Thoughts from the Therapy Chair with Joe Martino: Emotional Intelligence

The times that we are currently dealing with are so unusual, so out of our routine that there doesn’t seem to be a blueprint for how we should handle them.

Fear seems to be the emotion of the day.

Our society’s ability to have difficult conversations seems to be at an all-time low. Don’t believe me? Find someone who thinks we should reopen our economy now and invite them to a conversation with someone who says we should wait.

People are running all over the Internet, finding people that disagree with them. Explaining not only how the other person is wrong, but also how they are part of the problem. They need to educate themselves.

Name-calling is wrong unless I disagree with you on something as crucial as the pandemic or the economy or both.

It’s time we call ourselves to more. We need to take personal responsibility for improving the quality of our side of every conversation.

Almost everyone is afraid, including the people who say they’re not.

We need to have substantive conversations about how we help society be better at handling diversity.

We have a lot of efforts going on. Posting my senior picture to support seniors this year. Even something as innocuous as that has started online firestorms between people divided over whether or not it’s a helpful gesture or a rubbing it in gesture.

I am afraid that we have allowed our grief to cause us to be somewhat myopic. We are all grieving. We have all lost our sense of normalcy and a sense of security. Everyone is trying to figure out how to grieve and help their kids with school. What will the shutdowns mean for our students? Will they be behind academically forever? And in almost every conversation, there is the ultimate conversation killer. What is that you ask? “Don’t you care about people dying?” Once that question is offered, almost all productive conversation is destroyed.

We are playing an emotional version of Russian Roulette called “Comparative Grief.”

My wife put it like this:

“What I have realized is everyone is hurting. We’re all grieving. This situation is not black and white. We all have our own biases, opinions, and beliefs, which is great! If we all agreed, the world would be boring. So next time you’re frustrated with your friend, family member, coworker, governor, president or news media because they don’t feel the same way you do about this situation then I challenge you sit back and ask yourself ‘What lens are they looking at this situation through?’

This is called emotional intelligence in Psychology.

Emotional intelligence is ‘is the capability of individuals to recognize their own emotions and those of others, discern between different feelings and label them appropriately, use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior, and manage and/or adjust emotions to adapt to environments or achieve one’s goal.'”

Disagreement is good. The world would be incredibly dull if we all agreed on everything. A problem develops though when we crave certainty, especially when there is so little certainty to be found in the current situation.

Social media exasperates this problem because it allows us to post the passive-aggressive meme that will surely set our friends and enemies straight.

I’d like to suggest a better way forward. If we are to be healthy people, we must acknowledge that this event is nuanced and that everyone should be treated with grace and dignity.

We must strive to do better. To that end, I offer these suggestions for better conversation. They are taken from a different article on my own webpage. If you would like to read that article in its entirety, go to and search for the article called, “We must distinguish between disagreement and attack.”


The person speaking should:

  • Avoid attacking the person with inflammatory words. Phrases like, “You’re part of the problem” or “Are you too stupid to see what’s being done…” are unhelpful. Just a few moments ago, I read a comment by a person calling someone else uninformed and stupid. That’s not helpful, and it is reasonable for the other person to feel attacked in such a situation.
  • Deal with the person’s actions. This one seems almost too easy, but I often see people being attacked instead of their stated idea or action being questioned.
  • Embrace humility. Present what you think is going on with humility. You are entitled to think whatever you want, and only a fool thinks that they are never wrong.
  • Use the kindest, most generous words possible. There is never a good excuse to be a mean person. Use words that are kind and helpful.
  • Acknowledge the other person’s beliefs and feelings. You don’t have to validate them, but it is almost always universally beneficial to acknowledge them.

The person listening should:

  • Seek to understand the other person’s perspective. This will allow you to use the kindest words possible when you are the one speaking.
  • Distinguish between what you know and what you think you know. So often, when we are listening, we have thoughts that run through our heads as facts, but in reality, they are assumptions or interpretations. As such, they need to be vetted. So many times, there have been things that I thought were true, but when I tried to verify those thoughts, it turns out I was wrong. The person meant something else altogether.
  • Ask yourself what is the most generous and gracious way for me to interpret what the other person is saying?
  • Let the other person finish their sentences completely. This one seems so simple but can be so difficult. Allow the other person to finish and maybe ask a few clarifying questions.

If we can integrate these skills into our daily conversations about something as big and as important as this current situation, we will have better, more productive discussions.

I dream of a day where political conversations can happen between people that disagree with grace and kindness.

Because at the end of the day, certainty is almost always an illusion. We all could use more grace and kindness in our lives.

We have to find a place to understand and process everyone’s emotions. Including those with whom we disagree.

Joe Martino is a counselor with Joe Martino Counseling Network.  He has locations in Lowell, Grand Rapids, Greenville, and Grandville.  For more information about Joe and his business, check their website or Facebook page.  He and the rest of the counselors and staff are eager to help those in need.  

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