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Photo by Chris Murtagh

By Melanie Mar Chow

As a psychology major in college, I wish I seized the opportunity to take more sociology classes.  For my work with college students, one of the most perplexing experiences I have working with my students is observing how leaders get students out of the parking lot after the meeting to congregate for more fellowship over a meal.  What sociological advances can inform and educate not only me, but our student leaders to navigate group decision-making?

AAWOL’s blog has been exploring the importance of EQ (emotional intelligence).  Social skills is one of the five components of EQ according to Daniel Goleman, the other four components being self awareness, self-regulation, inner motivation, and empathy. Important to having social skills is being able to understand and integrate other’s needs with one’s own needs.  Successfully employing social skills remedies the challenge of a group’s attempt to find common ground.

Back to my favorite group decision of how students decide where to go eat after a meeting — at its core, it is a familiar task with great potential for social skill failure.   To make a group decision requires all of Goleman’s EQ components. Social skills can be likened to the sticks which balance plates (the other EQ attributes) and keep the plates spinning.

What is important for the leader?  What questions need to be asked in the thick of the moment when a decision must be made?

1.  The leader must know and tend to her (or his) emotional needs.  As the goal is to make a decision, the process might be emotionally challenging for the leader.  It is important for the leader to know how invested they are in the decision, as well as the group to identify their needs to help make a quick decision.  The leader should also be aware if any group member seems over-invested or emotional, and pause to consider the person’s need; maybe discussing all the different angles of identifying a restaurant is priority –- is it price, food type, fast food or sit-down?  What is most important to the group?

2.  Also important for the leader is to know which choices can be sacrificed to speed the decision process.  If the leader must sacrifice a personal choice, she (or he) should pause to process. A good method is to take a moment to text someone the immediate emotions by having a friend on call who is praying for that situation.  Vent then reconnect to the process.

3.  The leader must also identify and recognize whether all the important individual considerations are identified and managed.  In the case of locating a restaurant, there will be that voice that speaks out but is ill-informed as to how far it is or if it can welcome a party of 12  or more. Can it be reached by walking or driving? If driving, are there enough drivers?

For my students, group decision-making works when leaders gather weekly to plan.  After 20+ years, I’m delighted to share some leaders not only plan out their entire meeting from opening prayer to after meeting activities, but also the post-meeting activities in advance, including the group meal location.  Though a new or visiting student might have regarded it as an individual decision, in fact it was 4-6 leaders who gathered ahead of time to plan for the group.  Planning also allows negotiation to fulfill the group’s needs.  For instance, to my great surprise, when there are larger events for 50-200 people, group leaders create lists of restaurants that can take larger numbers of groups at a moment’s notice.

4.  Leaders, be aware of how to employ empathy towards others who may be unwilling to change their minds, and walk off or leave the group.   Learn how to balance the challenges of being firm but affirming differences of opinion –- and maybe honor their suggestion at a later date.  No matter what, it is important to extend a hand and invite the person back to the group.

5.  In all groups, there is a chance for relational failures and/or an emotional meltdowns, big or small.  Hopefully with planning, “meltdowns” won’t occur during the event, but if one does occur during or afterwards because of the activity chosen, make sure there is an opportunity to discuss the person’s disappointment/frustration and work towards a better solution.

In closing, what I’ve learned works best is to find ways to value the group as well as its individuals.  Whether for pleasure or business, people work well for a leader when they know their voices are heard, their suggestions for change are welcomed, and a sense of partnership is affirmed.   When a leader must make a decision in the midst of indecisiveness, she can stand firm and make a decision in this way, and know it was built on the voices of the community. Together, leader and group can affirm that it is still the group as a whole that brings new people in and all can see the potential and value that each person can offer the group and its purposes.

Rev. Melanie Mar Chow serves God through Asian American Christian Fellowship, the campus ministry division of the Japanese Evangelical Missionary Society (JEMS). She has been an ordained American Baptist minister since 2004. A Pacific Northwest native, she currently lives with her husband and daughter in Southern California.

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Photo by craftivist collective

By Young Lee Hertig

While reflecting on the five dimensions of Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman, I am struck by the impending disruption of AI (Artificial Intelligence) that would replace large numbers at the workforce. Will we be vulnerable to artificial emotion?  It seems feasible sooner than later.  How then do we decipher authentic emotions from artificial emotions?  These issues merit a series of blogs for later but for now, I will reflect on human social skills. (more…)

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Photo by Artondra Hall

By Ajung Sojwal

Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you. Mt. 5:48 (The Message)

Like many before me, as a first-generation immigrant to this country, my journey has been more than the geographical distance travelled. From having to figure out what vitamin D fortified milk means to realizing that someone’s commend of “interesting” does not, in any way imply interest in you or your ideas. It has been, to say the least, interesting! (more…)

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Photo by Rising Damp

By Eun Joo Angela Ryo

His shifty uneasy eyes and the white knuckles from clutching the straps of his backpack too hard were sure signs that he was going into the fight-or-flight mode if he wasn’t there already. His tiny ten-year-old body was tense with mistrust and fear. I had taken my young adult group on a mission trip to New Mexico. Our main ministry was to tutor the Navajo children. We picked up the children from their homes and brought them to the mission center to teach them math and English and to love on them as much as possible. (more…)

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By Sarah D. Park

I have this idea for a book that I’ve been sitting on for some time. It’s inspired by my father and is in part, a dream of mine to publish some day, and in part, an attempt to develop empathy for my father. (more…)

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Photo by Leonard J Matthews

By Maria Liu Wong

Empathy is the ability to be aware of the feelings and needs of others. It is seeing and understanding from the point of view of another. It involves not only understanding others, but being able to develop others, to serve them, to leverage diversity, and to be politically aware, as Daniel Goleman suggests in the context of emotional intelligence. Distinct from sympathy — which it is often confused with and involves instead feeling compassion for another — empathy is more personal, and requires stepping into the shoes of another. (more…)

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Photo by Mia Severson

By Wendy Choy-Chan

I still remember it was a great relief for me when I first read about empathy. I am not a person of many words, so I always felt inadequate when I couldn’t offer any brilliant solutions to the ones pouring out their problems and heartaches in front of me. Once I realized that what they really needed was someone to be present with them and to listen to them, I stopped trying to come up with clever words or ideas to solve their problems. (more…)

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