Sunday Conversation: USF's Joann Farrell Quinn keeps an eye on EI

Courtesy of JKQ Consulting Joann Farrell Quinn is a professor with the Morsani College of Medicine at the University of South Florida and an expert on emotional intelligence.
Courtesy of JKQ Consulting Joann Farrell Quinn is a professor with the Morsani College of Medicine at the University of South Florida and an expert on emotional intelligence.
Published Aug. 19, 2018

As early as the age of 5, Joann Farrell Quinn observed people. • She just enjoyed watching them. Those days represented the infant stages of her interest in human behavior, but as an adult, she ended up working in investment management.

"Over the years, I got sidetracked by grades and schoolwork and work," Farrell Quinn said. "Then I realized what I was missing. I was way too focused on policies and procedures, way too focused on expecting people to do the right thing."

So she returned to school to get an MBA and discovered the importance of emotional intelligence and interpersonal skills.

Now Farrell Quinn holds a doctorate with a focus on emotional intelligence from Case Western University. She leads her own consulting firm, recently co-authored a primer and is writing a text book on emotional intelligence and teaches the tenets of EI to students in the University of South Florida Health Morsani College of Medicine Select Program.

It's an important skill to add to the students' training given that doctors are facing patients and family members in medically-charged situations.

Farrell Quinn recently spoke to Tampa Bay Times columnist Ernest Hooper about the psychology of managing people, what's driven her to engage in a variety of activities and how she bares a striking resemblance to a certain actress.

Haven't doctors already learned emotional intelligence?

It's kind of difficult some times because people think that they have learned these things by the time they get to that point. Then of course, I'm going to teach them what they don't know, which can be a little bit painful. I try to teach things in a 'What, Why and How' kind of structure. What it is. Why it's important from the literature; what do all the studies say. And then, how do we do something about it.

The No. 1 thing I hear, not just from my MD students, but people across the board when I'm teaching EI is that it's common sense. The problem is we know common sense isn't very common. It's really easy to be good at things when everything is going well, but everything completely breaks down when things get a little bit more difficult.

It sounds like a modern version of bedside manner.

That's definitely part of it. In our program, we teach "leadership, health systems, and values-based patient centered care," and that's under this umbrella of emotional intelligence. Bedside manner certainly is how to be a good person and listen and make shared decisions, right?. Certainly, that's part of it. I call emotional intelligence everything outside of cognitive intelligence. So it's all of the things you're doing personally to be aware and manage your behavior, and also, interpersonally, to understand other people and to have better relationships.

On the social side, it is empathy; how we understand other people, where they're coming from, and teamwork, conflict management, inspirational leadership and other such competencies.

Does that empathy extend to their fellow medical students?

Absolutely. When people think of physicians and they focus on bedside manner and then frame it in terms of, "Are we being emotionally intelligent," they think naturally about their patient relationship, which is super important. But I actually study the interaction between colleagues. So, how do the physicians interact with other team members being all different types of healthcare providers, as well as the larger organizations that they're operating within.

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How did you come to embrace the tenets of emotional intelligence?

Oh my goodness (laughs). Because I feel like I was lacking them. I was working at this investment management firm, and I was a vice president overseeing trading and operations and I worked on a portfolio management team. And I thought, 'What the heck is going on? Why don't people do what they're supposed to do? Why aren't they getting along?'

So you went to Syracuse to get your MBA?

I went back to understand a little bit more about management. I felt like I had people that were working for me and I might not be doing what I'm supposed to be doing. So, how do I learn what I'm supposed to do as a leader, as a manager? I studied organizational management and I started realizing it's people that are the problem even though I had policies and procedures out the wazoo.

There's a psychology involved, right?

Absolutely. I did a study with one of my professors at Syracuse on emotional intelligence and started learning about it and decided that's what I wanted to study. As timing worked out, that firm was closing down right after I got my MBA, so it worked out really well that I had to make a life decision, regardless. I knew I wanted to go and get my Ph.D ... so I spent another year trying to figure it out, and then I went to Case Western, studying under Richard Boyatzis.

So it sounds like the timing was good. Were you confident about shifting careers?

No (laughs). I don't know if anybody is really confident about that. I just knew I was ready to make a change. I loved the ups and downs of trading. I loved the ups and I could put up with the downs. But I didn't really love investment management. I didn't love the industry. I didn't feel like making money for other people, or myself for that matter, really gave me any meaning. I wanted to do something that felt more meaningful.

What makes this more meaningful?

Because it helps people. My real mission is just to help people develop themselves all the way around, personally and professionally. I don't think you separate that out.

Growing up in upstate New York, were you emotionally intelligent?

I had too much empathy. I'm not sure how much emotional intelligence I had growing up. I always had a ton of empathy, too much empathy. I took in all the strays and I'm still taking in strays. I used to take in a lot of stray people. Certainly a lot of animals. Three dogs, two cats — all rescues.

You said you found your way to emotional intelligence because you discovered what you were missing. Describe to me what you were missing.

I was missing the understanding, my own understanding, about what's motivating me and what's motivating other people. Why is it I can't get people to do what they should be doing in the same way? If I see two people, and I ask them to do something, why aren't they both responding to it. That's when I went back to figure out that everybody is different you have to figure out what makes everybody tick on an individual basis.

So, you once owned a California winery with your husband Harold. You helped Kazakhstan establish its first stock exchange. You wrote the dissertation for your doctoral degree while pregnant. What drives you to do so much?

I want to make sure I don't get bored. I like to do a few different things. Maybe I have too much energy. Well, not anymore. Ean (her son) takes that out of me.

How do you balance it all?

I think I handle things pretty well. Sometimes my own ambitions catch up to me, but that's okay. I pull it off. I work really well under pressure.

Last question. Are you familiar with actress Valerie Bertinelli?

Oh, I hear that all the time. Arghhh. I don't see it. At all. On the record: groan.

Sunday Conversation is edited for brevity and clarity. Contact Ernest Hooper at Follow him @hoop4you.