How emotional intelligence shaped three hospitality moments, and Happy New Year!

Engaging front-of-house hospitality for community fascinates me. Hospitality is an unparalleled opportunity where customer service, sense of welcome, unconditional attention, and even spiritual uplift can all be experienced by a guest.

How can guests perceive resourcefulness?

perceive responsiveness? or perceive acts of (intended) good will?

Guests from different hospitality scenarios in my professional life have taught vibrant lessons toward these questions. And often recognizing the merit of emotional intelligence proved a key part of learnings.

Emotional intelligence (EI) affects delivery of hospitality in countless ways. It’s potent and often beautiful how keen emotional discernment can encourage (or if a lack thereof – can repel) any particular community or guest. I should swallow a dose of humility now too because at least for me, emotionally intelligent actions can be easy to overlook or harder at times to appreciate.

A friend Sarah shared last week some hospitality moments from her workplace. We then more consciously chewed on what she realized about delivering hospitality in-the-moment from those exchanges (and what stood out from an emotional intelligence perspective).

It was an engrossing conversation where (3) hospitality insights jumped out:

1.  Cultivating emotional validation 

My friend works in a community center and engages a wide range of the public with varied ages, races, and economic realities.

  • The scene — A young mom arrived and shared concerns her pre-teen child was starting to smoke cigarettes. The parent began to stutter pretty heavily, and avoided eye contact with my friend Sarah (who recognized signs of the parent’s discomfort in admitting the whole scenario).
  • EI moment — The goal for my friend became to remove any potential barriers to trust that the mom’s discomfort could possibly develop. So she (the friend) said to the parent she was so grateful she arrived at the community center, and had shared her personal concern for her child. My buddy in that instance affirmed the woman’s presence; the concern for her child’s health; and that the mother’s emotional courage was evident and admirable. The young mom ended up staying for 25 more minutes to discuss potential next steps and resources.
  • Word of caution — Sincere affirmation was the ultimate goal for this dynamic. Validating the mother’s caring nature and her action as a family leader were paramount. Conscious conversational space was made to include and legitimize her discomfort. As the community center’s representative, it would have been negligent let alone failed hospitality for my friend to have responded with an emotionally flippant or indifferent reply like “well that’s just sad to hear…”

2.  Creating an uninterrupted listening environment (if indeed time permits!)

  • The scene — Going deeper into the above exchange, my friend Sarah at the community center also asked the visiting mom questions on a few different levels: permission for time and permission to further inquire about her concerns.
  • EI moment — She (my buddy) used authentic lines of questioning to further demonstrate respect for the nervous, worried parent. First Sarah asked the mother overtly if she had “20 or 25 minutes” to further discuss her child’s smoking habit and the center’s resources to help. Next, Sarah inwardly committed to establishing a listening environment for this guest: to fully listen to the mother’s responses without interruption (as much as possible in light of potential time constraints). These intentional decisions helped to relax the dynamic; the mother started stuttering less and opening up about ways the center could be of benefit.
  • Word of caution — Checking in with this guest on whether or not she had more time to discuss matters goes beyond basic politeness in its value. It is a core hospitality-delivery tool. If the guest did not have further time to invest in that moment, then that would have cued my friend to request permission to email her further information and questions. Therefore, no matter how the mom responds to the question of time – her schedule is honored, and the dynamic to effectively provide resourceful-rich hospitality is still forged.

3. Utilizing self-restraint 

  • The scene — My friend remembered that toward the end of their discussion, the parent asked a question about potential treatment. Sarah felt some compulsion to respond immediately in that moment. But she refrained. Why? Because she also saw sensitive options (that could help the mother’s child) that would do well with written, deeper context.
  • EI moment — So to ensure benefits and risks would be expressed more clearly, and do the mother’s concerns better justice, Sarah underscored the value of the parent’s question and offered to reply more thoroughly over email. She also invited the mother to set future appointments anytime for more personalized conversation.
  • Word of caution — Delaying a reply in this way is not intended as procrastination, or as a means to avoid sensitive, difficult discussions. The core intent was to acknowledge that a compulsive albeit reasonably informative reply was likely going to come across as scattered. Sarah’s emotional discernment was to avoid that potential guest perception. So she instead, mindfully affirmed the mother’s question and assured an emailed clarification would be forthcoming.

Photo attribution  Peace on Earth, good will towards men by Amy V. Miller licensed under Creative Commons

For blocks & blocks, she kept chanting “No!”

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What is it about the pitch of a person’s voice that can convey a message, as much or more so than their spoken words?

A woman last week was walking much of 17th Street, the main street in our neighborhood. She walked a measured pace and yelled one word repeatedly as if creating a one-person protest; a few blocks away from intersecting her on the sidewalk – her screams of one word rang out in fierce volume penetrating us nearby with what felt like surround sound:

No!

No!

No!

With every other step, she yelled “no” over and over in fever pitch.

The tenor in her voice held a mix of fierceness and anger. But it is unclear in my mind now how much of that fierceness was actually meant from her (or was instead being projected from the rants in my own head):

No! more polar political rages

No! more starving for food

No! more racist sexist binges

No! more denied grasps over boundaries as a fleeing people collapse on barbed wire

She kept screaming her “no” and I became concerned that I’d over indulge my own frustrations of this world, caving to a self-righteous pity party.

Then as the woman passed by and echoed onward, a memory of a good friend and colleague floated up about the relationship between justice and  persevering. She once said:

“No,  NO, NO ….I can’t sit still with the world this way.”

Yes, with some mercy and discipline (and an avalanche of love), forward let us go.

Brexit & recalling a trapped man

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A kind, raw-hearted man entered my work a while back  (a church not far from the White House). He asked for information about good shelters in the area, and if we could sit together in the chapel for a while.

We sat in quiet some minutes before he shared he’d been hiding in a locked bathroom. His lover in a violent rage had beat him before he was able to scramble to the restroom where he locked himself in; meanwhile his partner attempted to break the bathroom door down off and on for about 48 hours. Eventually the threatening partner gave up and left. So this guy now in the chapel was at least out of immediate harm seeking shelter someplace else.

That’s all I know about that man back then and his vulnerable crossroads toward safer ground. In my imaginings since, I pretend (hope?) the start of his once beloved relationship held some kind of shared appreciation of rights — right to breathe, right to breathe in safety, a right to simply live in a space together, both aware of life’s unforgiving spikes (but as aware that each qualified for safety amidst the turbulence, an equal capacity of deservedness).

Who knows what triggered the violent partner. Did the straining complexity of life spark an evilness within him? Did a tidal wave of vulnerability or sensed lack of control press his weaker side into dominance and cruelty?

I just don’t know.

Something about the recent Brexit vote brings all this envisioning of that weary man to mind again, and his primal run for safety.

It is reasonable to say we as humans in general want to live a safe life. We want to live with loved ones in the framework of safe shelter, safe day to day experience, safe access to food and rest. It’s reasonable to say that’s what Britons want.

It’s reasonable to say that’s what immigrants want also. Immigrants are fleeing for new lands to find new space for safer ground. They are running from violent threats, from lack, from fear, escaping from horrific deficits of safety.

Given this common yearning for safe places, it appears Britons with the Brexit vote have met the immigrant flight from fear with fear itself.

There are many political and economic layers to Brexit and the EU that are in play here too; I respect this and am no expert on all of those dynamics. As it relates to immigration though, I keep comparing Brexit with the threatened man on the run long ago, arriving bewildered at the chapel.

I equate it to this “what if…?” possibility:

It’s as if when the fleeing man knocked at the church’s door back then, colleagues and I locked the doors and then our neighbor’s doors and the doors to potential shelters just to preserve our own territorial comfort. It’s as if back then we even may have slipped out from behind those chapel doors, let the fearful man in for a few minutes, then kicked him out letting the huge bolts of once welcoming safe, oak chambers clamp shut in his face.

It is as if back then we grew childishly discontent from the inherent civility and organizational energy required to share; …..so we elevated our desire for comfort above his primal need for safety. Our comfort then would have arrived at the expense of his basic need.

Brexit smacks of this fear and entitlement.