Four Elements of Emotional Intelligence

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What Is Emotional Intelligence?

Over time, there has been a cultural focus on the left side of the brain—the analytical, rational, logical side. This is especially true in business. As humans, however, we are not only rational, logical beings—we’re also emotional, creative, and artistic.
The emotional, creative, and artistic aspects are governed by the right side of the brain. Each side controls different aspects of who we are, so it makes sense to bring those two sides into some form of balance.
Developing your understanding and application of EI skills does not mean that you will suddenly find yourself in a workplace filled with disruptive displays of emotion. It’s about being more aware of the other half of your brain, and how it impacts you. It's about recognizing your emotions and expressing them appropriately. And it's about becoming more open to what is happening to others and demonstrating genuine empathy for them.

Know the Four Elements of EI

EI can be broken down into four essential elements, per this handy table. We dive deeper into self-awareness and self-management in this module. You learn about empathy and skilled relationships in the next badge, Relationship Building.


The ability to read and understand your emotions, and recognize their impact on work or relationships.


The ability to keep disruptive emotions and impulses under control, to maintain standards of honesty and integrity, and to maintain flexibility in adapting to change.


The ability to recognize and understand others’ emotions, and take active interest in their concerns.

Skilled Relationships

The ability to inspire and guide groups or individuals, and to help develop others through feedback and guidance.

Know the Benefits of EI

Developing your EI can help you become a more effective team member and leader. EI helps you build quality relationships where you can feel free to be open, creative, innovative, and supportive of others to be the same way.

Whatever your gender, race, or national origin, you can benefit from developing your EI. But we don’t recommend trying to tackle all four elements at once. Instead, start by focusing on the aspects of EI you feel you need to develop.

Reflection: Where Should I Start?

For this reflection, go ahead and rank the EI elements you learned about above, in order of your personal priority. What do you want to work on first? Rank them, with 1 being the highest priority for you, 4 being the lowest.

Learn How the Amygdala Can Hijack Control of Your Response to a Situation

Think about the moment when you’re about to give a presentation in front of a large crowd. Or think about when you get feedback that sounds like you didn’t perform as well as you thought you did. Sometimes, we have an emotional response to these kinds of events that can be overwhelming.
This emotional reaction comes from one part of the brain. A different part of the brain is responsible for thinking about the situation and coming up with the appropriate response.

  1. Automatic/first brain (primitive or reptilian). This part of the brain functions automatically, without thought, and even while we’re sleeping.
  2. Limbic brain (old mammalian). This is the part of the brain that enables learning, stores emotions, and records danger and fear.
  3. Cortex and neocortex (rational, new mammalian). This part focuses on cognitive response, stores and analyzes information, and interprets data.
The amygdala resides in the limbic brain (2). It’s responsible for emotion and emotional learning. This is where you have your emotional response that can sometimes be immediate and overwhelming. Emotional responses can also be outsized compared to what you’re reacting to. When you have a sudden, overwhelming emotional response to something, we call that an “amygdala hijack.”
The amygdala is tricky, because it affects a system that acts independently from, and bypasses, the neocortex, which is responsible for rationality (3).
So what can you do to keep the amygdala in check?

Follow the 6-Second Rule

It generally takes 6 seconds for stimulus to move into the neocortex to counteract the amygdala. Follow these steps to help activate a balance between your emotion (amygdala) and your rationality (neocortex).
  1. Take a deep breath and count 6 seconds before you respond. This interrupts the amygdala.
  2. Observe your feelings and emotions.
  3. Ask yourself:
  4. What am I interpreting or making up?
  5. What are my intentions?
  6. Engage your neocortex by asking more questions based on the situation.
  7. Take action based on your observations.
The 6-second rule helps you foster self-awareness.

Find Your Balance

Learning how the brain works helps us to maximize the effectiveness of our rational, analytical brain functions and our emotional, intuitive brain functions. The result: a more complete human experience and the ability to consciously develop our leadership skills.
Self-awareness, skilled relationship-building, self-management, and empathy are increasingly recognized as essential qualities for dynamic leaders. The good news is, no matter our starting point, we can all develop these skills and improve our leadership abilities.

What Is Self-Awareness?

Self-awareness is about paying attention to what’s going on inside of you and being able to identify the wide range of emotions you’re experiencing. It’s about your mood and what your thoughts are about that mood. However, the goal of becoming more self-aware is not to judge or dismiss these emotions. Instead, we should recognize accurately what the emotions are, and then find the most appropriate response to the situation.
As we become aware of the present moment and our response, we may become aware that we are worried but immediately dismiss our worry. Or we notice that we’re angry and tell ourselves that we shouldn't feel this way. But being self-critical or pushing away our emotions can lead to more problems. Instead, we want to practice noticing how we’re feeling in a nonjudgmental way, so we have the information we need to make productive decisions about how to take action.
With more self-awareness in the workplace, we become more professional in the way we interact with coworkers, partners, and customers.

Be Present

Have you ever started eating a bag of chips and suddenly realized you’ve eaten it all without even remembering you did it? Have you ever driven down the highway and realized you've been daydreaming for the past 10 miles and don’t remember the scenery you’ve passed over the last few minutes? Have you ever sat down with someone sharing the events of their day, and instead of listening, you’re thinking about work, or the next task you have to finish?
A rapid-fire thought process takes over and takes you out of the present moment. Below are a couple of exercises you can use to help you return to the present and give yourself more opportunities to become self-aware.

Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness involves taking a few deeper breaths and quieting your mind. This 3–5 minute exercise demonstrates how challenging those simple directions can be. After the exercise, ask yourself some questions designed to help you become more self-aware.

  1. Sit quietly in a comfortable position. You can sit in a chair, on a cushion, on the floor—wherever is comfortable for you.
  2. Take a few deep breaths through your nose. Fill your abdomen, then your chest, then pause, and finally exhale via your nose.
  3. After you've taken at least three deep breaths, sit there without thinking. Be quiet. Be present. Notice what sounds appear.
What happens for you when you get quiet?
  • Were you able to sit quietly and think of nothing?
  • Did you notice random thoughts?
  • If this exercise was difficult, why do you think it’s so difficult to sit still for a few minutes and think of nothing?

What Is Centering?

There are other ways to calm yourself and be in the present moment. One is common in martial arts—centering.
When we are centered we are:
  • Open
  • Calm
  • Relaxed
  • Focused
  • In the present moment
Being centered is a natural state that we often lose as we age. Babies spend most of their time centered. If a baby is looking at its big toe, the baby is totally focused and consumed by that big toe. The baby is not, at the same time and as adults frequently are, thinking about paying the bills, health, improving relationships, or something else.

How the Brain Works

The more you practice mindfulness and centering, the more you notice how your brain reacts to various situations. Notice what happens to your body when you’re under the influence of the amygdala hijack explained in the previous unit. Notice the change that comes over you when you center, or become more mindful, or breathe deeper, or use the 6-second rule—whatever works for you.
As you become more aware of your own mental model and of how you can influence your responses, start connecting your awareness to how you manage your actions.
The next step is to find an appropriate response to the situation. At work, what can you do to communicate more effectively or to resolve conflict more professionally? Some suggestions here can help you move beyond unproductive habits and introduce new, more professional behaviors.

Spitting Out the Hook

“Spitting out the hook” refers to a set of best practices that help you respond to situations that may include other people and high emotions. Before we dive deeper, let’s look at the terms.

Event: Something has happened.

Reaction: The physical and emotional behavior of the other person to the event. You may also have a reaction to the other person’s reaction.

Spitting out the hook: If you react to the other person before you've centered and taken the time to clarify the event and the other person's reaction, then you're probably hooked.

If you react in anger, disbelief, avoidance, confrontation, judgment of the other person, or withdrawal, you’re hooked. Here’s where it gets even more challenging. If you explain or defend yourself, you’re hooked.
On the other hand, if you can remain centered (calm, relaxed, open, focused in the present moment, seeking to understand, applying the 6-second rule, and letting your rational brain take over), then you can gather information, describe the event more accurately, and understand the other person's reaction more clearly.
Remember, the other person's reaction is 100% about them. Before you respond, take a moment to gain accurate information.

Unhook Yourself

Here are some tips to help you become more aware of your emotional responses to conflict and find positive, productive ways to react.
  • Remember the 6-second rule and allow your rational brain to activate.
  • Ask questions and seek to understand what is going on with the other person. See the situation from their point of view, before you respond.
  • Remember that reactions belong to the person having the reaction. Take responsibility for your reaction; let them take responsibility for their reaction.
  • Seek to describe the event and your own reaction to it before you proceed. What happened, and what is the feeling or emotion you’re experiencing?
  • Be genuine. If you’re phony, it comes through.
  • Pay attention to your attitude, eye contact, and body language, which communicate your level of sincerity and interest.
  • Try using the phrase: “You seem to be feeling ____________ because of ____________?” Although it may feel awkward at first, it is a good way to develop the habit of searching for both the event and the reaction to the event.

What Is Self-Management?

Self-management is a broad topic. It can refer to how you manage your health, finances, and so on. Here, we refer to self-management as how you manage your emotions in a positive way in the workplace.
Self-management is closely tied to self-awareness. After all, it’d be challenging to manage emotions if you’re unaware that you’re experiencing them.

Own How You Feel

Who is responsible for how you feel? The answer to this question is important and one of the most significant insights about self-management. The answer is also one of the most challenging, and some people have difficulty accepting it.
The answer: You are responsible for how you feel and no one else.

Separate Your Emotions from Those of Others

Taking responsibility for emotions is a skill, and it takes time to develop. Often, people blame others for how they feel.
Perhaps you've heard the term you message. For example, "You made me feel __________." Notice any you messages you encounter, either your own or someone else’s? When you do, remember that no one makes you feel anything. Your feelings belong to you. When these statements arise, give time to allow each side to take responsibility for their own emotions.
The same principle applies to situations—the situation itself didn’t make you feel one way or another. The feeling came from you and how you perceived the event.

Take Responsibility for Your Emotions

Self-management begins with taking responsibility for your own emotions and how you express them. There are typically numerous options available for expression.
Imagine you’re working on a big project with many team members. Your current task depends on someone else getting their task done, but they miss their deadline. You may feel frustrated, angry, or something else. What do you do?
  • Do you call the person out in a public forum?
  • Do you send a private message to the person to check in and offer help?
  • Do you send a critical message to the person’s manager?
Remember the tips to “spit out the hook” that you read in the previous unit. Those tips can help guide your response. There are many ways to react, and your reaction belongs completely to you.

Know the Benefits of Self-Management

There are a host of areas that can be improved by taking responsibility for one’s own emotions and reacting in a way that’s positive. And making improvements in these areas can lead to better results at work.

Positive Stress Management

Work successfully with stress and stressful situations. Retain the ability to think and make rational decisions, even under stress. Avoid mistakes that people usually make due to stressful situations.

Skillful Problem Solving

Handle challenges more efficiently. Retain the ability to analyze the situation, review problems, and find effective solutions, even in the toughest situations. Keeping your mind sober and calm allows you to make rational decisions.

Inspiring Communication

Share information with fewer mistakes and greater clarity, and find solutions more efficiently. Remember that listening is a more powerful communication skill than talking, and it’s a skill that is often lost in times of stress.

Better Time Management

Plan the days and weeks ahead with a refreshed outlook on your challenges. Time management improves as you become better at self-management. It also is a self-management technique in itself. Giving yourself time to stop and think about your work, for example, helps the rational part of your brain take over.

Improved Health

Reduce negative stress and its impact on your health by resolving challenging situations successfully. Health is another aspect that benefits from self-management as well as serves as a self-management technique. And healthy practices, like movement and mindfulness, give you more opportunities to reflect on and manage emotions.

Organizations seek ways to be more productive. When it comes to emotional intelligence, increasing your skill of self-management will help you boost work output while improving relationships with others.
But how do you get better at self-management, exactly?

Develop Self-Management Skills

Self-management skills depend on the decisions you make, and how you choose to take responsibility for your actions.
Everyone reacts to situations differently. Say you’re talking with a coworker about a challenging and overwhelming project. Or imagine you’re in a job interview that might determine the course of your career. If you practice self-awareness in situations like these, pausing to think about your emotional reaction, you’re already taking a good first step in EI. And if you claim ownership and responsibility for your emotions, you’re taking an important next step.
Finally, it’s helpful to align your emotions and your response to key areas of responsibility.

  • Initiative
  • Organization
  • Accountability
  • Alignment


Initiative is being able to work without needing to be told what to do. Show initiative by thinking for yourself and taking action when needed. This means thinking about a solution and taking steps to achieve it. Initiative requires self-belief, because you need resilience and motivation to go out of your way to solve problems or do things without being reminded or asked. It’s OK to check in with your manager to discuss your ideas and proposed steps. The important part is that you are coming up with your own ideas and are taking the initiative to implement them.


If you’re organized at work, you plan your time and the things you have to do. You know what’s most important and what takes the longest time to accomplish. You’re prepared and have the things you need when you need them. So if you know you need certain tools or information to complete a task, make sure you have them before you begin.


Accountability and responsibility are similar, but they don’t mean the same thing. Accountability is your willingness to accept responsibility. Your manager could give you responsibility for a task, but you could still look for someone else to blame if it goes wrong. Or you could decide not to put the effort in because you don’t really care about the results. Successful people tend to be known for a willingness to accept responsibility for their actions and the actions of those they lead.


Alignment refers to how roles and teams at work are arranged. Ask yourself: Is your job description aligned with your skills? Do you understand and agree with what is expected of you? Is your work tied to the goals of the organization? Are your personal mission and values aligned with the organization? If you notice that your skills are underutilized, you can collaborate with your manager to better align your skills with the work that needs to be done. Perhaps you're well aligned one year, and in the next you need to make adjustments.

Be a Leader Wherever You Are in Your Career

Leadership is about inspiring others, building trust, and working well with teammates. While we expect managers and those higher up in the organization to be excellent leaders, individual contributors and those just starting out in their career can demonstrate leadership as well.

This module focuses on the final two elements of emotional intelligence (EI)—empathy and skilled relationships—and how you can apply them as a leader in your organization.

Be Empathetic

As described in the Emotional Intelligence module, empathy is the ability to recognize and understand others’ emotions, and take active interest in their concerns. It turns out that we evolved as a human species to practice empathy.
One part of our anatomy that helps us be empathetic is mirror neurons. These neurons fire when we perform an action—and also when we see someone else doing the same action.
For example, if you see someone happily playing with a pet, you’re likely to react physically and emotionally to what you’re observing. If you see someone who is injured or crying, you're likely to feel something that connects you to what that person is feeling. This response is our mirror neurons at work.

Evolve with Empathy

Because of our mirror neurons and how advanced we are as a society, it can be easy to think that we’re automatically empathetic to others, that we can collaborate with the most diverse set of people with no trouble. But to be empathetic is still a challenge, especially today.
The rise of the internet and social media sites has made it easier to connect with other people in some ways, but it’s also made connection harder. It’s difficult to have a meaningful conversation when you’re limited to a certain number of characters. It’s difficult to feel what someone else is feeling when you don’t see them, because you’re interacting with a screen instead.
All of these things run counter to being empathetic. But it’s too early to tell whether the rise of these sites and apps, which are said to connect us better, will do just that. The writer Jeremy Rifkin suggests that when you look at overall trends in the world, however, the rise of different types of government and technology has expanded our ability to be empathetic with more and more people.
Back in our forager-hunter days, Rifkin points out, our empathy was limited to our immediate family or tribe. In medieval times, people could empathize with an entire class of people within a village or region. After the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we now have access to people and experiences beyond nation-states through the internet.
We have access to more people and experiences than any other time in history. This means we also have a greater opportunity to evolve in empathy. We need to meet the challenges head on and have a clear focus on practicing empathy as we progress as a society. This is one of the reasons why we’ve created this badge!

Differentiate Between Sympathy and Empathy

A common challenge to building EI skills today is ensuring our responses are actually based in empathy, instead of sympathy. Researcher Brené Brown gives a simple way to recognize the difference.
  • Sympathy. A sympathetic response can include emotion, but it’s focused on keeping distance, makes a judgement about the person or how they should react, and doesn’t take the other person’s perspective into account.
  • Empathy. An empathetic response recognizes the other person’s perspective and emotions, communicates these back to them, and withholds judgement.
It’s the difference between the sympathetic, “I’m sorry you feel that way, but if you just look on the bright side ...” and the empathetic, “You seem upset, and I can see you’re having a rough time.”
It seems counterintuitive, but sympathetic responses often don’t help people feel better. There’s more depth and support felt in the empathetic response. And notice, the empathetic response doesn’t have to offer a solution to the problem. It just needs to recognize the person’s emotions and situation from their point of view.

Reflection: How Empathetic Am I?

The key to developing empathy is how you think about your current ability to empathize. The following questions provide you an opportunity to reflect on your empathy skills. You don’t have to complete the reflection to complete this unit. Your privacy is important, and we won’t save or record your answers. But you may find it helpful to take a moment to pause and recognize where you are in your journey.
To complete the reflection exercise, read each question, then mark your level of agreement or disagreement. Most importantly, take a few moments to reflect on your answers. When you're done, click Print. Choose to save your reflection as a PDF or print out your responses to review them later, if you wish.

Notice how self-awareness and self-management, the elements of emotional intelligence, help you reflect on your ability to be empathetic. You stop to think about the situation and your own position (self-awareness). You make a judgement about your level of empathy and how you should respond (self-management).
Based on your reflection above, are there areas of empathy where you can improve? Was there a recent situation where you could have stopped, reflected, and intentionally reacted in a more empathetic way? If so, what would be your response today?

What Is a Skilled Relationship?

As we watch toddlers develop, we see how they start to recognize emotions in others and begin to use patience instead of throwing tantrums to get their way. Around the age of two, they begin to show more empathy. These are the same skills we need to mature and develop as we progress into adulthood.
To relate well with others we need to remain calm and control our emotional outbursts. In order to develop what we're calling skilled relationships, it’s important to practice self-awareness, self-management, and empathy.
The more we practice, the better we get at developing trust, inspiring others, and solving problems together—this is what makes up a skilled relationship.

Agree on the Basics

Throughout this module, we call out how EI skills build off one another. First, you need to be aware of yourself and what you’re feeling. Then, you focus on managing your emotional response and decide on how best to react in a situation. These two steps help you practice empathy.
With all of these skills in play, you’re in the best position to work successfully with your team. One of the first things you may recognize is that your teammates have different feelings about work, different work styles, and so on. To help everyone meet their potential, it’s best to come up with a team agreement.
It’s like a job description for the entire team, describing successful behavior and guarding against actions that can harm team morale. Each team agreement is different because each team is different. But they all answer specific questions.
Below is a handy table to help you create an agreement with your team, with questions and possible follow-up questions to get to the right level of clarity. You may need to incorporate different questions not included here. Consider this a start.

How do we work together?

Are there tools that help us work together? If so, what’s the best way to use them?
What are the roles?
Do we need to consider different time zones?

What does success look like?

Are there specific metrics we should track?
What do we do if we make a mistake?
Are there blockers, best, and worst possible scenarios we can anticipate?

How do we agree and disagree?

What forums (one-on-one, team stand-ups) should we use to address conflicts we have with each other?
Should we include project milestones where we stop to reflect and address disagreements or challenges with better data?

How do we decide who plays which role?

Do tasks align well with our formal job descriptions?
Are there areas where each person needs to stretch and do things outside of their job or comfort zone?
How do we support one another to ensure everyone can succeed in their roles?

How do we develop trust?

Should we include times to break away from the work and do something fun as a team?
What does respect for each others’ work look like?

With the team agreement, you develop a work environment where the following are possible.
  • Coming together as a team
  • Trusting one another
  • Having room to make mistakes and learn from them
  • Seeing value in diversity of opinions
  • Willingness to take on new tasks and roles to get the work done
When employees feel they are trusted and are key to the success of an organization—that they’re encouraged to make suggestions, innovate, share their experience and wisdom—they have a better chance to make more of an impact and drive success.

Recognize Work Styles

As you incorporate your team agreement, it’s important to recognize each teammate’s work style and preferences. The better aligned people are with their work style, the more they get done and the greater sense of fulfillment they experience.
Work can be organized into three categories.
  • Tasks
  • Coordination and communication activities
  • Organizational activities


Those who prefer tasks enjoy touching the product or service. They often work well on their own. Examples of tasks include writing, welding, auditing, design, inspecting, repair, and research.

Coordination and Communication Activities

Those who prefer coordinating and communicating work enjoy working with others. They may consider themselves as successful when they help others succeed. Examples include coaching, delegating, mentoring, coordinating, teaming, communications, advising, and facilitating.

Organizational Activities

Those who prefer organizational work activities are drawn to work that involves planning, influencing the organization, or advocating for resources. Other examples include advising, managing, and directing.
There are also people who move easily between different work activities. The key is to do the best we can to align people to roles that meet their work style and give them room to grow at a reasonable pace.

Develop Skilled Relationships

Now that you have the right questions to ask and an understanding of different work styles, here are some guidelines for developing positive, healthy relationships at work.
  1. Accept and celebrate a diverse workplace. As we mature and grow wiser, we recognize that everyone is not like us. The next step is to embrace those differences and find value in them. The Business Value of Equality badge shows how supporting a diverse workforce with a variety of work styles can create a richer and more productive workplace.
  2. Develop active listening skills. Active listening is the foundation for avoiding miscommunication as well as resolving conflicts. We want to hear what the other person is saying and want to understand the situation, as discussed in Emotional Intelligence.
  3. Expand other communication skills. Become aware of your habits and how they impact the way you communicate. Do those you lead believe you want them to succeed? How do they know you support them? Do you involve them in potential change or do you spring it on them and expect compliance? How well do you argue for the resources your team needs to succeed? Do you see conflict as opportunity?
  4. Take time to support those you lead. Take a little time to let your teammates know that you're there to take care of them and help ensure that they succeed.
  5. Manage technology and anticipate its impact. Technology impacts the workplace. For example, smartphones and tablets have had a huge impact on the economy, on how work gets done, on the mental and emotional well-being of millions. Anticipate changes, as best you can, and help prepare those you work with and lead to address them.
  6. Share your wisdom and invite the wisdom of others. There’s a reason you have the role you do. Share the wisdom you’ve gained through your experience and make it available to your teammates. At the same time, recognize their wisdom and experience, and encourage them to give you feedback.
  7. Develop honesty and trust. You trust those you lead and encourage them to be honest with each other and with you. You demonstrate this by being honest with them. Develop that sense of mutual respect and an environment where everyone can be honest without fear of retribution and you have a potentially powerful workforce.
Which guidelines above deserve your attention? Here’s one more powerful guideline that has emerged from virtually every culture for thousands of years. Treat people as you would like to be treated yourself.

Elevate Your Emotional Intelligence Practice

Throughout this trail, we give you the what and why of emotional intelligence (EI). We call this horizontal development—or filling your brain with knowledge. Think of this like pouring water in a cup.
On top of that, we give you practical exercises and best practices to follow. The goal is for you to start putting your EI skills into action, and to get better over time. This is vertical development—embodying the four key areas of EI: self-awareness, self-regulation, empathy, and skilled relationships. Think of this like expanding your cup.
As you grow in your career and practice responding to situations with EI, you may notice some things come naturally to you. At the same time, challenges you experience bring about different ways of seeing a situation or solving a problem. This is when your cup expands.
The best thing to do is to embrace your EI journey and regularly take time to stop, reflect, and consider how you can best move forward.