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Mastering Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence, or EQ, is my passion. It is why I get out of bed every single day. It enlivens every discussion I have with someone, deepens every training I give and the practice and expansion of my own skill-set has enriched my life beyond explanation.

What is EQ?

Emotional Intelligence (EI) or Emotional Quotient (EQ) as it often referred to is one of the two main types of human intelligence. The other, which is more commonly spoken of, is our cognitive intelligence or Intellectual Quotient (IQ).

An easy way to understand the difference is to think of IQ as what we know about the world, and EQ is our emotional response and way of being in the world. IQ is intellectual; facts, rationality and logic. EQ is emotional; our moods, our reactions and responses to people and situations.

Models of EQ

There are a range EQ models available which present variations of our emotional selves. The Genos Model (below) depicts core skills and the resulting productive and unproductive states of that skill.

For example, if we have sound skills in self-management, we can temper and regulate our emotions and use them constructively. If we lack this skill, we may be ‘ruled by’ our emotions and be perceived as moody by others. I am sure we have all experienced the detrimental effects of someone with low self-management skills. Often, other people end up ’wearing’ their emotion as they spew their mood far and wide.

This is referred to as the effects of Emotional Contagion.

Why is EQ Important?

The Western world has placed a huge emphasis on developing our IQ. Our school education, our skills development at work, most of the courses we attend are centred on enhancing our IQ.

Unfortunately, much of our EQ development is left to ‘osmosis’. We are left to learn by trial and error how to regulate our own emotions and how to get along well with others.

When we make a concerted effort to build our own EQ skills, it enhances not our only our relationship with ourselves– what we know and understand about how and why we think and feel the way we do, but it allows to extend these skills in a flexible way to others and build productive and strong bonds with those we work with and play with.

How Do I Master My EQ Skills?

It is crucial to remember that unless we develop awareness of our emotions, unless we become like an observer to their appearance, they can run us rather than us run them.

I often give the example of the old TV Show ‘It’s a Knockout’ where people went through an obstacle course and were battered and belted and tried to hang on and stay on course.

When we are not in the position of the observer and we ‘buy into’ our emotions, we are like the contestant on that show. We are reacting to each emotion as it comes along and it is in the drivers seat as we react, ducking and weaving with our thoughts and behavior. This person is running the belief ‘I feel, therefore it is true.’ There is no distance between them and what they are thinking or feeling.

Instead, if we adopt the position of the observer and create distance between our emotion, thought or feeling, we can decide what to do with it. This person sees the batons flying through the air and can stop them at will and continue walking with relative ease through the obstacle course. This person operates under the belief ‘my feelings, thoughts and emotions inform me, but I decide what to do with them.’

When we become the observer, we can begin to notice thoughts or emotions and consider them. We can ask, is this helpful? If it is, by all means we continue the experience. But if it is not, we know our mind is like a TV set and we can change the channel.

As an example, if have just eaten a TimTam, I might have the thought, ‘oh gee, I am fat! I shouldn’t have eaten that! I have no self control!’ And if I am not careful, that thought can spiral into other negative thoughts that keep breeding, and before I know it I could be feeling so shameful and bad about my choice that my behaviour might be to eat the whole pack, or punish myself in some other way.

If, on the other hand, I notice that thought as the observer, I could acknowledge the thought as unhelpful and simply reframe it to something like, ‘I really enjoyed that TimTam and I am going to stop at one.’

If another negative thought pops up, we simply repeat the process, perhaps with the same or another helpful reframe. This stops the negative spiral dead in its tracks and allows us to go about our day.

We can practice this skill with any event at all! I work with a woman whose had half her house cave in due to a horrendous storm all one weekend and when she arrived at work and we all asked her how she was, she simply said, ‘it’s a great opportunity to redecorate.’

This is not being a Polly-Anna, but merely choosing ones response to the event rather than allowing the event to dictate the reaction. Once we master this powerful skill, the world is our oyster!!!

A key element in developing our EQ is to understand the difference between a reaction and a response. A reaction is re-acting to a stimulus in a way that we have done before. In this way we build short cuts or neural pathways in the brain that create our speedy reactions to things.

It’s great that our brain works this way because it frees up a lot of cognitive energy that we can expend on much higher order thinking. Imagine how exhausted we would be if we had to think about what we were doing every single moment!

But where this is not helpful is when we develop short cuts to unhelpful behaviours. Consider unhelpful habits that we form, usually it is when two behavioural cues sit together simultaneously that we get the urge to engage in that behaviour. The urges can be overwhelming if we do not stop to consider our desired consequence. Examples might be coffee and smoking, stress and eating, anxiety and pushing people and activities away, a parent and a bad mood.

Our brain learns to connect these experiences and creates a behavioural short cut. When exposed to one, we want the other.

A reaction is where the stimulus drives the behavioural action:


A response is where the desired consequence drives the behavioural action:

Trigger——-Thinking About Desired Consequence——-Behaviour

When engaging ourselves in behaviour change, it is important to consider and use this paradigm to our advantage. When we feel an urge, step back and consider the consequences before behaving. Then we are making strategic decisions, not reactive ones.

The Green Stepping Stone and the Vulnerability Moat: Essential Reading for today’s Leader. By Abby Rees. Originally Published in The Performance Architect, a Yellow Edge Publication

I read a quote as a youngster which really shaped the way I considered things…. In fact whenever I feel fear creeping into my decision making process, I still remind myself of this quote. It says,

"Man cannot discover new oceans until he has courage enough to lose sight of the shore." Anon.

As a leader in my own right, I cannot recount to you the number of times this quote has challenged me to move forward when all I wanted to was retreat into the known, the safe. Moving forward presents a battle field for the psyche. There are unknown consequences, ones that are unintended and cannot be anticipated. There are new combatants and new challenges that will arise. And, perhaps most frighteningly, there is no way of completely retreating once the journey forward has begun…

The leader who accepts this reality has no way of truly knowing what is in store for them. It is no surprise then, that the word ‘leadership’ evolved from the word ‘leith’ which roughly translates from ancient times into ‘he who goes forth to die.’ And while an ancient definition, this precisely exemplifies the issue facing many contemporary leaders as it draws the line in the sand between courageous leaders and leader-ish leaders.

I illustrate the point that separates the good from the great with the metaphor of a moat. The point at which our decisions become courageous is the bright green stepping stone immediately before the ‘Vulnerability Moat’. Are we going to stay safe and dry and make choices that keep us on the side of the moat we know and are familiar with? This is the land of slow and incremental change.

Or, are we going to dive into the vulnerability moat where we might sink or get swept away before we make it to other side? And who knows what is on the other side! People will ultimately view us differently. We will be raw and exposed, standing on the other side of the moat, dripping and tired. People will see that and judge that. They might not want to come with us. We might find ourselves standing there alone.

Or worse, having to swim back to other side, with everyone knowing we just didn’t make it. Will they trust us again? Will I trust myself?

Most leader-ish leaders will pause on the Green Stepping Stone. They will survey the moat, get glimpses of what is on the other side and retreat, leaving what they could potentially achieve as an unrealized pebble, strewn on the ground. Another potentially courageous leader bites the dust and the status quo is maintained.

However, the other kind of leader exists too. The one who surveys the moat, gets glimpses of what may lie on the other side and dives in anyway, acknowledging there are going to both intended and unintended consequences for their actions, yet they are driven to action by purpose and values. This is the action of the brave.

On the other side of the moat, there lives transformational change and innovation of unknown scope. However, there also lives epic failures and the bones of leaders who felt the gripping cold of disappointment and instead of getting back and diving into a new moat, they let it overcome them and freeze their capacity to grow and move on.

This is not the land of those who are afraid of being exposed, of making their failures and their successes public. This is the land, to borrow the words of Vulnerability expert Brene’ Brown, for those who are truly willing to get naked.

Last year I stood on the precipice of the Green Stepping Stone, peering over the moat, trying to make a very major life decision… I was about to retreat when my Trusted Adviser (otherwise known as my very best friend), stood behind me with her two hands out. In one, she held a glass of wine (for the pain) and in the other, she held the strength of a gentle but firm push. “You know what you need to do,” she advised sagely.

With those words I felt the gentle push of her hand between my shoulder blades. I took a deep breath, dove into the water and swam and paddled. The whole time I could hear her voice calling, “you go girl, swim, swim, swim!” Other voices began to join hers as I neared the shore.

Voices of those who loved me and ‘had my back’.

With the sounds of their love and support in my ears, I kept on paddling until my tired hands touched the other side. You see, as the prose by John Donne goes, no man is an island. When making big, courageous leaps, we need the unique fuel that comes from a close support network. Our purpose and dream will get us so far, and for the last few aching strokes, we need those we love.

Professionally and personally, whether we consider ourselves a leader or not, we will reach the precipice of the Green Stepping Stone. Some of us more frequently than others by virtue of who we are or what we do. The next step we take will either define us at that point as Leader-ish, or as a Courageous Leader. There are consequences to both. The question is, which can you live with? Throwing away potential to turn to dust on the ground, or diving in and giving it all you’ve got, come what may? For those of you who dive in, I’ll be cheering as loudly as I can for you, and waiting on the other side with a towel and a smooth glass of red…

And when you are standing up there, on that Green Stepping Stone, let this quote enter into your thoughts:

For an effervescent life, keep your thoughts fearless, your emotions constructive and your actions venturesome.

- Abby Rees.

We have such an amazing array of free educational material on the internet, it never ceases to amaze me! Those who are feeling a little time-poor might really love these 2 Goleman shortcuts...

Daniel Goleman is one of the best known and most respected authorities on Emotional Intelligence. He coined the phrase in the mid 90’s after building on Salovey and Mayer’s work.

Goleman has many books, but if you’re in a rush and want a ‘quick fix’, check out his explanation of EQ on Youtube through the following clip

Also for the rushed, if you go to Google and type in a search for Primal Leadership PDF, you can access a free and comprehensive executive summary of Goleman’s Primal Leadership: Recognising the Power of Emotional Intelligence book.

A few EQ books that never seem to make it off my bedside because I refer to them so often are:

Drive, by Daniel Pink.

This book looks at the differences between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation and how we can utilise these for ourselves and as leaders.

Daring Greatly, by Brene Brown

A little ‘clunky’ to read in parts but as spectacular examination of vulnerability!

Be Brilliant Every Day, by Cope and Whitakker

Emotional Intelligence with a giant serve of humour. Love it. It’s basic content but a great read!


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