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Teaching Emotional Intelligence
for Successful Airmen

By MS. ARYN KITCHELL, Staff Writer

For many years, people thought the most important factor in determining someone’s success in the workplace was their intelligence quotient (IQ), or their level of intelligence. However, research shows that those with average IQs outperform those with high IQs 70 percent of the time. So, high intelligence is not necessarily an obvious determiner in finding out who will be successful, in business or other personal factors of life too. This really left researchers with a missing piece in their puzzle of what makes a successful professional. They could not figure out why IQ was not that determining factor. After all, is not the best indicator of success someone’s knowledge base and ability to learn?

Col Scot Heathman, Vice Commander, 92 ARW at Fairchild AFB instructs the foundational Emotional Intelligence Course and says according to research, IQ is static from the age of 7. From that point onwards, your ability to take in information and understand it is as high as it is ever going to be. So, it is really no wonder why IQ is not the entire piece of the puzzle. Since it is a static skill, it can not be developed and everyone has to work with a set level of intelligence.

The missing piece of the puzzle was brought to light by Daniel Goleman in 1995. Called emotional intelligence, or EQ, this skill is made up of some things we may take for granted, or we might not think are skills that can be developed at all.

The first time Mrs. Dawn Altmaier heard about EQ was when she was instructing a resiliency training course, but the participant kept interrupting to tell her everything sounded like EQ. Finally, she asked, what is EQ?

Three weeks later, as she was working on her master’s degree, she was assigned a book by Daniel Goleman titled Emotional Intelligence. After reading the book and doing some more research, she got behind EQ and wanted to bring it on as a course. The foundational course has been taught at Fairchild AFB for 3 years. In 2017, Heathman joined Altmaier at Fairchild AFB as another instructor. To date, Heathman says Fairchild has trained over 700 Airmen, civilians, and guardsmen on EQ. He said there is a wait-list for the class, so this is not a voluntold type of training—people are asking to take it!

According to Altmaier, EQ is the ability to recognize, understand, and manage your emotions to a positive outcome. EQ is categorized into two subsections, personal competencies and social competencies. Altmaier went on to elaborate on that definition, adding that “when we talk about recognizing, typically we feel emotions before we even realize what we are feeling, so if you are watching a scary movie, you might get that feeling in the pit of your stomach or in your throat.”

Those who have the ability to recognize their emotions can alter their actions, whether that be so they start their day on the right foot (rather than with one negative event after another), or so they can best affect the environment of those around them. We may not like to admit it, but our actions do have consequences for those around us, especially safety-wise. If we treat someone poorly with no consideration of their thoughts or feelings, that could snowball for them into an emotional day filled with risky decisions they may make because they still have what you said on their mind.

Heathman stressed that the culture of AMC is team-oriented, and it is necessary to equip Airmen with EQ skills to better interact with their teammates. When people spend time increasing their level of EQ, they will naturally increase their ability to communicate with others and increase their empathy toward others.

That communication and empathy will cause better risk-based decision-making skills, said Heathman, and he provided a scenario to illustrate his point. He said, “Maybe you are an aircraft commander and you are flying an aeromedical evacuation mission with a critical patient on board. That means you are working with several teams on that airplane. There is the front-end crew that is flying, a loadmaster or boom operator who is monitoring the cargo compartment, and medical professionals in the back caring for their patient. If none of them have an average or high level of emotional intelligence, things can start to go badly and unravel if presented with a stressful situation like a weather divert, aircraft emergency, or patient emergency. Communication can become stifled when people are not aware of how their emotions are reacting to a situation or to others. However, if you have a crew that has been working on certain aspects of their emotional intelligence and they are keenly aware of themselves and how their emotions drive decisions, you are probably going to see, more often than not, a successful conclusion to a complicated situation.”

For Heathman and Altmaier, that is where EQ fits into AMC’s mobility culture because there are numerous risk-based decisions made daily. “If I allow my limbic brain, the emotional part of my brain, to rule my life I will be emotionally hijacking myself 90 percent of the time,” said Heathman. Instead of allowing that emotional hijacking, they teach recognition of stimulus and emotions, and they emphasize pushing that stimulus to the cortex, or the rational part of the brain.

So how do they teach moving those emotions from one part of the brain to another? They call it “self-talk.” Heathman said, “Through self-talk, you can do something as simple as recognize that you are upset about what someone said or a situation and how it makes you feel. This gives you a moment of pause, and your rational brain will take over and have a better chance to lead you towards a more positive outcome.”

Heathman and Altmaier believe they have created a safe space that their students enjoy coming into to share and learn. That certainly seems to be true; the foundational course has been extremely successful, so they have begun offering a level two course that hones specialty areas.

Overall, developing emotional intelligence can help all of us in many aspects of our personal lives, and in our professional lives it might just make us more successful and safer.