Interview with Dr Travis Bradberry: On Cultivating Emotional Intelligence


travis-800pxVera: What is Emotional intelligence (EQ) and why does it seem like EQ is a difficult thing for people to cultivate?

Travis: Emotional intelligence is the “something” in each of us that is a bit intangible. It affects how we manage behavior, navigate social complexities, and make personal decisions that achieve positive results. Emotional intelligence is made up of four core skills (self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management) that pair up under two primary competencies: personal competence and social competence.

  • Self-Awareness: is your ability to accurately perceive your emotions and stay aware of them as they happen.
  • Self-Management: is your ability to use awareness of your emotions to stay flexible and positively direct your behavior.
  • Social Awareness: is your ability to accurately pick up on emotions in other people and understand what is really going on.
  • Relationship Management: is your ability to use awareness of your emotions and the others’ emotions to manage interactions successfully.

Perhaps the most challenging thing is to get people to understand that EQ is a highly flexible skill. With practice, people who measure low in EQ can work to improve a specific EQ skill within a few months. Research shows that people who develop their emotional intelligence skills tend to be far more successful on the job.

Vera: Your book ‘’Emotional Intelligence 2.0’’ has been quite the bestseller. What would you say is the most valuable contribution you put out there with the book?

Travis: We’ve found that self-awareness is so important for job performance that 83% of people high in self-awareness are top performers, and just 2% of bottom performers are high in self-awareness. When you are self-aware, you are far more likely to pursue the right opportunities, put your strengths to work, and—perhaps most importantly—keep your emotions from holding you back. My book Emotional Intelligence 2.0 unveils a step by step programme for increasing EQ via 66 strategies that target the 4 core EQ skills mentioned above.

Vera: What would a leader who is in tune with the emotional pulse of their teams do that others wouldn’t?

Travis: Your emotional tone as a leader has a contagious effect upon everyone in your organization. Just as people look to leaders for guidance and direction, their emotions are primed by the emotional state of the leaders they follow. Get familiar with all of the ways in which your emotions prime the emotional state or “tone” of your people. EQ includes the skill of relationship management that enables true excellence. It can take a leader at any level to places others cannot go.

Vera: There are many leaders who arguably have low EQ. Does this suggest that the importance of EQ might perhaps be overrated?

Travis: In my research, I’ve found that 90% of top performers in leadership positions are high in emotional intelligence, whereas only 20% of bottom performers are high in emotional intelligence. EQ isn’t a guarantee of success, but there’s a massive correlation between EQ and performance. In addition to separating great leaders from the rest of the pack, EQ skills are what leaders overestimate their abilities in the most. The fact that leaders’ greatest overestimations are limited to EQ skills shows how tough these skills are to master and how few leaders have honed their skills adequately. This presents a perfect opportunity for leaders to get an edge and take their game to the next level.

Vera: How can one tell if they are emotionally intelligent and what are some of the strategies for managing one’s negative emotions?

Travis: Despite the growing focus on EQ, a global deficit in understanding and managing emotions remains. Only 36 percent of the people my organization, TalentSmart tested are able to accurately identify their emotions as they happen. This means that two thirds of us are typically controlled by our emotions and are not yet skilled at spotting them and using them to our benefit. Here are 3 effective ways to improve EQ;

  • Use Positive Body Language

Becoming cognizant of your gestures, expressions, and tone of voice (and making certain they’re positive) will draw people to you like ants to a picnic. Using an enthusiastic tone, uncrossing your arms, maintaining eye contact, and leaning towards the person who’s speaking are all forms of positive body language that high-EQ people use to draw others in. Positive body language can make all the difference in a conversation. It’s true that how you say something can be more important than what you say.

  • Ask Questions

The biggest mistake people make when it comes to listening is they’re so focused on what they’re going to say next or how what the other person is saying is going to affect them that they fail to hear what’s being said. The words come through loud and clear, but the meaning is lost. A simple way to avoid this is to ask a lot of questions. People like to know you’re listening, and something as simple as a clarification question shows that not only are you listening, you also care about what they’re saying. You’ll be surprised how much respect and appreciation you gain just by asking questions.

  • Squash Negative Self-Talk

A big step in managing stress involves stopping negative self-talk in its tracks. The more you ruminate on negative thoughts, the more power you give them. Most of our negative thoughts are just that—thoughts, not facts. When you find yourself believing the negative and pessimistic things your inner voice says, it’s time to stop and write them down. Literally stop what you’re doing and write down what you’re thinking. Once you’ve taken a moment to slow down the negative momentum of your thoughts, you will be more rational and clear-headed in evaluating their veracity. Identifying and labeling your thoughts as thoughts by separating them from the facts will help you escape the cycle of negativity and move toward a positive new outlook.

Vera: What are some of the common myths and misconceptions out there about EQ and are there any key principles for developing EQ that you can share?

Travis: A common misconception about EQ is that you can’t develop it. Yes, you can. Emotional intelligence is a foundational skill, and emotions are the primary driver of our behavior. Pick a skill and a behavior that you’re going to practice. Actually, after you take the test that comes with my book, ‘’Emotional Intelligence 2.0’’, the report will tell you specifically what EQ skills you ought to start practicing, and how. You need to practice these new behaviors to make it habitual.  The first time you try to do it your brain isn’t going to like it.  It’s very difficult to do the first time, the first five times, the first ten times, but your brain loves efficiency.  It wants to make behaviors easy. Here are a few strategies that can help:

  • Just becoming aware of your emotions can help raise your EQ. Stop periodically throughout your day to assess what and how you are feeling.
  • Instead of shutting emotions down, try to embrace them. Learn how to use them to your advantage.
  • Choose a skill that you need to improve. Practice it daily, hourly if needed, until it becomes a habit.
  • When making a decision, evaluate whether you are making it based on an emotional reaction or an intellectual reaction.

Vera: What’s the most surprising question you’ve ever been asked about EQ?

Travis: Is EQ like IQ? No, EQ is not like IQ. Unlike IQ—which is fixed—EQ can be developed throughout your lifespan.  Your IQ is the same at age five as it is at age 50.  Emotional intelligence is a flexible skill, and is something that you can work on. You can physically change your brain.  There’s a neuronal pathway between the rational and emotional centers of your brain.  When you work on your EQ you actually build new neurons, you grow new pathways, or you advance the pathway which increases the flow of information.

Vera: What piece of learning in your work have you applied that has enhanced your own EQ?

Travis: Getting to know myself as a leader. Self-awareness is a foundational EQ skill: when you have it, self-awareness makes the other emotional intelligence skills much easier to use and incorporate into your repertoire. A high degree of self-awareness requires a willingness to discover things about yourself that you aren’t currently aware of. This can be unsettling at times, especially when you discover things that you’d like to improve. In these moments, just remember that you can’t improve your self-awareness without broadening your self-knowledge, and any discomfort you experience means you’re moving in the right direction. This effort will be well worth it as increasing your self-awareness will make it much easier to increase your abilities in the other leadership skills.

Travis’ profile

Dr. Travis Bradberry is the award-winning co-author of the #1 bestselling book, Emotional Intelligence 2.0, and the cofounder of TalentSmart, the world’s leading provider of emotional intelligence tests and training, serving more than 75% of Fortune 500 companies. His bestselling books have been translated into 25 languages and are available in more than 150 countries. Dr. Bradberry has written for, or been covered by, Newsweek, BusinessWeek, Fortune, Forbes, Fast Company, Inc., USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and The Harvard Business Review.

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