A John Deere Publication
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Agriculture, Education   February 01, 2024

Touchy Feely Stuff


Understanding the importance of emotional intelligence.

You'd probably rather read about soil fertility or ideal planting depth than emotions. But being better able to notice, name, and navigate your emotions—that is, apply emotional intelligence—could be the key to taking your operation and relationships to the next level.

Emotional intelligence is a term brought mainstream after psychologist Daniel Goleman published the article "What Makes a Leader?" in the January 2004 Harvard Business Review.

His research revealed the "soft" skills making up emotional intelligence are twice as important for excelling in any job, regardless of the industry or size, than technical skills and IQ.

University of Minnesota Extension educators have seen Goleman's research play out similarly at the farm level and have since incorporated trainings into their leadership development courses.

Above. "Understanding emotions involves learning more vocabulary to recognize and describe feelings. People get stuck with just happy, sad, or mad. There are so many different gradients," says Christy Kallevig, Univ. of Minnesota Extension.


Emotions are data. Goleman broke emotional intelligence into five components: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skill. The foundational thread is the ability to notice the emotions you and those around you experience.

It sounds like an easy task on paper. But for many farmers raised in a culture that did not celebrate showing emotions, it can seem like a bigger step than deciding whether to buy a new piece of machinery.

"It's not uncommon for participants to tell me they didn't want to come to class that day or take the assessment," says Christy Kallevig. She leads farmers through emotional intelligence assessments as a University of Minnesota Extension educator. "Talking about emotions and working to understand them is not something we in the farming community have been encouraged to do. Instead, it's been 'man up,' 'walk it off,' or 'don't show your emotions.'"

Rather than being turned off by getting touchy-feely, Kallevig encourages her participants to look at emotions as data.

"I like how [Harvard Medical School psychologist] Susan David terms emotions as data. They simply provide insights into how we are interpreting and understanding our environment," Kallevig explains, just as yield data provides useful information.

Once you can recognize and get comfortable with the emotions you are experiencing, you can analyze the data. Kallevig recommends digging into the data by asking yourself "what" five times as if peeling an onion, for example: What happened to cause it? What was my reaction? What…? What…? What…?

Using the results. Goleman's research shows leaders with strong emotional intelligence can overcome failures or setbacks without succumbing to frustration and depression. They successfully use motivation and self-regulation to remain optimistic in the face of a stressor.

Kallevig believes the farmers she works with fit squarely into this hole because of their innate optimism and motivation.

"I'm not talking about the 'everything is wonderful' kind of optimism. I mean being able to see things are hard right now, you are going to get through it, and it will be different on the other side," she says, referencing things like the widespread drought last season.

Yet, many farmers are not staying above the line, and depression and other mental illnesses are occurring at alarming rates. Kallevig gives her students a map to improve the skills they already have but could use more strategically. "Research shows to raise your emotional intelligence, focusing on stress tolerance, optimism, and impulse control is a good place to start."

To dig deeper into how you can strengthen your emotional intelligence and, therefore, strengthen your operation and relationships, Kallevig recommends looking through 6seconds.org and visiting extension.umn.edu/rural-stress for other resources.

But, her very first piece of advice is always "just take a breath before reacting." ‡

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