Primal Competence

Over the last two months, we've been exploring the extraordinary power of Emotional Intelligence (E.I.). Research shows that 75 percent of star performers' success is a result of E.I., while just 25 percent comes from technical competency.

Bob Frazer Jr., DDS, FACD, FICD

Over the last two months, we've been exploring the extraordinary power of Emotional Intelligence (E.I.). Research shows that 75 percent of star performers' success is a result of E.I., while just 25 percent comes from technical competency.

"Emotional Intelligence is our capacity for recognizing our own feelings and those of others, for motivating ourselves, for managing emotions well in ourselves and our relationships." (Daniel Goleman, Working With Emotional Intelligence; Bantam 1998.) It involves four key domains: self-awareness, self-management, social-awareness, and relationship management with a subset of 18 emotional competencies.

Artful leaders are attuned to the emotional undertones of another person or group. They sense then express those undertones. The ineffective dentist-leader does not; plus, he or she demonstrates "emotional incontinence" reflecting his or her disturbing emotions in a largely uncontrolled, spontaneous manner, sapping the energy of others.

Emotionally competent leaders convey emotions convincingly, from the heart, with sincerity, truly believing that the emotional message is what separates the influencing leader from the manipulative one. Early in my career, I was an emotional avoider who prided himself as a benevolent dictator. After all, I was the doctor/owner/leader — articulate, and, most of all, I subconsciously hated conflict! I simply steam-rolled the opposition! What I really hoped for was that somehow my staff would just fix their own emotions.

I clearly lacked the E.I. necessary to realize that I actually manifested tremendous emotion, mostly with my face. Silvan Tomkins, PhD, tells us we manifest what he calls "affect" (translated as our feelings), first in our face and eyes (see Silvan Tomkins Institute). So my staff saw my emotions whether I wanted them to or not. Often, my face and eyes were in conflict with the rest of my "in control" exterior. To better understand this, let's review some fascinating brain neurobiology.

Research from Harvard demonstrates that the seat of our emotions is in structures that ring the brain stem called the limbic system. The structure that plays the key role that can make us "snap" is the amygdala. Sensing emotions is very ancient and essential to early man's survival. Tomkins believes that before we feel what we call "emotion," there is a physiological event from the limbic system that he calls an affect. There are pathways between the limbic (old brain), the pre-frontal cortex (new brain), and even the gut, where the affect gets interpreted as a feeling. It is actually a leap from biology to psychology.

Emotion requires another leap of complexity. Over the lifetime of every individual, affect is triggered in the context of an event, situation, or scene. So, affect is biology, feeling is psychology, and emotion is biography. If I report that I am happy, it might mean the emotion I have when hiking with my sons in Colorado. For others, it might be the warm feelings they have about their first car, etc.

The same goes for the emotions of fear or reluctance. Emotion is always experienced within a memory script. This is a huge insight for those of us who work in emotionally laden fields. It is our biography that affects our ability to access our emotional competencies. Let's explore the roots of my early emotional incontinence.

I had wonderful parents, but they did not know how to conflict. My mother was the seventh child of immigrant parents. Her mother told her that she actually thought she was a tumor and hadn't planned to have another child! My mother developed a sense of being the unwanted child with feelings of abandonment and scarcity. In her late teens, she met my father who had lost his father when he was 11. As the eldest son in need of a job, he took up rodeo. He was a saddle bronc champion in his youth — and tough! If you met my dad today, you'd say he is a perfect gentleman, but cowboys learn early how to cuss a pretty mean streak.

Mom and dad married and I came along. Dad went off to WWII, returned, earned his degree and began work. Times were hard and married couples conflict. But, they conflicted like a rodeo cowboy and an abandoned child. Take a guess — who started counseling his parents at about age five? I did! I did not like the way they conflicted, so as soon as possible, I tried logic and got as far away from those scary emotions as possible. Did any of you choose dentistry because you enjoy dealing with conflict? Not likely!

Next month, we'll examine some critical events in every dental practice through the "Resonant Dentist."

Dr. Bob Frazer Jr. is founder of the strategic leadership firm R.L. Frazer & Assoc., whose custom programs help dentists achieve top 5 percent status in both financial achievement and life balance (fulfillment and significance). Superb communication skills have propelled Dr. Frazer to a 27-year international speaking career in dentistry. To receive "7 Ways To Grow Your EQ," contact him at (512) 346-0455, fax (512) 346-1071, or email

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