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Minisode 10 | December 15, 2020

Understanding Emotional Intelligence

In this minisode, we break down the 5 key elements of emotional intelligence, and provide actionable tips you can apply in your daily life to help develop yours.


Welcome to “That’s a Hard No” – the podcast about saying no (in all its forms) so you can become the authentic and empowered person that this world needs.

Quick disclosure: While Sarah is a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor, this podcast is in no way replacement for one-on-one therapy with a mental health professionalIf you are struggling with mental health issues, we welcome you on this journey, but also invite you to seek out professional help.

Looking for a therapist? Here’s a good place to start:

emotional intelligence
Key Takeaways

According to Daniel Goleman, an American psychologist who helped to popularize emotional intelligence, there are five key elements – Self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills. In his book Working with Emotional Intelligence, he cites the Harvard Business School research that determined that emotional intelligence counts for twice as much as IQ and technical skills combined in determining who will be successful.

  1. Self-awareness – recognizing your feelings as they occur
  2. Self-regulation – the ability to manage your emotional reactions, control impulse, and recover from difficult situations
  3. Motivation – this is actually a skill! Using your emotions in the sense of a goal, staying hopeful despite setbacks (we did a minisode on “What’s your Why” which outlines how to develop this skill)
  4. Empathy – emotional sensitivity to others; this is actually a talent – being able to tune into others’ feelings and reading their unspoken messages. “Empaths” are highly sensitive individuals, who have a keen ability to sense what people around them are thinking and feeling. Psychologists may use the term “empath” to describe a person that experiences a great deal of empathy, sometimes to the point of taking on the pain of others at their own expense.
  5. Social skills – when outlining emotional intelligence, the term “social skills” refers to the skills needed to handle and influence other people’s emotions effectively. Once you are able to understand and manage yourself, then you start to understand the emotions and feelings of others (which is where empathy comes into play), and that influences your social interactions.

When emotions run high, we’re unable to think rationally and logically. Sarah often talks about emotions being like a thermometer. When our temperature is high, our emotions are heightened, and that’s when we experience “brain fog.” Think about driving in a car that has a muddy (or salty) windshield – you keep moving but it’s very hard to see where you’re going. So, when our emotions are heightened, it truly changes the way our brain functions – diminishing our cognitive abilities, decision making, and interpersonal skills. When we can better understand and manage our emotions (and the emotions of others) we’ll see success in both our personal and professional lives.

Managing emotions is especially important in situations when we are under pressure. For example:

  • Giving and receiving feedback (“feedback is just information”)
  • Meeting tight deadlines
  • Dealing with challenging relationships
  • Not having enough resources
  • Navigating change
  • Working through setbacks

Research proves that the brain is extraordinarily flexible – which is why we talk so much about having a growth mindset. The five key skillsets mentioned above can be improved. Through conscious effort, self-education, and practice, you can improve your emotional intelligence at any age. If you are looking to improve your emotional intelligence, here are some helpful tips:

Self Awareness:

  • Keep a journal – journaling helps you improve self-awareness. If you spend just a few minutes each day writing down your thoughts, this can help you achieve a higher degree of self-awareness.
  • Slow down – when you experience anger or other strong emotions, slow down and “pause” to examine the “why” behind the emotion. Where is this emotion stemming from? (Take a listen to our “Park it, sleep on it, put a pin in it.” minisode, which talks about this concept.)


  • Know your values and identify your boundaries – Do you have a clear idea of where you absolutely will not compromise? In other words, what are your hard no’s? Spend some time really identifying your “code of ethics.” If you know what is most important to you, you’ll be less likely to think twice when you face a tough moral or ethical decision.
  • Hold yourself accountable – If you tend to blame others when something goes wrong, stop. Make a commitment to admit to your mistakes and face the consequences, whatever they are. Studies have proven that when you take ownership, responsibility, and accountability for your actions, you actually sleep better. You’ll also earn the respect of others.
  • Practice being calm – The next time you’re in a challenging situation, be very aware of how you act. (Sarah often reminds her clients “all feelings are welcome, all behaviors are not”). This is where self-care comes into play. Find what works for you and practice it.  Some quick suggestions to stay calm in the moment: take deep breaths, count, take a drink of water, verbally say “I need a break” or “I need to walk away.”


  • Re-examine your why – Go back and listen to our “What’s Your Why” minisode for a refresher. Write it down somewhere, so you can see or start each day reading it or writing it out.
  • Be hopeful and grateful – Every time you face a challenge, try to find at least one good thing about the situation. This can be difficult in the moment, especially if your brain is naturally wired through learned behavior or years of negative thinking. The good news is, you can develop this skill through a daily gratitude practice. Write down a few simple phrases that you can repeat to yourself during challenging moments. When Sarah faces a challenge, she reminds herself that “It is all figureoutable.” Heather reminds herself that “this is temporary” and “I’ve been through hard things before. I can get through this too.”


  • Put yourself in someone else’s shoes – it’s easy to support your own point of view. But, take the time to look at situations from other people’s perspectives. Sarah works daily with individuals on developing the skill of perspective-taking. A helpful tool she uses is this worksheet, called “Unhelpful Thinking Styles” from Psychology Tools, which can help us overcome our biases and think in a more balanced way.

Social Skills

  • Out of all of the 5 elements of emotional intelligence, developing social skills is one of the most difficult for people. Especially in today’s day in age, when we’re not doing as much face to face interpersonal interactions. “Social skills” encompass a wide range of interpersonal skills and competencies, many of which are rooted in self-esteem and personal confidence.
  • By developing your social skills, being easy to talk to, being a good listener, being sharing and trustworthy, you also become more charismatic and more personable to others.
  • If you’re struggling socially, we recommend the book Get out of your head by Jennie Allen.

We live in an age when we can earn a certification in any number of topics to boost our careers, thanks to technology, but sadly we can’t earn one in emotional intelligence. It’s something we have to address as individuals. We need to recognize it as important, choose to improve on it, and continue to work on it – probably for the rest of our lives. But the payoffs are worth it as we become better employees, leaders, spouses, parents, and all-around better people.

Resources & Recommendations
Credits and Thanks