALM’

Emotional intelligence is key to achieving digital maturity

For those not yet familiar with the ‘CALM’ framework, it includes the practice of being:

  • C – Collaborative: engaging openly and transparently with other staff to plan and develop (internal or external) work products.
  • A – Anticipatory: planning effectively using agile methods, being aware of relevant data (through analysis and reporting) and building in a process for feedback.
  • L – Letting go of Command and Control Leadership and Embracing Collective Leadership: locating and enabling leaders at all levels whilst developing a shared sense of decision-making and accountability – demonstrating leaderful actions.
  • M – Mindful: making time and space to reflect on information and decisions.

The ‘CALM’ framework is the product of researching and observing organizational behavior. While this scaffolding may be applied to any digital activity, there are foundational elements that must be in place to secure the scaffolding during digital transformation and maturity. To take a ‘CALM’ approach we must be mindful of the rhythms and cadence of our collaboration, anticipatory and leaderful practices so that we might conserve and increase the energy of our colleagues, rather than deplete energy reserves as the result of invisible work and emotional labour.  

Just as the second ‘One by One’ research project kicked off in February 2020, museums and workplaces around the world were forced to close their doors as a result of a global pandemic. Many organizations were not prepared to have their entire workforce communicate and collaborate remotely. Schools closed. We found ourselves confined to our homes – isolated from those we love. The ‘One by One’ research team and partners, located in multiple countries, were required to rethink, reframe, and reimagine how research objectives would be met through digital-only interventions. 

The mindful practices and communication rhythms we had collectively agreed to when crafting the research proposal had to be reassessed. Working remotely was new to many members of the research team. How might we be mindful about what digital skills needed to be acquired alongside empathetic practices to ensure we could hold each other accountable and remain compassionate to the various needs and emotions of all team members during the pandemic and periods of social unrest?

When we practice mindfulness, we are able to see the world through multiple perspectives, rework old narratives and norms, cultivate tolerance and self-compassion, practice non-judgment, and engage with others as a result of our own self-acceptance. To unpack what it means to practice mindfulness as an individual, team, and organization, the ‘One by One’ Project team began to explore the concept of emotional intelligence (EI). 

In the 2018 World Economic Forum Future of Jobs Report, the majority of emerging roles listed required some level of digital knowledge. The same report found the need for emotional intelligence (EI), leadership, social influence, and service orientation will increase with the demand for new skills in an ever-changing workplace. The impact of the 2020 global pandemic has accelerated the need for these new skills – specifically, the need for blended business, digital and EI skills as we collaborate-in-place and work-out-loud with colleagues and increase our digital communication and activities with our audience / users / visitors. 

How might we embed EI abilities into digital skills development? 

This is one of several questions the ‘One by One’ Project team began studying in the UK and US museum sectors during the second research project. In her ‘One by One’ podcast, Dr Sophie Frost in conversation with museum practitioners from the US and Europe, discusses how emotional labour is inherent in digital work. How might we be better equipped to control how we express and experience our own emotions, and how empathetic we are towards others, when coping with the emotional labour associated with our digital activities? What skills did we need to first have in place before we could take a ‘CALM’ approach to digital work? 

For the purposes of this post, we will use the formal definition of EI submitted by Mayer and Peter Salovey (1990, p. 189) as “[t]he ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings to discriminate among them, and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and action[s].” This definition was later broken down into four dimensions or abilities: perceiving, using, understanding, and managing emotions (Mayer and Salovey, 1997). The summation of our EI is referred to as EQ (Emotional Quotient). EQ is measured by our ability to understand and express emotions, using empathy, and is part of our psychological makeup (alongside personality and IQ). EQ is a blended inside out and outside-in awareness of our own emotions, emotions of others, and how these emotions impact our relationships. Whereas our personality and IQ are generally fixed, our EQ is not – we have the ability to learn and practice emotional intelligence skills to consistently improve our EQ.

According to Salovey and social psychologist Daisy Grewal, emotional intelligence skills are only present in their immediate social context: “In order to use these skills, one must be aware of what is considered appropriate behavior by the people with whom one interacts” (2005, p. 282). Emotions are internal experiences. How we perceive and interact with the world around us is, in part, a byproduct of the emotions we experience. It is our response to these emotions (through our behavior) that others become aware of our emotions. EI abilities or skills helps us shift our own reactions, attitude toward challenges, and relationship development. When we understand our own emotional response when processing any information or engaging in any activity, we may then intercept automatic behaviors and responses, and then adapt or develop new behaviors or changes to response. 

Emotional intelligence (EI) is not taught in schools. It is not until we are fully ingrained in the workplace and our adult lives that we learn that we may have many behaviors we need to unlearn to better communicate and collaborate with others. Is that our responsibility? Our employers if not our schools? How do we know what emotional intelligence skills we are lacking? These are the questions I asked as a corporate rebel / change agent using digital communities to enact digital transformation AND I am now asking as an independent researcher and consultant.

During the first ‘One by One’ research project, Dr Vargas was embedded for 15-months at two London museums and observed cultural institutions had many of the same digital struggles as the private sector. Vargas discovered many organizations may struggle with digital maturity, but their greatest weaknesses were in understanding, using, creating, and managing digital due to lack of consistent and open organizational communication and collaboration. There was a fundamental lack of underlying business intelligence (BI) and emotional intelligence (EI) informing the digital strategy and activities. Sustainable digital maturity is difficult to achieve if you, your staff, and organization lack digital competencies, capabilities and literacies fused with business and emotional literacy.

BI + Digital Skills + EI = DIGITAL MATURITY

Just as common words and themes bubbled to the surface during Dr Vargas’ initial ‘One by One’ research to form the ‘BE: CALM’ approach, a new group of words and themes (always lurking just beneath the surface before the COVID-19 situation) have come to light to give way to a new acronym: CARE. When paired with the ‘CALM’ approach, it makes a powerful new mantra: Take ‘CARE’ to be ‘CALM’.

What does it mean to Take ‘CARE’? Like the ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ motivational posters that inspired the first acronym, hearing so many people sign off emails and video calls with “Take care,” motivated Vargas to delve deeper into this throw-away phrase and consider: What do people really mean when they say, “take care”? Do they actually mean it or is it simply a pleasantry? If we were to assign meaning, what is the expected value? What skills are needed before embarking upon a ‘CALM’ approach?

  • C – COMMUNICATE – How might we express what we mean? In times like these, do we not have a responsibility to over-communicate because we lack those chance encounters that occur when we are living our personal and professional lives? We think we do and why Vargas advocates for learning and working-out-loud. Narrating our work is not about ego boosting, but to help orient ourselves and others to what, when, how, and why we do what we do. Communication precedes collaboration.
  • A – ADAPT – How might we find ways to learn from the past to inform our present and plan for the future? We don’t know what will happen tomorrow, three weeks, or six months from now, but what might we do to help us acknowledge and make sense of all the internal and external outputs, so that we may pivot and adapt and adopt new practices and strategic pathways? Scenario planning is amazing, but when it lacks business and emotional intelligence, the narratives will not be helpful for you or your organization to develop actionable activities and practices. Even when in equilibrium, the world around us is in constant motion. No one likes change…especially when it is forced upon us. Are we asking the right questions to help prepare us for what may be next? What do we have in our toolbelt to help us make sense of our emotions and paths forward?
  • R – RESILIENT – Right now we feel fragile. This is a collective emotion experienced worldwide. The chinks in our personal and professional armor that we ignored before COVID can no longer be neglected. We have lived in fear of living without. There may be a silver lining to our current situation – we are renewing our acquaintance with our own resilience. How do we ensure we do not forget this experience? Things like strategy and governance and human-centered approaches are not nice-to-have, but need-to-have. They may not be the sexiest digital activities to pursue, but the most vital.
  • E – EMPATHY – As shame and vulnerability researcher, Brené Brown reminds us, “empathy is not our default response.” Empathy is our ability to understand and share the feelings of another. This is difficult to practice if we are unable to understand and process our own emotions. Actively listening to how others feel and understanding what they need when we feel like we are drowning is rough. But this is what is being asked or at least expected of us by our family and employers. How might we create safe spaces for us to share our own stories and process the stories of others?

During the second ‘One by One’ research project we introduced the ‘Take CARE to be CALM’ approach – scaffolding to remind us the importance of having a contextual, holistic, purposeful, and empathetic emphasis when designing, implementing, and analyzing digital activities. Just as digital maturity is grounded in business maturity, emotional intelligence is necessary to fully realize both business and digital maturity.

How are you making space to listen to yourself and others?

It is important to be mindful of the emotional toll on the individuals and teams practicing the ‘Take CARE to be CALM’ approach. Internal and external digital communication requires actively reshaping a practitioner’s inner emotional life to conform to the organization’s and customer / user / visitor’s expectation of emotional performance. Communicating via text on email Slack or MSFT Teams or by video is much more difficult than doing so in-person and verbally—where we might see and be aware of the outward emotional response or behavior of the person(s) with whom we are interacting.  

Consider asking yourself, colleagues, and organization the following questions:

  • How do you think about and react to emotions? 
  • What changes do you want to see in yourself and organization?
  • How might we apply this thinking and emotional awareness to any internal digital interaction or communication efforts? 
  • How might we align all digital activities with the four dimensions of emotional intelligence: perceiving, using, understanding, and managing emotions?

In the fall of 2020, we launched the ‘One by One’ Book Club so that we might discuss these questions in a ‘safe’ space and consider how we might embed emotional agility into our cultural organizations. A summary of these discussions are available on our Digital Commons Community. Please register and join the community, then follow these links to contemplate the discussion questions individually or with colleagues:

Emotional Intelligence resources

To increase your emotional intelligence, we have compiled a list of resources that the ‘One by One’ researchers and partners explored together over the course of the second ‘One by One’ research project: