Daniel Goleman, PhD: Emotional Intelligence Now
Tami Simon: Welcome to Insights at the Edge produced by Sounds True. My name is Tami Simon. I’m the founder of Sounds True. And I’d love to take a moment to introduce you to the new Sounds True Foundation. The Sounds True Foundation is dedicated to creating a wiser and kinder world by making transformational education widely available.
We want everyone to have access to transformational tools, such as mindfulness, emotional awareness, and self-compassion, regardless of financial, social, or physical challenges. The Sounds True Foundation is a nonprofit dedicated to providing these transformational tools to communities in need, including at risk youth, prisoners, veterans, and those in developing countries.
If you’d like to learn more or feel inspired to become a supporter, please visit soundstruefoundation.org.
You’re listening to Insights at the Edge. Today, my guest is Dan Goleman. Dan is an internationally known psychologist and science journalist. He is the author of the book Emotional Intelligence, a book that has more than 5 million copies in print worldwide, in 40 languages. And recently, has been released as a special 25th Anniversary Edition.
And Dan has written a new introduction to this 25th Anniversary Edition. Dan is also a faculty member of Sounds True’s new Inner MBA program, which is a nine-month immersion training program on developing the inner skills that support people to manage and lead conscious businesses and turn business into being a force for good.
You can learn more about the Inner MBA program at innermbaprogram.com. Dan Goleman has a supremely precise mind and a warm heart. And he’s such a powerful force when it comes to educating people on the subtleties of developing greater emotional intelligence. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Dan Goleman.
To begin with, Dan, congratulations on the 25th Anniversary Edition of Emotional Intelligence, what a milestone, congratulations.
Daniel Goleman: Oh, that’s kind of you, Tami. Yes. I wrote a new intro updating my thinking on it because it’s changed quite a bit in 25 years. And people who only read the first book and haven’t followed my thinking are a little bit behind the curve. So, I’m trying to bring everybody up to speed.
TS: Good. Well, later on in our conversation, we’ll have to talk about what the updates are—
TS: —that you have in the new edition. But to start, I want to start with some real basics, if that’s OK. Real basics, I want to learn from the science journalist, writer himself. He wrote the book on Emotional Intelligence. So, here we go. What are emotions, emotions themselves, what are they?
DG: Emotions are the brains way of making us pay attention to and act quickly on something that the brains radar for threat thinks is extremely important. Or the brains circuitry for motivation thinks is extremely important. So, our worst emotions, the ones that make us do things we might regret later, like anger or panic are signs that the brain’s radar for threat, which is called the amygdala has detected something that it thinks is going to harm us in some way.
This design worked very well when the brain was being designed by nature, in human prehistory when we lived on the savanna, the jungle, and really sucks now that we live in a complex social reality. So, we have this biological reaction, the fight or flight response, which was worked really well presumably in early human history. But, today, it gives us this cascade of hormones that are meant to prepare us to run or fight in response to something like he’s not treating me fairly. So, it’s a response which is, unfortunately, out of proportion to the reality that we face today. That’s on the downside.
The upside is the things that make us feel really good that make us keep going toward our goals and things we really want, or the people we love, or all of the positive emotions come from the same circuitry and emotions are, as I said, the way the central nervous system gets us to do something that thinks matters.
TS: OK. At one point, you said the brain and then the central nervous system is giving us these messages. And I just want to be clear because some people talk about emotions as starting in the body physiologically, as if it could be distributed throughout, like your gut could be sending a message.
I’m just curious what you think about our entire physiology as potentially being the source of emotional responses. Or is it really more the brain?
DG: Yes. Well, I think it’s a false dichotomy. The brain is part of the body, and emotions are embodied. They’re spread throughout the body. So, you may know that you’re anxious from that funny feeling in your stomach. You may notice that you’re angry because your heart rate is increased.
I don’t know that there’s a satisfactory answer to “Where does it begin, in the brain or the body?” because I think it begins [in] both simultaneously. It’s interesting—they’re discovering that we don’t have a thought, which doesn’t have an emotional valence. We like it or don’t like it, that’s automatic. It happens unconsciously.
If you think of something, a car, your partner, whatever it is, the brain and body attach an emotional positivity or negativity to that. And that just helps guide us through life happens automatically. And I think the body is involved as—the central nervous system, which the brain is part of, is diffused throughout the body. I don’t know where it starts, but I know it’s everywhere.
TS: OK. Now, this may also seem to you like splitting hairs, or maybe it’s even also a false dichotomy. But there’s a discussion about which comes first, thoughts or emotions. And you’re saying thoughts have this emotional valence, do we even know what an emotion is without thought? What’s your view of this relationship between thoughts and emotions?
DG: Well, micro studies have done in cognitive science of a thought arising and emotion arising, a find that this valence, that I talked about, the stamping of a thought, the positivity and negativity is basically simultaneous. The thought of the feeling arises with thought. There may be a difference in microseconds, thousandths of a second.
But I don’t think there’s a subjective difference at all. So, I’m not going to take a position that thought is prior to feeling or feeling is prior to thought.
TS: OK. Now, have you heard this idea that when a feeling comes, it lasts 90 seconds, unless we invest in it in some way, like we have to cooperate with it, think about it, keep it going, or it will appear and disappear in a 90-second arc?
I’m wondering if you’ve heard this, if you think this is just like pop shenanigans, or if there’s validity to this.
DG: Who says that?
TS: I’ve been hearing a lot of people quote it. I don’t know the original source.
DG: Yes. I think that emotions come in bursts, that last varying time periods. Ninety seconds sounds a little mythic or fallacious to me, like the so-called 10,000 times rule for mastering an ability, that’s also fiction. It’s a misinterpretation of the data.
I think the basic principle that the more we think about it, the more we prime it, the longer it lasts. That’s definitely true. I mean, think about something that’s really upsetting in your life. She said that thing to me, or he didn’t answer that email. And for some reason that triggers a big emotion.
You can have that feeling tomorrow, as strongly as today. You can have it at 2:00 in the morning, if you keep ruminating on it. And rumination is simply thinking about something that upsets us over and over, and over again. And rumination never helps.
There’s two kinds of worry, constructive worry and destructive worry. Constructive worry is when you think about something that’s upsetting you, and you think of something you can do to change the situation for the better, then you stop thinking about it; that’s constructive. Destructive is you loop it over and over, and you just can’t think about it.
The Dalai Lama said something very wonderful. He said, there’s a Tibetan saying: “If you have a big problem, and you can do something about it, why worry?” If you have a big problem, you can’t do something about it, why worry? What he’s doing is separating our emotional reaction from the facts of the situation.
TS: Now, in my original question to you about what our emotions, you talked about how our brain and central nervous system, pervading our whole body, is giving us information. And people look at different emotions as carrying with them different messages. So, for example, sadness could carry with it a message that there’s something you need to let go of in your life. What do you think about that?
DG: There’s a wonderful scientist of emotions named Paul Ekman, who has studied what he believes are the six universal emotions. And he sees each of them as arising from a central premise or dilemma, or situation. So, anger, for example, is because something you want is thwarted, in some way. Sadness is obviously because of a loss.
I think in that sense, emotions have fundamental messages. I think it becomes very individual when you start to interpret the meaning of an emotion. So, I’m a little wary of general principles—”This emotion always means that.” I think it may mean that to a lot of people very often. I’m not sure it always means that. Emotions are quite contextual, in other words.
TS: OK. And now, here’s a question that’s very important to me actually, Dan. It’s important to me personally. Here we go.
TS: There are some people who talk about certain emotions as being inherently negative, or even to use a word—and I know, it’s a word that you used with your book with the Dalai Lama on certain kinds of emotions, if we work with them in a certain way, destructive emotions—so, there are some people say, “This emotion, that’s a negative emotion,” and then, “These emotions over here, these are positive emotions,” and this distinction between negative and positive emotions.
The reason I said this is important to me is, it seems to me that there’s not enough nuance if we just think about emotions as these are negative and these are positive, because sometimes, for example, take an emotion like anger. And I realized I’m putting a lot out here, but I know you’re tracking with me. If you have an emotion like anger, there can be some really good, positive uses and needs, and—”Yes, please, that’s a reason to be angry.” So, anger isn’t itself a negative emotion. It’s how we work with anger. So, how do you see this view of their negative and positive emotions? Do you not see it that way?
DG: I don’t see it that way. I think every emotion has its purpose, has its uses. And emotions become destructive. I think you’re referring obliquely to my book, Destructive Emotions, which is about a dialogue between emotion researchers and the Dalai Lama. He chose the word “destructive.” I kept questioning, “Do you really mean ‘destructive’?” He said, “Yes. I want to talk about destructive emotions.”
What he meant was, when do emotions become destructive? And there were two standards. The western psychological standard was an emotion becomes destructive when it leads us to harm ourselves or someone else. That makes sense. The higher threshold the Dalai Lama posited was that emotions become destructive when they disturb our inner equilibrium or distort our perception.
That’s a higher bar. But nobody said emotions have no use. Everyone agreed that they’re part of the human repertoire. It’s part of the human condition. And they’re there for a reason.
TS: Let’s talk about “disturb our inner equilibrium.” It takes a lot of inner equilibrium to be with strong emotions that are serving a purpose and not get thrown off as a result. That takes a lot of inner equilibrium.
DG: I think this may be why they emphasize doing a lot of practice in meditative traditions because what you’re doing is rewiring your brain in meditation practice. And ideally, your aspiration, it would get to a point where you can keep your equilibrium no matter what emotion floats through, and no matter how strong that emotion is. I think it takes a lot of work to get there.
TS: Yes. That makes sense. And that definition of when does an emotion become destructive, that’s very, very, very helpful, Dan. Thank you. OK. One other question, in general, about emotions. All kinds of things happen in our lives that provoke us, evoke emotions, what about intentionally generating emotional states for some purpose, like intentionally generating feelings of gratitude or joy? What do you think about that?
DG: Sounds good to me. But the people who are best at generating emotions are actors. That is the singular skill of a good actor, being able to generate a feeling so strongly that you emanate it. You can act, cry real tears. The other group that generates emotions don’t generate gratitude, or “Ah, these are bill collectors.” Bill collectors intentionally work themselves up so they can be angry on their next call.
That serves them in that limited context. Like, “I’m really going to dun this person that owes a lot of money.” And that’s also generating emotion voluntarily. I think generating gratitude is quite positive because we know from lots of research that positive emotions, gratitude, feeling OK, feeling secure, feeling content, feeling positive, feeling upbeat is good for your health, both mental health and physical health.
There’s lots and lots of data that shows that. And being able to generate positive emotions, which many people can’t, by the way, but learning how to do it is a great skill. My friend, Richard Davidson, says, “Well-being is a skill.” You can learn it. And that’s one of the tools of that skill.
TS: You brought up the actors and the actresses who—their gift is being able to generate emotions in character on-demand. What was your point about that? Was your point to let us know that just because you can do that doesn’t really mean anything about your spiritual journey as a person? It’s just something people can do?
DG: No. I’m simply pointing out that being able to generate one emotion [or] another is a craft. I wouldn’t say it’s a gift. Some people may be gifted, but it’s learnable. And because it’s learnable, and you can learn it, as a bill collector does for what I see as a negative reason or in a positive way. The learning gratitude, for example, or lovingkindness is another positive set of emotions that you can learn to master. Those are good for you and for your relationships.
TS: OK. You mentioned your work with Richard Davidson. Together you wrote a book called Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body. What do we know about the connection for people who have a meditation practice? I’ve developed a meditation practice, how does that connect to their EQ, to their emotional intelligence? Is there a direct connection?
DG: There’s a strong connection. And it’s because emotional intelligence has four parts. There’s self-awareness and meditation, definitely improved self-awareness. There’s self-management. And I think being aware of what you’re feeling is the first step in handling a negative feeling or generating positive feelings, as they were just saying. Then, there’s empathy tuning into other people’s emotions.
I think the data that we’ve reviewed suggests that lovingkindness practices improve empathy. They also improve actual generosity. They make you kinder. The fourth part of emotional intelligence is the social skill or relationship. I think it supports every part of emotional intelligence, meditation does.
TS: Can you explain how it does that? What’s actually happening for the meditator?
DG: I could, yes. And I can because we looked at—Richie and I were graduate students together at Harvard a long time ago, and each of us want to do our dissertation research on meditation. Our faculty thought that was a really stupid idea, at the time, because nobody had done it. There were like, three published articles in academic journals on the topic. When we went back and reviewed it for the book, there were like 6,000.
There’s just abundant research. It shows in detail what happens in the brain, for example. If you practice a mindfulness of the breath, it turns out that that enriches connectivity and circuitry in the brain that helps you calm down. The more you do it, the better the benefit. There’s a dose–response relationship. People enjoy it a lot, like long-term meditators get triggered less often in a negative way.
If they do get triggered, then they have a less strong negative response, and they recover more quickly. The definition of resilience is how quickly you recover from being upset. It turns out, the same circuitry helps you focus. It improves your concentration. We see this in the data pretty much from the outset: people get better, they get calmer, and they are better able to focus on what’s important to them. Those are two benefits; and, that is, directly, the emotional intelligence model will be self-management.
If you do lovingkindness meditation, it turns out that enhances empathy. It makes you kinder in your relationships. And all of that emotion, intelligence point of view, makes you more likable. One of the interesting things I found in around the world, I asked people, “Tell me about the best boss you ever had. And tell me about the boss you hated the most in one word.”
The collection of words for the best boss, the boss people love, is emotional intelligence, the different qualities, emotions. And the boss people hate has a lack of that. I think it helps you in many, many ways. And meditation feeds into that, you can also not use meditation. You can enhance different skills of emotion intelligence directly. But I think meditation is like a general workout for social skill for humans.
TS: Now, the title of the book, Altered Traits, somehow, we move from having an altered state—
TS: —so, I’m sitting on the cushion, and my mind is as big as the sky, wonderful. But it’s not necessarily an altered trait. If when I’m not on the cushion and someone at work says, “I’d like to give you some feedback, Tami,” and I slam down on the table and go, “What!” I haven’t yet translated this into a trait. And you mentioned that it’s sensitive to dosage how much we meditate.
TS: How much do we have to meditate so that this state that I have, when I’m meditating, actually starts to permeate my life, especially when I’m challenged under stress, in conflict?
DG: Thank you for pointing out the difference between a state, which is temporary, and a trait. But let me clarify something. You don’t necessarily feel great during your meditation session. But that’s pretty similar to not feeling great when you’re working out. When you do a physical workout in the gym, you’re strengthening your muscles. When you do a mental workout in the gym—or meditation—you’re strengthening neural circuitry.
Many people who begin meditation say, “I can’t do this, my mind is going nuts,” which just means you have more self-awareness. You’re actually noticing how the mind actually is all the time. It’s a good sign that you think that, not a bad sign. But it doesn’t necessarily feel good. The more you meditate, the easier it may be to get into a feel-good state.
If you ask the pros, the people from spiritual traditions, what’s the mark of success or progress in meditation, they usually will not tell you its particular state. They’ll tell you it’s how you act in the world. That’s the trait. The trait is who you become when you’re not doing the meditation. And the data there, it seems to be very encouraging about the fact that their rehearsal you’re doing during the meditation pays off after meditation.
TS: Now, I have a question about comparing meditation practice to working out in a gym. Of course, I’ve heard that analogy many, many times. And I get that there’s a lot of validity in it as a comparison. It makes sense. But here’s my question: if I stopped physically exercising or working out, I can tell you, I don’t know if I’d be able to get up the stairs in five years or ten years. Things would be bad. The level of flabbiness, you don’t even think about it.
I don’t know if that’s the same when it comes to meditation, because if you stop, but you’ve done it a lot, it seems like there’s some way that you translate into becoming more of a natural meditator in your life. Is that true? Or is that Tami baloney?
DG: I think it may become true at a certain point, but at a rather advanced point. I think that more generally, if you stop meditating, and this I know from personal experience, you start regressing. And you may be able to pick it up more quickly. We found in strong hints that you make more progress on a retreat than you do during a daily practice.
That daily practice is good for maintaining what you’ve done. But you’ll make more progress generally, if you do a more intensive stint of it as on a retreat. I think that your analogy works both ways, for better and for worse.
TS: OK. Now, you mentioned that the model that you developed for emotional intelligence has evolved over the past—
DG: Oh, yes.
TS: —25 years. Now, we have the new edition of the book with a new introduction, what are the biggest ways that it changed from when you developed the model? Also, another question I’m curious about is how did you develop this model? How did you create the original grid with these four domains?
DG: Well, I have to first of all, credit a friend of mine, Peter Salovey, with the phrase “emotional intelligence.” He wrote an article 1990, in a very obscure journal, doesn’t exist anymore, called “Emotional Intelligence.” Then, I was doing science journalism with New York Times. My job was to read these obscure journals and see what was new and interesting.
I thought, “Wow. That is great.” It’s so counterintuitive to put emotions with intelligence—it was then. I used that framework to write for the book I was writing anyway, which was basically on emotions in the brain, and an argument for teaching kids in school this skill set. And the four-by-four emerged as a thought more deeply about it. I went back to my psychology background.
The original model had five parts, there was self-awareness, but then, there was motivation and emotional management. I realized one was the upside, and one was the downside, and I should put them together. So, the five parts became four: the domains of self-awareness, self-management, empathy, and social skill.
Within those four domains—this is something that I didn’t write about in Emotional Intelligence because it came later—I did work with my old graduate school friend, Richard Boyatzis, who’s now at Case Western Reserve. We looked in the business setting, at work that was being done by many, many companies and organizations, on their star performers. What were the competencies or abilities you saw in stars that you didn’t see in average performers?
We realized that a very large set of those had to do with emotional intelligence, and that each one of those nested within a particular set of the four parts like being able to manage your emotions, or being able to work towards your goals, or being able to be adaptable, or to stay positive; that’s all part of self-management. Those are competencies in my model now within self-management.
There are 12 competencies. We have an assessment tool called Emotional and Social Competence Inventory. It’s a 360 for developing further strengths. You take it before—it’s often used by coaches, for example. You take it before you start, and you take it after to see how you’re doing. 360 means you have people who know you well and whose opinions you value, rate you anonymously so they can be very honest.
You get that feedback, and you get it to see where you need to work, and then, after you do the work, how far you’ve come. You do it again. If you want to know about the 12 competencies of emotion intelligence, I recommend the primers on each called “Building Blocks of Emotional Intelligence.” It’s from keystepmedia.com—one word, “keystepmedia.” And it explains in more detail what each competency is and why it matters.
TS: Again, that’s keystepmedia.com?
TS: For these primers on each of the competencies. Now, if I do this inventory, and I discover that I’m a little weak here, and I’m a little stronger there, what do I do with that information? Is the goal to raise all my scores so that I am I high across the board?
DG: No. It turns out—
TS: —said the overachiever.
DG: It turns out the star performers are stars in their own way, each of them, and they may have four strengths. But there are different four strengths for different people. And typically, it’s at least one from each of the four domains. So, you, Tami, may be a goal-oriented perfectionist, which gets you successful in whatever domain. If you were a pianist, you’d be a very good pianist because you would look at your own performance and see what you need to improve.
Perfectionists have an ongoing learning curve. The difficulty with a perfectionist is if they become the head of something, they may view other people through the lens of perfectionism, which looks at what people do wrong, not what they do right. Now, I’m not saying this is true of you, but it’s a common problem we see in the workplace with leaders, with that pattern.
They were very good as individual contributors. That’s why they became a team leader or whatever. But once they lead, they don’t realize that they need to coach, that you need to see that people can improve. (I’m going to circle back to your question here.) The best leaders understand the part of their leadership is not just inspiring and guiding, and motivating, but also helping people get better at what they’re doing.
Not dismissing them, as “You’re not good at that.” To answer your question, across those 12 competencies, you get a profile. It’s like a physical: your triglycerides are higher, your blood cholesterol is low, you get all of these readouts. Same thing. You get rated as higher or lower, or medium, or wherever you are on each of those 12 competencies. Then you, hopefully with a coach or someone independent that will help you get better, you look at that, you decide where you want to work. You don’t try to get all 12 to the top—I don’t know anyone who has all 12 to the top. You want to think about what will help you in your situation with your challenges, do better, and work on that with a coach, and one at a time. Don’t try to take them all on.
TS: It’s very helpful. It’s clear. Thank you. Now, I want to dig in a little bit into each one of the domains and pull out some aspects of what it would take to be competent in one of these competencies and ask you some questions about it.
TS: Just get into some of the details.
DG: Sure, sure.
TS: In self-awareness, part of it is that we could develop the competency of being self-confident. I wanted to understand more about self-confidence, because as part of the Inner MBA, the program that you’re one of the presenters in, I’ve been having some monthly mentoring sessions with some of the members of the Inner MBA, asking all kinds of questions.
One of the questions I got very early on is, “I want to develop my self-confidence, Tami. […] You seem confident, how do you do it? How do I do it? I need to speak up more in meetings. How do I do this?” And I’m curious how you would respond to people who are trying to develop more self-confidence?
DG: Well, I think the self-confidence I would want them to develop is realistic self-confidence. There’s a kind of bullshit self-confidence, like every kid is the most wonderful kid in the world. The self-esteem movement was a little overboard that way. Kids know it, by the way.
If I’m feeling shy, and you say, “You’re the best performer,” the kid knows that’s not true. I’m scared when I go on stage. So, you want people to do a realistic self-assessment. This is where self-awareness comes in. Where am I? What are my strengths? What could I get better at? What can I not get better at? For example. Self-confidence is specific to a strength of realistic self-confidence.
Strengths can be improved on, very often. For example, if you have social anxiety, social anxiety can be overcome. Social anxiety means I don’t speak up in a group because I tell myself people won’t want to hear what I have to say. Well, you can talk back in that kind of thing. In other words, there are specific steps people can take to get better. But I believe that self-confidence should flow from what your strengths really are.
Rather than being some aura of “I’m just good at everything,” because nobody’s good at everything. So, know what your strengths are, know where you are limits are.
TS: Yes. That makes a lot of sense. Do you believe that all of the competencies are learnable to some degree; like anyone, wherever they come in, whenever they do their assessment, you can learn these things if you want to?
DG: Well, let’s talk about that phrase, “if you want to.” Because from my point of view, the first step you need to ask yourself or someone else is, do you really care? because it’s all learned or learnable? The question is are you going to put the effort into it? Are you going to stay with it? Are you going to practice the new way of doing it at every naturally occurring opportunity? That’s how you get better at it.
If the answer is no, I really don’t care. Then, you can stop right there. So, yes, theoretically, it’s all learned and learnable. But whether someone wants to do it, and who’s willing to do it, and will make the attempt, is quite individual.
TS: OK, which brings me to a question I wanted to ask—
TS: —in this category of self-management, because one of the competencies you touched on has to do with this achievement drive. Or we could call it perseverance, or some people talk about it as grit. I think you’ve done a tremendous job, Dan, in your work of showing that starting 25 years ago, IQ is not necessarily the singular most important thing that you need to be successful.
EQ, EQ might even be more important. It is more important, yes, than IQ? Is that true, first—
DG: No. I wouldn’t agree with that. I would say that—
TS: What would you say?
DG: I would say that IQ matters a lot in certain domains. Becoming good at software, writing demands a lot of IQ, cognitive ability. Doing well in school is correlated very highly with IQ. I would say that in life, once you get into the working world, for example, if you’re an engineer, you’re working with a team of engineers; they all have the same background you do; they’re about as smart as you are. IQ fades as a discriminator between the stars and the average.
That’s where emotional intelligence emerges. Once you’re in the workplace, once you have an MBA, once you have your degree, and you get a job commensurate with it, now you’re competing with a pool of people that have the same abilities as you on the IQ side. Whether they have the motivation that you have, whether they have the self-discipline, the self-management skills you have, whether they have the empathy, whether they’re socially skilled, that’s where the playing field really differs among people. That’s where you see stars emerge. I think that’s the sense in which emotional intelligence is more important than IQ.
TS: That’s clarifying. It’s good. You’re so good at making these distinctions and being very precise in bringing out the nuance. I really appreciate it. I feel like you’re increasing my IQ as we’re talking. So, thank you for that. And where I was driving, though, is this quality of drive. Some people talk about it, as if it—they use the word “grit” or “perseverance.”
I’ve heard people say, “Look, in terms of the people who are really successful in business, IQ, sure.” But this aspect of EQ, this particular competency, which is, when you fall down, you get back up. You will not stop strong will. There’s a lot of words for it, but that’s the singular, most important quality. I’m curious what you think about that. Do you think that’s also just a pop psychology over exaggeration of perseverance?
DG: Tami, I think it’s true to a degree. I knew a guy in college, who had perfect scores on his SATs, and on four or five advanced placement courses. He was really smart, IQ—totally unmotivated, didn’t get to class, never finished his assignments; [it] took him eight years to get a four-year college degree. So, you can say that guy had very high IQ, and very low motivation.
He was not goal-focused. People who are very goal-focused will outdo others of equal IQ because they work harder. It’s true in school, and I think it’s basically true in life. When you’re working toward your individual goals, that ability—the grit, as you said it’s sometimes called—the ability to stay at it even despite setbacks and obstacles is invaluable.
However, when you become a leader, there is a certain pathology linked to that. The pathology is you will drive people, for example, for quarterly targets, and not care how you’re driving them, and what the human cost is, what it does to their morale, the fact it’s stressing them out. They’re becoming emotionally exhausted. They hate your guts. You don’t care. You just want them to achieve the goal.
After the 2008, 2009 big recession, this leadership was heavily rewarded. People with this quality were heavily promoted. Then, later, companies realized, “Oh, my God, they’re hollowing us out because our best people are leaving, because they’re being driven too hard.”
I think you need to balance, for example, goal orientation with empathy. If you don’t have empathy, if you don’t tune in with concern—and here I need to say there’s three kinds of empathy: cognitive empathy, where you know how people think, you can communicate well; emotional empathy, you know how they feel; those are great, but you can use them to manipulate people; the third kind of empathy is caring about them, concern, and that’s the kind of empathy that a leader with really high goal motivation needs to balance it all out.
TS: How did you come up with these three categories of empathy? I’ve never heard that before.
DG: I based it on research. Jean Decety, at the University of Chicago, showed that each of these three kinds of empathy are based on different neural circuitry. What’s called technically empathic concern, the caring about people, is based in the same circuitry that we share with mammals. It’s the caretaking circuitry.
It’s a parent’s love for a child. It’s that kind of concern. It’s actually what you want in your partner. It’s what you want in your mom and your dad. It’s what you want in your friends. It’s what you want in your boss, that kind of empathy.
TS: OK. Then, the last domain that you have in your map is relationship management. And there’s a lot, you include, in this relationship management category, including conflict management, teamwork, and collaboration. I wanted to talk to you some about that because, again, this is from some of the work with the inaugural class of the Inner MBA, but also, in my own experience with our 13-person leadership team at Sounds True.
It seems that this ability for people to manage conflict and have what I would call brave conversations, difficult conversations, to be able to be direct about the difficulties they experience, in a skillful way, is really hard and really critical. I’m curious to know, what are the building blocks that give people the ability to say, “I need to talk to you about something,” and handle it in a really skillful way?
DG: Now, I turn to the work on teams and emotional intelligence. My colleague, Vanessa Druskat at University of New Hampshire, she’s shown very strongly that high performing teams, no matter what metric you use for the team, have a collective emotional intelligence, which is determined by the norms they set for interacting. One of the key ones—Google found this out, for example, and they looked at their top performing teams—is a sense of psychological safety.
“It’s OK to bring that up here.” It’s not OK in many, many groups to bring up the thing that no one wants to mention. But if you have a high performing team, it’s going to be OK to bring up just about anything. Particularly something that people disagree about but aren’t talking about. If you let it simmer, it might explode, or it’s going to throw things off in one way or another.
This is why it’s really helpful to bring out and work out whatever people disagree on, and to make time for that, and to make it OK for that, and to have that as the norm of a team. She finds that it’s one of the norms of high performing teams being able to bring up uncomfortable topics.
TS: That’s clearly a big part if the organization has said, “This is what we value. We’re going to establish this as a norm. We’re going to support it. We’ll give you coaches to help you develop these skills.” But what’s needed in the individual to have the—I don’t want if you want to call it confidence, the lack of fear—like, “OK. I’m going to do it. I’m going to be brave in this situation.”
DG: Yes. I think it is this feeling of safety and that it is valued, that in other words, people will appreciate it even if it’s uncomfortable, that people I am with on this team know that it’s helpful to the team, and to the team reaching its goal, to work stuff like this out. Yes. That’s another norm.
TS: OK. And now, just for the fun of it. I would love for you to tell me a story of a very highly emotionally intelligent leader. You could even make it up. It doesn’t even have to be a real person you’ve met, but like, “Oh, I watched this person. I interviewed this person. And I can tell you this is how I know that they’re a really emotionally intelligent leader.”
DG: I’ll tell you about Govan Brown. Govan Brown was a bus driver in New York City. He drove a bus up Madison Avenue. I once got on his bus. It was a very hot August day, very humid. I was feeling a little irritable, like many people in New York City on a day like that. And when I got on his bus, Govan looked at me and asked, as though he really cared, “How has your day been going?”
I was shocked, because people in New York City usually don’t have a direct human encounter like that with someone they’ve never seen before. As I sat on the bus, I realized he’s carrying on a conversation with everyone on that bus. People would get off the bus, and he would again say very warmly. “I hope your day turns out to be a wonderful day for you.”
I didn’t know his name was Govan Brown. I found that out in his obituary in the New York Times years later, because they said he was the only driver of a bus in New York City, who when he retired, they held the party for, because he had so many fans. People would wait to get on Govan Browns bus. Govan was a pastor of a Black church on Long Island.
He saw everyone on his bus as part of his flock. He was tending to his flock. I feel that Govan Brown, whose name I learned years later, was exhibiting high emotional intelligence to everyone on the bus by connecting with them, by helping people get into an even better state than when they got on the bus.
TS: That’s a beautiful story. It’s so inspiring to everyone and whatever position they’re in, in life, whatever their job, career, whatever.
DG: Exactly. It doesn’t matter what you do, it’s how you do it. That determines whether you really connect, whether you really help people, whether you’re emotionally intelligent.
TS: Let me ask you a personal question, Dan, if that’s OK. Let’s get personal for a moment. I know that your own spiritual journey, your own path as a practitioner, meditation practitioner is really important to you. I’m curious to know how your personal spiritual journey, and the work you do as a science writer, the writing about emotional intelligence in particular, how it comes together for you?
Are you incognito doing this work, educating people about emotional intelligence by really bringing the Buddha, Dharma, the core teachings of Buddhism, encoded in that work? Or how do you see it?
DG: I think it’s osmotic. I don’t think it’s under the radar or intentional. I think that the way I look at the world and my worldview is probably deeply influenced by my spiritual practices. But when I developed the emotional intelligence model, as far as I was consciously aware of, I was looking at the scientific research, and seeing that it fell into these categories of self-awareness, self-management, empathy, and social skill.
Then, when I look back, I realized, well, that maps very nicely on, for example, self-awareness, every spiritual discipline encourages it. “Know thyself,” as the Greek said. Self-discipline or self-management, that’s also part of every spiritual path. Empathy, caring about other people, whether you call it charity or compassion, it’s there in—universally in—spiritual paths. Acting in a positive skillful way with other people is also part of it.
I would say that there’s definitely a relationship; whether it’s causal, I don’t know. I think it may spring from the fact that spiritual paths, to some extent, were cultures ways of managing our unruly central nervous system. There are ways to help ourselves. Psychology, and neuroscience, is the latest iteration of that. But it goes way, way back in human history, and often takes the form of the spiritual practices that we have today.
TS: Now, one of the things that’s been really interesting to me in this conversation, is how you’ve based so much of your work on what the science has presented, like when I asked you about where you came up with your model for empathy. You said it emerged from the science. Of course, in the last three decades, we’ve learned so much since fMRIs were introduced.
We’ve learned things that we didn’t know 100 years ago. I’m curious to know, is there anything that we haven’t yet touched on in this conversation that came forward, that’s important from the science itself, that now showed us something really critical about how we work with emotions, because look, we saw it, it’s right here in the science?
DG: One thing we didn’t touch on—which, thank you for the opportunity—is the work that Richie Davidson did with advanced yogis, because meditation paths have, aspirationally, a transformation of being—that’s the altered traits we were talking about earlier. And Richie flew yogis over from Nepal and India, one-by-one, some from a retreat center in France, and looked at their brains. He found that they were, in fact, functionally different from most brains.
One of the important ways they differed was in terms of emotional life. We talked earlier. We touched on having equanimity despite very strong, intrusive emotions. One of the things he did was compared yogis to ordinary people with a diabolical instrument, which measures the heat threshold that is extremely painful for you. The most painful you can endure without causing a blister.
He used that with the yogis, and he used it with ordinary people, normal folks like you and me. He would put—someone in the lab—would put it on a person’s skin and give them a taste of the pain, which is very intense. Then, they’d be told, “In 10-seconds”—no, in 30 seconds or something like that—”you’re going to get that for ten seconds.”
What he found was that the emotional centers that registered pain, when we feel pain are two kinds of brain circuitry involved: there’s the raw perception of the sensation of pain, and then, there’s your emotional reaction to that perception. It’s the emotional reaction that really upsets us. It’s like, “Oh, my God, I can’t stand that.” You’re in fear and everything.
When people ordinarily are told, “In x seconds, you’re going to feel that for ten seconds,” the emotional centers for feeling pain light up as though they were feeling the pain. Then, it lasts after the pain stops and lasts for 30 more seconds or more. This is what the fMRI showed. But with the yogis, it never lit up. They were flat, no physiological response, nor any emotional response to hearing that they are going to get that pain for ten seconds.
During the ten seconds, they had a physiological response, but not the emotional response. Afterward, flat again, immediately afterwards, as soon as it stopped. What that says is that they have an unflappable equanimity when it comes to upsetting emotions. And it’s a trait that is very different from the way you and I, and most everyone we know, react to life.
TS: Did you ever think, “I want to get into that machine and have the electrodes put on my forehead and see how I do.” Have you had that thought, Dan, and have you done it?
DG: I think it’d be a complete waste of time frankly, so no. [Laughing] I never did. I don’t think I’m anywhere near that.
TS: All right. I know you’re working on a new podcast. You’ve launched a new podcast called First Person Plural. Tell our listeners a little bit about that.
DG: This is a project that really delights me, because if I get an idea, and I write a book about it, like Emotional Intelligence, it takes me about a year and a half to write the book, and then maybe another year or more until it’s published. It takes a long time to share that idea. But on a podcast, whatever interests me, I can explore with someone in some depth and get it out right away, like you’re doing, Tami, with your podcast.
First Person Plural is the name of it. I’m doing it with my son, Hanuman, who has that company Key Step—one word—keystepmedia.com. It allows me to explore aspects of emotional intelligence and quite beyond. I have some coming up on well-being, the science of well-being, the practicalities of being well.
What does it take? What’s the formula? I did a delightful podcast with a woman named Laurie Santos, who taught that course at Yale on happiness. That was the most popular course ever. What does happiness really take? One on teaching kids how to be emotionally intelligent. It’s called, within school programs, SEL. So, I’m exploring many, many different aspects of things related to emotional intelligence that intrigued me. I’m having a lot of fun with it. So, thanks for bringing it up, Tami.
TS: That’s good. Yes, podcast to podcast, here we are. Now, one final question, when you and I spoke, when you were contributing the live question and answer session as part of our Inner MBA program, you mentioned that you’re doing some new work and some new writing on applying emotional intelligence at the organizational level, what it takes for organizations themselves to embody emotional intelligence.
I think that’s such an interesting topic. I’d love as we come to a conclusion here, if you can just share a little bit about what you’re looking at in that topic.
DG: I’m actually writing an article for the Harvard Business Review on that very thing. What emotionally intelligent organization looks like, and what it takes. In short, it turns out that it takes leaders who model it, who value it, who show that it matters to them, and in the organization. You want that model to ripple throughout because that becomes a value or a norm of the organization.
Then, you need a human resources department that applies it in who they hire, how they onboard people, how they manage performance, how they promote people. You want these so-called soft skills to be as important as hard skills and promotion, and training and development because it’s learned and learnable. So, you want people to be given opportunities at every level, to hone their skill set in it.
If you put that together, you find that’s the skeletal structure and nervous system of an emotionally intelligent organization.
TS: May we create such organizations and emotionally intelligent humans operating in them and leading in them. Dan, very good. Thank you so much for being here with us, on Insights at the Edge. It’s great to see you, great to deepen our friendship. Thank you. Thank you so much.
DG: Tami, it is always a pleasure to be with you. Thanks again.
TS: I’ve been speaking with Dan Goleman. We’re celebrating the 25th Anniversary Edition of the publication of Emotional Intelligence, a book with more than 5 million copies in print worldwide. Dan Goleman is also one of the featured teachers in Sounds True’s Inner MBA nine-month program. It’s a program that we’ve created in partnership with LinkedIn, Wisdom, 2.0, and a division of NYU called MindfulNYU that certifies participants when they graduate. And you can learn more at innermbaprogram.com. Thanks, everyone.
Thank you for listening to Insights at the Edge. You can read a full transcript of today’s interview at soundstrue.com/podcast. If you’re interested, hit the Subscribe button in your podcast app. Also, if you feel inspired, head to iTunes and leave Insights at the Edge a review. I love getting your feedback, being in connection with you, and learning how we can continue to evolve and improve our program. Working together, I believe, we can create a kinder and wiser world. Soundstrue.com: waking up the world.