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Emotional Intelligence 101

I'll never forget sitting in a Jepson Hall classroom learning about emotional intelligence. Suddenly, my strengths and weaknesses began to become a bit clearer; the way I approached those around me snapped into picture. In the years since that initial lesson, I've read many models of emotional intelligence. I find Daniel Goleman's work accessible and digestible, as he often wrote for non-academic audiences.

Goleman, and most recently with collaborators Boyatzis & McKee, identifies 4 domains of emotional intelligence: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, & relationship management. Within each domain, there are a set of associated competencies which can be strengthened and honed over time.

Focusing on these competencies can enhance our everyday lives immeasurably. First, let's consider self-awareness. So much of how we interact with the world around us begins with how we think about ourselves. Being aware of our own emotions and our ability to assess our strengths and weaknesses accurately keeps us grounded.

When we think about how self-awareness ties into coaching, much of the work between client and coach is aimed at deepening self-awareness. A coach will prod a client to think critically about their lives and experiences from different angles, trying to further the client's self-awareness. Many mindfulness practices also begin with self-awareness: breathing, taking stock of one's emotions, and sitting in that present space. As many find with mindfulness practices, self-awareness helps us self-regulate.

This leads us to self-management, the second domain. Without knowledge of where we are emotionally, it is hard to appropriately manage ourselves. Self-management competencies are focused on our ability to translate knowledge and awareness into action. Have you ever reacted rashly and disproportionately and realized it was because of something completely separate from the circumstance at hand? This is usually driven by limited self-awareness and self-management. By continuously scanning our internal environment, we can more adequately predict and control our reactions and internal voices.

Many aspects of self-regulation are managed in very primitive parts of our brains - the parts that drive "fight or flight" and other basic survival instincts. This means that we must work extra hard to be consciously aware of ourselves so we can overcome these basic instincts. A coach can work with a client to identify patterns in thought and behavior (self-awareness). Then, the coach can guide the client to predict emotional triggers and establish new thought patterns or actions to take in those moments. In this way, we can rebuild our habits and strengthen our self-management.

Next we move to the external - social awareness. Social awareness encompasses how we orient to the world around us. Our brains are an intricate system built to find resonance with others. At our most basic, we are relational beings, built to work with those around us to survive. Our social awareness, or empathy, helps us relate, find similarity, and band together. These competencies allow us to understand the people around us and the organizations we comprise. This awareness helps us know when and how to interact or approach others to maximize our success.

Social awareness has taken on increased complexity as our global society has become more interconnected. As we interact with others from different backgrounds, cultures, and perspectives, we must put our empathy to use in understanding and respecting differences and establishing common ground. Coaches can play a role in helping clients think through events through different perspectives and increase social awareness.

This leads us from awareness of others to relationship management, the last domain of emotional intelligence. Relationship management draws upon all three domains to culminate in successful interactions with others. Being aware of oneself and able to control one's reactions allows us to see others' reactions more clearly. This then allows us to manage expertly to build relationships and find commonality with others.

Humans have thrived for millennia by building communities. As our societies become increasingly complex, our ability to relate to and find authentic interactions with others is key to our success. Little in life today is constant. We depend on our ability to influence change - in parenting, in our jobs, with our pets, the list goes on. Relationship management, fueled by the other three domains of emotional intelligence, allows us to effectively generate these changes. It is worth investing time and energy to reflect on and strengthen each domain and competency.


Goleman, D., Boyatzis, R., & McKee, A. (2013). Primal Leadership: Unleashing the power of emotional intelligence. Harvard Business Review Press.

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