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Articles - Depression in the Family Business

Emotional information is as important as rational imformation

Friday, October 06, 1995




By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.


"Kitty! Kitty! Kitty" my four-year-old daughter screamed as she watched in horror the cat fall into a raging river and wash away toward the waterfall. We were at a matinee showing of a Disney movie, but the scene evoked such a torrent of feelings from Phoebe that I could not comfort her. She cried through the rest of the movie though the cat was eventually rescued. Upon our return home later, she insisted on checking on our own cat, Tolstoy, to make sure he was safe. And this movie was rated "G." Later when things had calmed down at home, I pondered why my daughter had been the only child to scream out and cry about the poor cat's predicament. Indeed, everyone seemed so startled by her outburst, that at first there was stunned silence from the other movie goers; then I heard a few giggles, from adults and children alike. My older daughter, age 7, sat quietly in the theater, not startled by the screen event, but certainly there were other four-year-olds who might have perceived the event as shocking. Daniel Goleman, a psychologist, suggests that these differences among children (and among all people) may be due to your EQ, or Emotional Quotient. Research demonstrates that not all success in life is determined by IQ, but may rest more on how perceptive one is with regard to your emotions. Those of us who feel our feelings, interpret them correctly, and then act upon that information, have an advantage over those of us who rely solely on intellect to make decisions. Among those of you in family firms, a high EQ is vital. Emotions run high in these businesses because of the multiple relationships. For example, it is foolish to ignore that the father-founder may have mixed feelings about a son-employee who is not getting the job done. If the father is unaware of his feelings, or the son for that matter, he may have a difficult time transitioning the son to a more suitable position. Another style seen often in family firms is for the wives and daughters to be the managers of feelings, leaving the men to handle the intellectual facts. Employees know that the wife-/co-owner is the one to seek out when they are having a personal problem. The wife intuitively knows the EQ of the entire company and the husband usually relies on her for counsel.

The only problem with this is that two heads are better than one. The husband is sacrificing valuable information if he is not tapping into his own emotional perceptions. If it's true, as Goleman suggests, that those of us with a high EQ are more successful, how do we develop this side of ourselves? Then, how do we integrate this information with our reason? It appears to be a matter of mastering these three steps: (1) feeling your feelings; (2) interpreting your feelings correctly; and (3) acting upon the feeling information. Because you are a living, breathing human being, you are capable of feelings, both physical and emotional. It doesn't take long to acknowledge those feelings and begin to name them. Feelings are things like joy, irritation, hunger, fatigue, boredom, confusion, pain, anticipation, pride, embarrassment, tension, and so on. The list is endless and I often advise my clients to get a thesaurus or dictionary and copy down as many "feeling" words as they can find. It is important to refine your repertoire of feelings and feeling words so that you can expand your consciousness about your EQ. It is also important to remember that you always feel your feelings first. Because of how you are "wired" thoughts or interpretations come after feelings. So it is useful to notice those feelings consciously before your conscious mind decides to ignore them or misinterpret them. The second step is interpreting those feelings that you have just noticed, which is no easy feat. The key element here is to realize that feelings are basically neutral. That is, they are neither good nor bad; they are just feedback. For example, if you haven't eaten for several hours, you will feel hungry. At first the feeling isn't unpleasant, but if you don't eat for days, hunger can be painful. The feeling of hunger is a message that you need to attend to your body by feeding it. But the hunger pangs should not be interpreted as punishment, just because they are unpleasant. Anger is another example. Anger may feel unpleasant to you and therefore, something to suppress.

However, the feeling of anger is neither good nor bad; it is just feedback about something that is important for you to know. Try to view all of your feelings that way. They are feedback in feeling-form about your environment. One person may be triggered to feel angry about something, while another may be triggered to laugh. Feelings are your characteristic way of sensing your environment. This brings us to step three, acting upon the information you have interpreted from your feelings. In the case of hunger or fatigue, a decision is relatively simple to satisfy those basic needs. But decision making is more complex when the feelings are part of a financial plan for your business, or whether to fire an employee. This is where EQ really helps. Those individuals who have trusted their EQ throughout childhood and have refined and developed those skills into adult life, are in a much better position to make successful decisions. While there is nothing like practice and life experience, here are a few basic tips to improve your decision making by including relevant feeling information. 1. Always checkout your feelings before making any decision. 2. Inquire after another's feelings before proceeding to decision making. 3. Check your feelings again after arriving at the decision. 4. Remember that "feeling good" about something doesn't always mean that the decision is correct. 5. Be willing to acknowledge that you are afraid or angry or confused. Hiding these feelings from yourself may deny you powerful and necessary information. My daughter knew that there was something terribly wrong when the cat fell into the river and she felt the shock of it throughout her body. Acknowledging the shock and allowing it to be there, lead her to a decision to check on her own pet back at home. If bad things can happen to a cat in the movie, they can happen to her kitty. Successful decision-makers use the same process as Phoebe did with the Disney movie experience. Many of you know those successful people who seem always to be in the right place at the right time. They aren't really any smarter than you are, but probably they trust an "inner knowing" based upon using all of the resources available to them, emotional, mental, physical and even spiritual.