Friday, August 29, 2008

How Emotionally Intelligent Are You?

Yesterday, I marched into the dermatologist's office at 1:55 p.m., five minutes early for my appointment. At 2:20 p.m., I was led into a private, procedure room. At 2:48 p.m., the dermatologist finally waltzed in and asked, "How are you?" I replied, "I'm behind schedule."

He acted as though he didn't hear me and began asking his medical questions. I sat fuming that I had waited 48 minutes, was going to be late for my 3 p.m. telephone call, AND this new doctor never even acknowledged his tardiness. But as they say on streets, “My bad.” That’s right, I messed up. I now realize that I did not handle the incident in an emotionally intelligent manner. I also know that little episodes like this one offer the opportunity to practice what I teach - the importance of growing emotional intelligence.

So, how emotionally intelligent are you? More importantly, why should you care about growing your emotional intelligence? Let's tackle the second question. There is a large body of evidence clearly demonstrating that emotionally intelligent leaders perform better, are promoted faster, and have lower turnover compared to those who are less emotionally intelligent. (1) The research by Professor David Caruso and Peter Salovey has also shown that there are four skills that can help you grow your emotionally intelligence. I have adapted them here to fit my leadership model. The four skills are:

1. Perceive your emotions. Emotions contain data. They are signals that tell us something is going on that we need to pay attention to. The first step in being an emotionally intelligent leader is to be able to identify what emotions are occurring in ourselves and those around us. This was my first failure in the doctor's office. I should have recognized that the emotion I was feeling was frustration.

2. Use your emotions. Researchers have shown that there are neurological links between how we feel and how we think. Emotions direct our attention to important events. We can try to ignore an emotion, but we are wired to have them influence our thinking and decision-making. Emotionally intelligent leaders use their emotions to help inform their thinking. In the doctor's office, I could have used my emotion to handle the situation better. For example, if I had told the doctor that I was feeling frustrated, and he asked why, it would have led to a discussion about how to handle the situation in the future.

3. Understand your emotional future. One of the major reasons to grow our emotional intelligence is to be able to perform better - to produce outcomes that are more desirable. After taking the first two steps in this process, we are able to ask questions such as; What might happen if I choose option A? What’s the probable outcome if I try option B? Will option C really get me the result I desire?

4. Manage your emotions. This final step teaches us how to share our feelings with others. This includes communicating with empathy, which means to have a sensitivity regarding how others may be feeling and how they might receive our communication. Once again, you can see that I failed in this step during my dermatology visit. Physicians are busy professionals who seldom have full control over their schedule. Some patients or procedures require more time than anticipated. I showed little empathy in communicating in my caustic manner.

Next time someone pulls your emotional trigger, how surprised will you be when these steps lead you to a more desirable outcome? Let me know how they work for you.

Keep on streching,


1. David Caruso and Peter Salovey: ‘The Emotionally Intelligent Manager: How To Develop and Use The Four Key Emotional Skills of Leadership,’ Josse-Bass, San Francisco, California, 2004.

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