Emotional Intelligence — Summary and Application
Updated: Jan 31, 2022
Here are my key takeaways from the book Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman. I recommend everyone to read this post (and perhaps the book) because emotional intelligence affects almost every aspect of our lives, including your relationship with yourself, relationships with others, and your success.
The book answers questions such as
How can I better manage negative emotions like anger, depression, and anxiety?
What are the negative consequences of low emotional intelligence?
(You can click on any question to jump to the answer)
This summary has four parts:
Part 1: Why did the author write this book?
Part 2: What are the main ideas and arguments?
Part 3: What is my opinion on the book?
Part 4: How have I applied this book in my life?
Part 1: Why did the author write this book?
One of the first things Goleman states in his book is that IQ contributes, at best, 20% towards a person’s success, and EQ is a significant part of the remaining 80%. Unfortunately, there’s worldwide trends for younger generations to be more emotionally troubled than past generations, which leads to serious consequences like mental illness, crime, and addiction.
Schools currently offer little to no preparation for the emotional turmoil’s that will happen in life, so parents need to educate their children. The problem is, the general population of adults also aren’t very emotionally literate because they weren’t given education on emotional intelligence either. He hopes this book will educate the public on emotional intelligence and provide guidance on what emotional literacy programs can look like.
Part 2: What are the main ideas from the book?
This book talks about what emotional intelligence is and its impact on our daily lives and on society.
The book has five sections. You can click on any heading to jump to that section.
The Emotional Brain. This section explains the irrational things we do by looking at the neurology of the brain.
The Nature of Emotional Intelligence. This section breaks down what emotional intelligence actually entails.
Emotional Intelligence Applied. This section applies emotional intelligence to marriage, the workplace, and medical care.
Nurturing Emotional Intelligence in Children. This section is about what parents should do to help nurture emotional intelligence in children.
Emotional Illiteracy. This section is about the severe cost of emotional illiteracy and what a good emotional literacy program should contain.
Section 1: The Emotional Brain
Basically, the human brain has two parts: the emotional brain and the rational brain. In our evolutionary history, the emotional brain came first and is the bottom base of the brain. The rational brain came later and is in the outer upper regions. Due to the structure of the brain and its connections with the body, the emotional brain acts faster than the rational brain, and the emotional brain can also override the rational brain.
Section 2: The Nature of Emotional Intelligence
Emotional intelligence is about five important abilities.
Awareness of others’ emotions
Ability 1: Emotional Self-Awareness
Emotional self-awareness is about being aware of your emotions when they happen, particularly the negative ones like anxiety, depression, and anger. It involves noticing what happens to your body physically and what goes on in your head mentally.
Ability 2: Emotional Self-Regulation
Emotional Self-Regulation is about using techniques to manage negative emotions so that they don’t last so long. Techniques include reframing a situation that made you angry, increasing physical arousal if depressed, and reducing physical arousal if anxious.
One of the best ways to douse the flames of anger is to reframe the situation more positively. On the other hand, the longer we ruminate about what made us angry, the more “good reasons” we come up with for being angry. Studies show that venting anger may feel good in the moment, but it doesn’t dispel the anger.
For example, you might be angry that someone criticized you unfairly. The more you think about why that person is wrong and why they should apologize to you, the worse you feel. But you can reframe the situation by thinking,
"A truly virtuous person is very humble and forgiving towards other. He would rather be wrongfully criticized and let others feel that he can be criticized rather than arguing with them over it."
When we re-frame the situation, we change the anger into gratitude.
Depression is a low-arousal state, so exercise helps lift the mood, while relaxation techniques worsen it. Often times when people feel low in spirit, if they go do some exercise, whether it be a run or a sport or even just some jumping jacks, they will feel better.
Another second method for reducing depression is to comparing ourselves to those worse off than us. The purpose here is to realize how fortunate we are. When we feel gratitude, we won't be depressed. For example, many students feel depressed about their low exam scores. But when they see a video of what school conditions are like in poor countries, they suddenly feel very grateful for their situation, realizing how much other people would crave their situation.
A third method is to help other people. We feel depressed because we are overly focused on what WE want and how we cannot get it. If we change to thinking about how we can help others, then our attention moves away from our selfish desires, and then we will feel better. The human brain is wired to social connection, so when we help others, we will naturally feel good.
Anxiety is a high-arousal state, so relaxation techniques help. Examples include meditation, deep breathing, going for a walk, listening to calming music, etc.
Anxious people do worse academically and on the job. However, people do their best when there’s just enough anxiety. If there’s too little anxiety, people don’t prepare. But if there’s too much anxiety, people don’t have any mental capacity to focus. The sweet spot is in the middle.
Ability 3: Self-Motivation
Self-motivation is about being hopeful and optimistic in the face of difficulty, and using goal-directed self-imposed delayed gratification to achieve goals, and using flow state to reach peak performance.
Delayed gratification means foregoing a small reward now for a larger reward in the future. For example, instead of watching TV now (a small pleasure), I’ll study so that I can do well on my exam (big reward in the future).
Flow state is when your emotions are channeled and aligned to the task at hand; unconcerned with thoughts unrelated to the task. To enter flow state, we need intentional sharp focus on the task at hand. The task should be slightly above your ability level, but also something you’ve practiced many times before, and you shouldn’t be too tired.
Ability 4: Awareness of Others' Emotions
Being aware of other people's emotions requires us to have empathy. To have empathy, we need to be calm enough such that we can mirror the other person’s physiological state, allowing us to literally feel what they feel.
Ability 5: Handling Relationships
To handle relationships well, we need to know how to argue and resolve conflicts using the XYZ method. We also need to avoid emotional flooding during communications.
The XYZ method for expressing a complaint: When you did X, I felt Y, and I’d rather you do Z instead. It is an effective way to communicate your needs because it does not blame the other person, and it tells them exactly what they can do to make you happy.
Emotional flooding is when your heart rate rises by more than 10 beats per minute during a difficult conversation. The two sides should take a 20-minute break to calm down before resuming discussion. Although 5 minutes may feel enough, the actual physiological recovery time needs 20 minutes.
Section 3: Emotional Intelligence Applied
Part 3 applies emotional intelligence to marriages, the workplace, and medical care.
Emotional Intelligence in Marriage
Divorce rates are on the rise, from 30% in 1950 to 67% in 1990. Specific issues don’t break a marriage. It’s how a couple disagrees and then discusses that’s the key to marital survival. We need to guard against contempt and stonewalling.
Usually, what happens is the wife will complain about something to which the husband thinks is not a big deal and doesn’t do anything. Eventually, the wife’s complaints escalate to contempt by attacking the husband’s character. For example, the wife might say “You’re always so inconsiderate” instead of “What you did just now makes me feel like you don’t care about me.”
When the husband is faced by contempt, he gets emotionally flooded, and to deal with that, he stonewalls the wife as an evolutionary self-defense mechanism. For example, he’ll just go completely emotionless and ignore the wife. This stonewalling causes the wife to despise the husband even more, leading to more contempt and more stonewalling. If this perpetuates, it leads to divorce.
The solution requires emotions intelligence, namely aspect #5, handling relationships. The couple can use the XYZ method and avoid emotional flooding when communication. But to handle relationships effectively, each person needs to be aware of each others’ emotions, and to do that, they need to be physiologically calm. These tough conversations will inevitably arouse each person physiologically, so they need to be emotionally self-aware and then emotionally self-regulate. We can see how emotional intelligence is key in sustaining a marriage.
Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace
Low EQ people makes others stressed. Stress makes people stupid.
The main EQ skills needed in the workplace are
Attunement to others’ feelings
Entering flow state
Venting grievances as helpful critiques
Creating a culture of diversity
A manager-employee relationship can be analogous to a wife-husband relationship, where the manager might attack an employee’s character, leading to stonewalling from the employee. Another mistake managers make is letting small problems go unnoticed, then accumulating small frustrations until the manager finally blows up at the employee. This then makes the employee feel wronged for not being told earlier.
The artful critique focuses on the person’s actions rather than character, is specific about what needs to change, and offers a solution for improvement. The artful critique is usually done face to face and requires empathy from the giver to feel the impact on the receiver. Here’s an example of an artful critique:
“The main difficulty at this stage is that your plan will take too long and so escalate costs. I’d like you to think more about your costs, especially the design specifications, to see if you can figure out a way to do the same job more quickly."
In terms of fostering diversity and inclusion, research shows that it’s very difficult to change people’s deeply ingrained feelings, so it’s not worth trying. Instead, organizations should train behavior, which is much easier. Organizations need to set a zero-tolerance environment that swiftly and publicly punish acts of discrimination, which will train people to act in inclusive ways, even if they still feel prejudice deep down.
In team performance, harmony is the single greatest determinant. Harmony allows every member to contribute their fullest to the team. If there’s any emotional friction, then people cannot offer their best.
Top performers are better than everyone else at three things: taking initiative to go the extra mile, promoting cooperation, and regulating oneself emotionally. They also have quick access to a flexible, informal network that will help them solve unpredictable problems quickly.
Emotional Intelligence in Medical Care
There’s often a significant medical benefit to treating a person’s psychological needs in addition to their medical needs. Medical professionals often name all the horrible possibilities to an already anxious patient, which then makes them even more anxious. Anxiety has a scientific link to the onset of sickness and the course of recovery; there’s mounting evidence that stress causes wear and tear on the nervous system.
Anger is the most harmful to the heart. Being prone to anger is a stronger predictor of dying young than smoking, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. The antidote is to develop a more trusting heart, to assume better intentions of others.
Loneliness doubles the risk for sickness and death. Smoking is only 1.6 times.
An effective way to deal with turbulent feelings is to write it on paper, then over the next several days, weave a narrative that finds meaning in the pain.
Section 4: Nurturing Emotional Intelligence in Children
Unsurprisingly, parents’ emotional intelligence play an enormous role in the emotional development of children. But it also helps children with areas outside of EQ, including academic performance (better focus) and health (lower stress).
Family life is our first school for emotional learning. We learn how to feel about ourselves, how others react to our feelings, how to think about those feelings, and how to express hopes and fears. There are three common types of emotionally inept parenting:
Completely ignoring the feelings of the child
Too care-free: These parents notice an emotional storm but decide that however the child handles it is fine, even hitting and screaming.
Contemptuous: harshly disapproving their children’s anger and being punitive about it.
Emotionally intelligent parents use the opportunity of a child’s upset to serve as an emotional coach to the child. They take the time to understand exactly what’s upsetting the child, then they help the child find positive ways to soothe their feelings.
Section 5: Emotional Illiteracy — Consequences and Solutions
The cost of low emotional intelligence in children are severe, including depression, delinquency, addiction to alcohol and drugs, and eating disorders.
Depression is caused mainly by a deficit in two areas of emotional competence: relationships skills and handling setbacks. The lack of relationship skills causes them to have problems with their parents or peers. Then, they respond to these setbacks by feeling like they can’t do anything about it, leading to depression.
Since depression often manifests initially as constant irritability, especially towards parents, people are less likely to engage socially with that depressed person, resulting in a downward spiral of arguments and alienation. If the child is taught to feel like there’s actions they can take to improve their situation, they won’t fall into depression.
Social rejects lack emotional intelligence; they can’t read emotional cues, so no one likes them. They are 2–8 times more likely to drop out of school.
Boys who have low IQ and become delinquents will typically join an outcast group by the time they’re in high school. The group is likely to commit petty crime like shoplifting and drug dealing. Girls who get in trouble and are “bad” have a different trajectory. By the time they finish high school, they are three times more likely than other girls to have a child already. Antisocial boys get violent. Antisocial girls get pregnant.
Addiction to Alcohol and Drugs
For those who experiment with alcohol and drugs, only 14% become alcoholics and 5% become drug addicts. The difference with the addicts is that they turn to the substance to soothe their negative emotions as a way of self-medication. Sometimes, these people have a genetic predisposition to these emotional problems.
Since alcohol has a relaxation effect, alcohol addicts turn to alcohol to soothe either their extremely high anxiety or agitation. Drug addicts turn to cocaine in response to depression, and they turn to heroin to control anger.
Intervention programs need to teach children key emotional skills to prevent and treat addiction. These skills include emotional self-awareness, emotional self-regulation, handling stress and anxiety, reading social cues, empathy, resisting negative influences, and understanding what behavior is acceptable in a situation.
Eating disorders are caused by an inability to identify distressing feelings combined with high dissatisfaction with one’s body. For example, a girl feels stressed or angry but she can’t actually name the feeling, and she just assumes everything is hunger. Then she binge eats to soothe herself. But to avoid gaining weight, she purges it all out; that’s bulimia. Or the girl starves herself to feel a sense of control; that’s anorexia. To prevent or stop an eating disorder, girls need to learn to identify their feelings and then use healthy methods to soothe those feelings.
Solution: Emotional Literacy Programs
The author urges schools to design and implement emotional literacy programs that begin early, are age-appropriate, run throughout the school years, and intertwine with efforts at school, at home, and in the community. Age-appropriate means not teaching something the children don’t have the ability to learn yet.
From ages 6–11, children develop the ability to learn delayed gratification, being socially responsible, controlling emotions like anger and impulse, and having an optimistic outlook. These years are crucial for defining their later adolescent experience.
From middle school to high school, into the teen years and puberty, virtually everyone has a drop in self-confidence and a rise in self-consciousness. During this period, children need to learn how to build close relationships, reading emotions, solving relationship problems, and nurturing self-confidence.
A technique that children can use before bursting into anger or crying is the Stoplight Method. First is red light: Stop and think before you act. Second is yellow light: Say the problem and how you feel, set a positive goal, and think of lots of solutions and their consequences. Last is green light: Go ahead and try the best plan.
The grown-up version of the Stoplight Method is SOCS:
Situation: say what the situation is and how it makes you feel
Options: think about the options for solving the problem
Consequences: think about the consequences of each option
Solutions: pick a solution and execute it
Part 3: What is my opinion on the book?
This book was long and at many times very research heavy. However, I’m very glad I read this book, and I think it’s an essential book that every person should read.
I like how Goleman broke down emotional intelligence into five concrete aspects. Before reading this book, I just thought of emotional intelligence as "people skills", and now I have a much more accurate and thorough understanding of the term.
Part 3 of the book, where it talked about applying emotional intelligence to marriages, is the most important part of the book in my opinion. The fact that divorce rates were at 67% in 1990s is startling. Harmony between husband and wife is key to societal peace. The husband-wife harmony influences the whole family, and they set the example for the younger generation. If there are conflicts between husband and wife, then they bring all that negative energy into the workplace, and the future generation learns a bad example. Emotional intelligence is a key tool for improving husband-wife harmony, which then improves societal peace.
Part 5 of the book was really memorable for me because it talked about the consequences of emotional illiteracy in children. Growing up, I had a good friend who later became depressed and turned to drugs, and I didn’t know how to help. With the knowledge from the book, I now know of two helpful treatments: I can make him go to the gym with me and volunteer to help homeless people.
When I first read the book, I wished there was more details on how to emotionally soothe my own negative emotions, such as anger, depression, and anxiety. After more research and reflection, I've realized that this topic is huge, which is probably why the author couldn't go into more detail in this book. I wrote a separate article to summarize what I've learned about managing stress and emotional health here.
The most relevant part of the book to me was Part 3, where it talked about applying emotional intelligence to relationships. Outside of this book, one of the best tools I've found for improving relationships is the Five Love Languages.
The big insight with the Five Love Languages is that you need to speak your partner's love language, not yours, to make your partner feel loved. That requires us to actually know that there are five love languages. You can find out their love language by simply asking them which of the five do they care about most, or you can do the Five Love Languages Quiz together.
Often times, simply speaking your partner's love language will help you get over conflicts because most conflicts arise from feeling unappreciated. Resolving relationships conflicts topic is a huge though, and I think these other resources are great for further help:
The Four Horsemen: Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness, and Stonewalling
Part 4: How have I applied this book in my life?
In my relationships, both personal and professional, I now focus more on harmony. Before, I used to focus on being right because I thought that was adding value to the relationship and also probably because I’m arrogant. By focusing on harmony, I’ve already found it to reduce stress and arguments in my interactions with others.
Like many people, I get annoyed at many things. Annoyance is really just anger on a smaller scale. So now I try to catch myself being annoyed and then reframe the situation to get rid of that anger.
For example, I’m annoyed about my 90 minute commute. I can reframe it as,
That’s 90 minutes of uninterrupted time to listen to podcasts and learn, which is important to me.
I also started saying “Yes, thank you” to things that annoy me. It creates this weird dissonance in my brain that removes the annoyance. For example, when the elevator stops and no one comes on, my first thought is “Ugh, what a waste of everyone’s time.” I can’t really reframe that positively…So I just say “Yes, thank you.” And then I feel weird. And then I think, “Well, at least I like the place that I’m living at.” And the initial annoyance is gone.
At work, I look for how I can take initiative to do things that people haven’t thought of (or thought of but don’t have time to do) that adds value to the team. I also try to build good rapport with everyone I work to increase harmony in our relationship.
When having difficult conversations, I stop it whenever I feel my heart rate to be too high or I feel the other person is agitated. Whereas before, I’d just keep trying to work it out, which is actually counter-productive when both sides are agitated, now I know to stop and rest. Once both sides are calm (at least 20 mins later), we can restart.
In life, there will be times where we need to tell others to improve, and if we do it wrong, they will get offended and at upset at us. But if we do it right, they will be appreciative and the relationship will improve.
The XYZ method of “When you did X, I felt Y, and I’d rather you do Z instead," is great because it's focused on how I feel, not on attacking the other person. It also offers a specific solution.
From personal experience, I would also add the following rules about giving an artful critique:
Timing: They are not busy; their mood is good
Environment: No one else is present; the environment is comfortable
Intention: Be loving and considerate, not critical or judging
Tone of Voice: warm and comfortable
Person: Make sure you have their trust. Whatever behavior you're advising on, make sure you first set a good example with your behavior.
Giving criticism is difficult for both the giver and the receiver. But if we can do it right, it's highly worth it.