Helping Clients Enhance Emotional Intelligence

By Mel Burt-Gracik, MA, M.Div.

Envision the following scenario: Sally is between back-to-back meetings, running to her office to grab a folder, thinking through the new tasks on her list after the last meeting and what she needs to do to prepare for the next one. As she rounds the corner, she sees her colleague, Fred, walking down the corridor. Sally darts into an adjoining hallway without even thinking about it. She simply doesn’t have time today and so her gut reaction to Fred is to avoid him. Now Fred is an affable co-worker, but he can’t seem to read subtle, or even direct clues that, “Sally just can’t talk about the TPS Reports right now.” If Sally bumps into him, she’s setting herself up for a lengthy discussion she simply doesn’t have time for. The question is: How can Sally and Fred use emotional intelligence to work together more productively?

What is Emotional Intelligence?
According to TalentSmart, a leading provider of emotional intelligence (EQ) training, 58% of job performance is attributable to emotional intelligence. Moreover, 90% of top performers have a high EQ. (TalentSmart, 2017).
Psychologists Peter Salovey and John Mayer created the concept of emotional intelligence. They define it as, “the ability to engage in sophisticated information processing about one’s own and others’ emotions and the ability to use this information as a guide to thinking and behavior. That is, individuals high in emotional intelligence pay attention to, use, understand, and manage emotions, and these skills serve adaptive functions that potentially benefit themselves and others,” (Mayer, J.D., Salovey, P., Caruso, D., 2008).
This concept recognizes that emotions can impact behavior and affect people – positively and negatively – therefore it’s important to show employee clients how to manage those emotions, especially when under stress. Are they able to identify the source of their emotions and those of others? Can they use emotional information to make productive choices?
In layman’s terms EQ may be thought of as an individual’s ability to:

* recognize and understand our emotions and reactions (self-awareness);
* manage, control, and adapt our emotions, mood, reactions, and responses (self-management);
* harness our emotions to motivate ourselves to take appropriate action, commit, follow-through, and work toward the achievement of our goals (motivation);
* discern the feelings of others, understand their emotions, and utilize that understanding to relate to others more effectively (empathy); and
* build relationships, relate to others in social situations, lead, negotiate conflict, and work as part of a team (social skills) (Scuderi, R., n.d.).

What Emotional Intelligence is Not
The concept of emotional intelligence is not always readily understood. Researchers note that emotional intelligence is not agreeableness, optimism, happiness, nor is it calmness or motivation. “Such qualities, although important, have little to do with intelligence, little to do with emotions, and nearly nothing to do with actual emotional intelligence” (Mayer, J.D., 2009).
To clarify, emotional intelligence is distinct from personal qualities. In an American Psychologist article, Mayer and his colleagues suggested, “… groups of widely studied personality traits, including motives such as the need for achievement, self-related concepts such as self-control, emotional traits such as happiness, and social styles such as assertiveness should be called what they are, rather than being mixed together in haphazard-seeming assortments and named emotional intelligence” (Mayer, J.D., et al., 2008).

IQ and EQ Differ
No article about EQ would be complete without mentioning the more familiar term, “IQ” or intelligence quotient. Unlike IQ, which tends to be fairly fixed throughout life, EQ is fluid and can increase by practicing new behaviors. This is a good thing, as success in a job may depend on learning new social skills. A prominent study highlighted in The New York Times found that between 1980 and 2012, jobs with high social skill requirements grew by nearly 10 percentage points as a share of the U.S. labor force (Miller, C., 2015).

Helping Clients Enhance their EQ
As an EA professional, you have likely found yourself helping clients like Sally who need support working with a colleague with lower emotional intelligence OR like Fred, who are suffering some of the consequences of lower EQ and could benefit from improving it. The following sections describe some basic tips to help your clients enhance their emotional intelligence.

* Teach clients to use the “3:1” Positivity Ratio. Positive emotions feel good, but at the end of the day, if your client interacted with a colleague 10 times and 5 of those interactions were positive, 4 neutral, and 1 negative, they would likely only focus on the negative. According to psychologist Dr. Rick Hanson, this is due to our negativity bias. Our brains are really good at remembering and holding onto the bad and pretty terrible at doing the same for the positive (Hanson, R., 2016).
To combat this tendency, I recommend trying UNC psychology Professor Barbara Fredrickson’s Positivity Ratio of 3 positive experiences to every 1 that is negative (Frederickson, B., 2009).
Let’s say your client struggles with negative self-talk. Have him start catching himself making negative statements and then stating three positive things that are also true. For example, let’s say he is running late to a meeting and he usually beats himself up for always being late. He might instead think, “I was on time to two other meetings today, and the meeting prior to this one I was five minutes early. Yesterday, I even paid a bill early!” This practice will help enhance the EQ components of self-worth and optimism.
Check out Dr. Fredrickson’s free positivity ratio assessment to help clients track their positivity over time. It’s at 

* Help clients improve their “emotional vocabulary.” On a cloudy day, unpleasant emotions can feel like a shroud of gray, dismal energy. “I feel bad.” Unfortunately, “bad” isn’t really an emotion and until we know what emotions we are having and their potential cause, it is hard to take action and eradicate them.
This is where an individual’s emotional vocabulary comes into play. A key component of EQ is emotional self-awareness or the ability to understand the nuanced series of emotions you may be experiencing, the root cause of each of them, and how these emotions affect you and others. Just as a sommelier can discern distinct flavors in a glass of wine, so someone high in this aspect of EQ can distinguish between joy, happiness, or elation.
To help your client increase his emotional vocabulary, provide a list of feelings and begin each session by tuning into the emotions he experienced during the past hour. What happened that caused these feelings? As your session continues, ask him to identify the emotions he felt as specific examples came up. 

* Recognize that an increased EQ promotes empathy. Once your client has a better grasp of his own emotional landscape, he is better equipped to understand the emotions of other people. When he struggles with a challenging colleague or person in his home life ask him to think through what the other person might be feeling and needing.
Paint a picture of empathy with even greater depth by asking him what else might be going on in the other person’s life that could be contributing to their emotional landscape. Lastly, practice compassion by walking him through wishing that other person well.

If your client is Sally, you have helped her work on the EQ elements of assertiveness and emotional expression. She is able to confront Fred and directly share how she is feeling:
“Hi Fred, so good to see you today. I really wish I could chat right now. I’m feeling a bit stressed as I’m in-between meetings and stretched for time at the moment. Would it be okay if I emailed you about the TPS Reports in the morning?”

If Fred is your client, help him learn that empathy and emotional attunement are likely skills he is lacking. Ask Fred questions geared to help him identify real-life examples, such as the one with Sally, where he lacked the ability to perceive the emotions of others, what the person was likely feeling in the situation, and how he could have behaved differently.
“What might Sally have been feeling in that moment Fred?”  
 “Frazzled and stressed I suppose.”
“Yes, I think you may be right. Given what she was feeling, what do you think she wanted from you?”
“She probably wanted me to see that she was stressed and to not engage her at that moment.”

For almost any client, enhancing emotional intelligence can promote more optimal interactions and productivity in the workplace. 

Mel Burt-Gracik, M.A., M.Div., is a board-certified coach who is also certified in Emotional Intelligence (EQ-i & EQ360), StrengthsFinder, and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Her company, Flourish, helps businesses, teams, and individuals build work cultures focused on strengths in order to increase productivity and maximize individual self-management. For more information, contact her at


Frederickson, B. (2009). Positivity: Top notch research reveals the 3 to 1 ratio that will change your life.  New York: NY: Three Rivers Press.    

Hanson, R. (2016, October 26). Confronting the negativity bias [Blog post]. Retrieved from

Mayer, J.D. (2009, September 21). What emotional intelligence is and is not [Blog post]. Retrieved from

Mayer, J.D., Salovey, P., & Caruso, D. (2008). Emotional intelligence: New ability or eclectic traits? American Psychologist, 63, 503-517. doi:10.1037/0003-055x.63.6.503

Miller, C.C. (2015, October 16). Why what you learned in preschool is crucial at work. The New York Times. Retrieved from

Scuderi, R. (n.d.). Sorry, but EQ is way more important than IQ these days [Blog post].  Retrieved from

TalentSmart. (2017). Emotional intelligence (EQ) stats. Retrieved from