Beck: So going back to people who are better or worse at doing this.
Caruso: Yeah, well first of all, people who are more extroverted will talk more. We like people who are emotionally expressive for the most part, especially if they are emotionally expressive around positive emotions. That would be the trait of agreeableness.
Beck: There was a study I was reading yesterday that said being “ambivalent over emotional expression” was linked to feeling badly. “Ambivalent” meant either they wanted to express emotions but they weren't able to, or they expressed emotions and kind of wished they hadn’t. That inner conflict over whether people should be sharing their feelings, does that affect people a lot?
Caruso: I think that sits within this framework fairly well, because if you’re high in emotional intelligence, what you're very skilled at is first, of course, knowing how you feel, and knowing how to express those feelings in a way that’s going to be heard. I don’t think there’s ambivalence in that case.
The ambivalence may be because I’m unsure if I should be feeling this way, and then even if I'm sure that these feelings are indeed justified, I’m not actually positive how I can express those in kind of a constructive way. Or will I be judged for that? Or will it come out the wrong way? So if you’re really good at this, you should be confident in your ability to trust that feeling and express it in a constructive appropriate way.
Beck: What’s the role of culture in all this? Do you think expressing emotions is encouraged in American culture?
Caruso: I prefer to think about cultures. Every organization or every family has a culture and the largest differences around emotions are called cultural-display rules. I think all cultures recognize the basic emotions and they’re all expressed the same way, but those display rules, which are a function of our culture, tell us how do we show those emotions. Say, with anger. Do we yell and scream? Is anger more genteel? How we express these is completely driven by those cultural-display rules. If you don't know those, and again, culture can be [in] the place you work, you’re seen as an outlier. And maybe as lacking what people would call communication skills. You don't get these implicit display rules, because nobody ever tells you what those are.
Beck: You mentioned earlier, and I've seen this around as well, that people are more comfortable with positive emotions being expressed than negative emotions.
Caruso: The other part of your question was about expressivity in American culture. When I do my training on emotional intelligence in the United States, I ask the question, “How are you?” Or even, we began our phone call with, “How are you? Is this still a good time?” Well, it sounds to me that either maybe it's cold there or you're coming down with a cold, right? [I do have a cold, actually. –JB] If we actually asked that question “How are you?” and we really meant it, what you might have said is “I've got a lot of deadlines, I'm looking at the clock, I have a call at 10:40, I hope this is not a waste of time, I'm tired, I'm exhausted, I'm not feeling well, Thanksgiving is coming up. So that's how I feel, David, how are you?” And my answer would have been, “Frankly, I woke up at 2 a.m., work is extremely stressful, and I’m slightly concerned about my daughter so I’m anxious.”