Visual intelligence for emotional intelligence

A close up photo of a fly in profile with the eye in the center. The fly is against a black background.

In 2016 Amy Herman published her book, Visual Intelligence: Sharpen your Perception, Change Your Life. It is based on her seminar, “The Art of Perception,” which she delivers to a wide-range of professionals. When I was reading this book I thought a lot about the Emotional Intelligence Interpersonal Composite.

Her focus in the first section of her book, “Assess”, is on the ways we rely on peoples’ observation skills, and are relied on for our own observation skills, every day. What about when we get on a plane? Sit down with a medical practitioner?

[and] medical and law enforcement professionals aren’t the only ones who need to know how to identify pertinent information, prioritize it, draw conclusions from it, and communicate it. We all do.

Amy Herman, Visual Intelligence: Sharpen your Perception, Change your Life, xvii.

This theme connects the development of visual intelligence with the Social Responsibility skill. Visual Intelligence can help us avoid making mistakes in surgery, crashing an airplane, or misreading the daily situations unfolding all around us.

Visual Intelligence, soft cover and hard cover, by Amy E. Herman.

Throughout the second part of Herman’s book, “Analyze,” I thought about the Empathy skill. One case study she uses in this chapter is JR’s “Women are Heroes” project. This project was intended to bring attention to the situation of poverty and isolation in Morro da Providência, which Rio de Janeiro and the rest of the world had previously ignored. JR photographed the eyes of the women who live there. He taught them how to hang the prints – they were massive and could be seen from Rio – and then left Brazil. The women were the ones finally interviewed. JR used a visual medium to make the rest of the world take notice and empathize with the residents of the favela.

In this section Herman also addresses more day-to-day scenarios. She talks about getting a new perspective. If you’re a manager it’s important to get out onto the floor, engage with your team, and take notice.

In the third part, “Articulate,” the focus is very much on Interpersonal Relationships. How do we communicate clearly what we witness?

It goes beyond the “Interpersonal” composite. In her final section, “Adapt,” Herman addresses how Visual Intelligence helps us reflect on our inherent biases and priorities. Sound familiar?

There are varying definitions of Visual Intelligence, but Herman’s book makes it easy to see the connections between our VI and our EI. Both strengths require intentional development, and both can change the way we engage with the world (and the humans!) around us.1

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