Emotional intelligence for wise meetings

words emotional intelligence written on whiteboard

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Using emotional intelligence will allow any leader to run better meetings. A successful leader has to be aware of his own emotions and those of others, and has to be able to deal with emotion constructively.

Unfortunately many of us are prone to react impulsively in tough situations, unless we have done the hard work of coming to terms with our own inner history. Here are a few thoughts about the challenge as it pertains to meetings, with some references for further mastery.


Fear is perhaps our most ancient emotion. We are very good at transmitting fear to each other, but not so good at conveying the magnitude of a threat. When people are frightened, their thinking process shuts down. A good leader can “contain” fear and damp it down, so everyone can look at the situation rationally and carefully.

The inner critic

Many conscientious people have a highly developed “inner critic.” They may be over-ready to judge or blame themselves. A leader sometimes triggers that critic without intending to, by body language or tone of voice. Being sensitive on this point can forestall serious misunderstandings.

Masks from the past

William Faulkner wrote, “The past isn’t dead, the past isn’t even past.” Sometimes difficult people at meetings aren’t responding to the leader at all—they are responding to “masks from the past,” projecting their unresolved conflicts onto present individuals. Being aware of this tendency can generate compassion when someone seems to be over-reacting at a meeting.

Creating safety through emotional intelligence

The bottom line is that a leader must create a safe place for all the participants in a meeting. This requires that one be aware of the emotional undercurrent, as well as the content being discussed and the procedure being followed. It isn’t easy, but when we achieve this goal, we are better able to make wise decisions.

Resources to develop greater emotional intelligence

Here are some books that offer useful insight into these issues.

Compelling People: The Hidden Qualities that Make Us Influential, by John Neffinger & Matthew Kohut

Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking when Stakes Are High, by Kerry Patterson et al.

The Silent Language of Leaders: How Body Language Can Help—or Hurt—How You Lead, by Carol Kinsey Goman

Soul without Shame: A Guide to Liberating Yourself from the Judge Within, by Byron Brown

When the Past Is Present: Healing the Emotional Wounds that Sabotage Our Relationships, by David Richo

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Ann Macfarlane

Ann G. Macfarlane is a Professional Registered Parliamentarian. She offers an interactive and user-friendly way to master the key points for effective, efficient and fair meetings. Her background as a diplomat and Russian translator enables her to connect with elected officials and nonprofit board directors and give them the tools they need for success. She is the author of Mastering Council Meetings: A guidebook for elected officials and local governments.


  1. Leslie Fisher on July 27, 2016 at 10:40 am

    Is it possible to reconsider a selection of a Board chair? The person was nominated and confirmed.

    • Ann Macfarlane on July 28, 2016 at 10:59 am

      Dear Leslie,
      Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised, 11th edition, says on p. 444: “An election to an office becomes final immediately if the candidate is present and does not decline, or if he is absent but has consented to his candidacy…After an election has become final as stated in this paragraph, it is too late to reconsider the vote on the election.”

      • Leslie Fisher on July 28, 2016 at 11:09 am

        Thank you for the confirmation! I appreciate the ability to post to this blog and collaborate. Thank you.

        • Ann Macfarlane on July 28, 2016 at 3:08 pm

          You’re very welcome, Leslie! Great to hear from you. Best!