Using emotional insight
for personal development and professional success

Al Franken, the emotionally intelligent politician

I'm often frustrated by the poor communication skills of politicians, how they fail to take account of the concept of emotional intelligence when speaking to the public.  I was therefore extremely pleased to come across this clip of the American Senator Al Franken.  When confronted with a hostile and critical crowd he deals with them with humour, sense and clarity.

Al Franken isn't well known in the UK, but he's not what you'd call a 'conventional' politician.  He originally became famous as a writer and performer on Saturday Night Live before becoming a film actor and author.  Perhaps it's this background that means that when speaking he doesn't suffer from 'the politician disease' – he doesn't patronise, doesn't instantly become defensive and doesn't harangue the people who disagree with him.

The emotionally intelligent behavior he demonstrates includes:

  • Not beginning by disagreeing – if you start by saying 'you're wrong' the person you are talking to will either shut down or just argue back.  Instead Mr Franken starts by acknowledging that the opinion of the people he is talking to is valid, and appears interested in it.
  • He takes responsibility – he says "I'm going to vote the way I want to vote."  He doesn't say he's talking about a party line, he doesn't turn to someone else's authority, he doesn't claim to acting based on popular opinion.  'This is what I think so this is what I'll do' is a very powerful stance to take.
  • He engages with the people he's talking – he looks at many of the people around him, not at the camera, his body language is open and positive, he uses the tone of voice of a conversation not of a speech, and he listens to what people say to him.
  • He admits that he doesn't know everything, but uses facts and examples to support what he does say.
  • He has integrity – in my opinion none of the above comes out of the fact that he's learned how to 'work a crowd' I think it all works, and has such a positive effect, because it's genuine.  He really is interested in talking to these people and in helping change their minds.  If your intent is right, and you have the self assurance to follow through on it openly, everything else falls into place naturally.

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