Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is about perception, understanding and regulation of emotion (Joseph & Newman, 2010), and can be defined as“[t]he ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them, and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions.” (Salovey & Mayer, 1990). Popularized by Daniel Goleman (2005), this school of thought posits that people with more emotional intelligence are better performers, experience more positive affect, and are more creative. They make better, more effective, committed, and cooperative unit members and leaders.

Emotional Skills that Enhance Leadership Effectiveness


Awareness of situations that are difficult for you and your “triggers;” understanding how your emotions and actions are connected. A key component is recognizing when fatigue or low energy could lead to poor emotional management or decision-making.
Introspection and ReflectionDaily reflection or journaling can provide a way to see growth over time and to identify opportunities for improvement.
Emotional VocabularyIt is hard to recognize and understand what you cannot name. Explore some of the taxonomies available and use one that works for you.
Emotionally-Skillful ConversationsConfusing thoughts and emotions can complicate communication and limit emotional growth. Avoid saying “I feel like…” in favor of naming a reaction: say “I feel” followed by an emotion, like “happy” or “dismayed”. Say “I think that” when it is a perception, judgment, or idea.
Emotionally-Skillful ThinkingThe think-versus-feel confusion extends beyond interpersonal communication into intrapersonal communication. Be aware of your own internal cognitive processing. Practice “I feel [emotion] and think [thought]” to help you see feelings, thoughts, and how they interrelate.
Seek Out Emotionally-Skillful PeopleThose around influence our habits. Seek out emotionally-skillful role models and unit members. Watch for it when hiring.
Seek out Opportunities for Developmental Conversations

Coaches, therapists, and other professionals can serve as good sounding boards, provide an opportunity to articulate feelings in a safe environment, and help hold you accountable for your continuing development.  

Some friends or family may have a natural talent for listening and can be helpful in talking through emotionally-laden events and can point out patterns that we ourselves do not see—if you can have those conversations confidentially and not breach professional boundaries.

Model Emotionally-Skillful InteractionsA leader who models emotionally-skillful interactions, who discusses the importance of civility and good boundaries, can help foster a more emotionally-intelligent workplace.

Elements of Emotional Intelligence

Recognizing Emotions
  • Emotionally-intelligent people perceive emotions (“read people”) better than their counterparts.  
  • Emotional intelligence helps you navigate the social world.  
  • The ability to recognize emotions in yourself and those around you enables awareness of and access to another level of communication and understanding beyond cognition and the spoken word.
Self-Knowledge for Understanding, Self-Regulation
  • Recognizing your own emotions helps you manage them appropriately.
  • Emotions find ways of emerging, often in counterproductive ways, if not managed. For example:
    • If you don’t recognize that you are angry and process that emotion constructively, it can seep out in inappropriate ways or at inappropriate times, sometimes quite remote from the original source.
    • Or, fear of failure can manifest as procrastination.
  • Recognition of the emotion supports introspection. You can ask yourself questions like…

Emotionally intelligent people are not ruled by their emotions.

Perception Precedes and Enables Understanding

Understanding precedes and enables regulation.

  • “Why do I feel this way?”
  • “Where is this coming from?”
  • “Is this about me or the situation?”
  • You can adjust your emotional state purposefully. 
    • If you feel anxious about the consequences of a choice, you can imagine the worst-case scenario and how you would handle it. Once you have planned for the worst you can imagine, you may feel less anxious. 
    • Another effective technique is to imagine giving advice to a friend about the situation, and then reassessing your own reaction. By then, you will likely have built more confidence that, no matter how bad it is, you will be able to handle it. 

Understanding and Regulation: Social Knowledge

  • Recognizing emotions in others allows you to choose appropriate times and places to engage them.
    • If you can see someone is pre-occupied or upset about something, you may be able to delay a difficult conversation to a time when he or she is on a better emotional footing and your conversation is more likely to be productive. 
  • Emotionally-intelligent people are good at providing appropriate emotional support and advice. They are good at intuiting not only the emotional states of others, but likely reasons for them. 
  • Emotional intelligence provides insights into how your expression of emotions affects others and how their expressions affect you. 
  • Emotional skills help you identify emotional toxicity in your environs, establish appropriate boundaries, and make decisions that channel your emotional labor in conscious, constructive pathways.

Additional Resources

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