After two men were unnecessarily arrested in a Philadelphia Starbucks last week, CEO Kevin Johnson expressed his desire to meet with them--to apologize personally and invite the men to help him find a constructive way to move forward. (The men were arrested when a store manager called the police, claiming that they were sitting in the store without ordering and refused to leave. The men said they were waiting for another man, who arrived as the arrest was taking place.)

In a video posted on Starbucks's website, Johnson says that he recently sat down with the men, face-to-face.

"You know, I've had the opportunity to meet with the two young gentlemen who were arrested last Thursday in our store," Johnson says. "I sat in front of them, and I apologized personally to them for what happened."

He continues:

They shared with me the story of their personal experience going through this, and we had a very emotional and a very constructive conversation. We had the opportunity to meet with the mayor, with city council members, with the police commissioner, with customers, with partners, and community leaders--all with an objective to ensure we really understand, and that we begin to craft our path forward.

The first step in that "path forward" is a major one. According to a company statement, Starbucks will close its more than 8,000 company-owned stores in the U.S. on the afternoon of May 29 to conduct racial-bias education geared toward preventing discrimination in its stores. "The training will be provided to nearly 175,000 partners (employees) across the country, and will become part of the onboarding process for new partners," the statement reads.

Although the issues of racial prejudice and unconscious bias are extremely complex, I see Johnson's actions as an excellent real-world example of emotional intelligence.

What's EQ got to do with it?

Emotional intelligence is the capacity to identify emotions, to recognize their powerful effects, and to use that information to inform and guide behavior. Emotional intelligence is founded on the quality of empathy, the ability to see and feel things from another person's perspective.

Psychologists Daniel Goleman and Paul Ekman actually describe three forms of empathy. I describe this breakdown in my forthcoming book, EQ Applied: The Real-World Guide to Emotional Intelligence:

Cognitive empathy is the ability to understand a person's thoughts and feelings. It begins with careful listening.

Emotional empathy (also known as affective empathy) is the ability to share the feelings of another person. Some have described it as "your pain in my heart."

Compassionate empathy (also known as empathic concern) goes beyond simply understanding and sharing the feelings of others; it moves you to take action in a helpful way.

Johnson's description of recent meetings in Philadelphia are in line with all three forms of empathy. He attempted to develop cognitive empathy by listening to the two men and their experience. The goal was to help him understand their perspective in this experience. Hopefully this helped Johnson to find a way to share the feelings of the two young men (emotional empathy).

Finally, by developing an action plan for Starbucks partners (employees), Johnson used this very unfortunate incident as a catalyst to exercise compassionate empathy--to turn compassion into action.

Of course, I'd love to speak to the two men involved to hear their firsthand account of how this meeting went, how it made them feel, and what they think of Starbucks's plan moving forward. (Up to now, the two men have not been identified publicly.) And even if they are supportive, a few hours of corporate training aren't going to solve major issues like these.

But in a world where empathy has become less common, I see Johnson's actions as a positive example.

So, the next time you and another person don't see eye to eye, try listening carefully. Get to know their point of view, and strive to understand why they feel the way they do. Endeavor to be helpful.

Doing so will fuel stronger connections and help you build stronger relationships ... as you learn to see the world through another person's eyes.

Published on: Apr 18, 2018
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