“Vibration,” the click, and Emotional intelligence?

December 12, 2023 at 11:05 AM
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“Vibration,” the click, and Emotional intelligence

By Téa Stjepanovic and Jim Stellar

When we first met to discuss this concept, the idea of vibration emerged as a metaphor for resonance between people or their connection. And we thought of emotional intelligence or something JS is working on, which is called sympathetic intelligence. Though this “vibration” cannot be seen with the naked eye, an emotional connection between two people can be instantaneous and is primarily based on nonverbal and verbal signals that communicate a resonance. We and others call this phenomenon “clicking.”

The clicking connection is hard to intellectually interrogate because, as stated, it does not have a form like sound vibration in the physical world. The act of “clicking” occurs on a conceptual level but we think it is driven by input from our emotions. Of course, it is ultimately derived from our cognitive perceptions of self and others. The emotional reactions often come from what we think of as a limbic system and its involvement in processing signals of which we may be unaware, such as subtle facial expressions. We think that this idea is parallel to the operation of our motor systems where we do not have precise cognitive insight into how we walk – we just know where we want to go – unless we are paying direct attention to our individual steps and then we still do not know how we keep balance. In emotional interaction, it is the same. We can notice each slightly raised eyebrow but often we do not. We just get a feeling for whether this person is someone with whom the interaction is going well and with whom we can work. Our cognitive mind is like the math teacher who does not see the work of the student in solving a math problem, just the final answer. That process makes “clicking” seem like magic, but it is not.

Malcolm Gladwell wrote about this phenomenon in his book “Blink” and Daniel Kahneman wrote about this process in the thinking fast part of his book “Thinking Fast and Slow.” So, this idea of intuitive knowledge is not new. Still, the implications for conventional higher education are vast. For example, how does a mentoring relationship develop between a faculty member and a student? Can it be assigned or does it have to be organic (we think the latter). We think that is because it is genuine. TS remembers meeting JS when she e-mailed him about an assignment. She was open and honest and hoped it worked with the professor, and it did. This interaction is different when you are given an advisor (it is assigned, and TS likes her advisor). But by reaching out for help with an assignment to a professor, something else happened organically and a mentoring relationship developed. It also helps if the mentor is someone senior in the student’s field of interest who can offer content as well as encouragement. That also makes the interaction authentic. 

So how does this work from a student perspective? When TS first came to college, she was figuring it out and focused on her classes. This was good work but it was all process and it did not seem to be focused on her. As TS said, “I wanted to get to the next stage, e.g. going from a freshman to sophomore to a junior, etc. To me his thinking is all about process, it is all cognitive, but it has no heart or emotion other than not falling behind administratively.” Yes, she had chosen a major. But how does this major choice get turned into something about which a student can feel confident? How does the student learn the value of an enterprise or field of study? Obviously, in this blog series, we think direct experience (e.g. an internship) is important, but here how does interacting with a professor who is a mentor help?

As TS says, in the eyes of a freshman, the transition from high school to college is enlightening but also unnerving. Being thrown into an unfamiliar environment and having to master a new way of living puts you in a vulnerable state. Incoming students are predisposed to regard college professors as hard-hearted and unconcerned towards their student’s well-being. The K-12 schooling experience leaves a bad taste in students’ mouths; past memories of unhelpful teachers and students being ridiculed for asking a question lingers in the mind. The concluding notion is that you do not turn to teachers, solve the problem yourself.

The school environment is similar to that of a factory. Students are conditioned to be well-oiling machines. Productivity is the main priority; a machine is worth nothing except for the work it can create. If an old rusty machine can still complete its task, it is still put to use. It may not look its best or work as fast, but it still gets the job done. In the circumstance that the machine can no longer work, and a manufacturer is unable to put it back together, it is tossed aside. This relationship between the machine and the manufacturer is unfortunately sometimes similar to that of the student and teacher. While this may not always be the case, it is the default mindset of the student. So, in other words, the student sees themselves as more of an object rather than a person. This lack of emotional connectivity between the student and the teacher further fuels the reluctance for the student to reach out and that kickstarts the beginning of everyday emotionally detached interaction. 

In college, this tendency works against the student-professor connection, where there could be value to the student in learning from a faculty member a bit more as a mentor than as a 3-dimensional audio-visual aid. From TS’ perspective she and JS were able to develop a genuine mentoring relationship. This is in part due to TS going against her schemas as described above. The result is this blog, which is itself unusual for a student to write as her position is changed from writing something for a professor to writing something with a professor; much less writing about a relationship that began with a click.

Our next blog is going to be about the productive effects on TS of the mentoring relationship and the same for JS.  We think that part of that productivity is the sympathetic intelligence effect or the resonance that is the click.

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