A Core Secret of Emotional Intelligence

One of the great misconceptions about Emotional Intelligence is that you should let emotions control your behaviour and “go with the flow”.  I have heard podium speakers repeatedly say this is the secret of emotional intelligence.  However the secret is the complete opposite.
Daniel Goleman’s widely accepted definition of emotionally intelligent people described them as having four characteristics:

1.      They were good at understanding their own emotions (self-awareness);
2.      They were good at managing their emotions (self-management);
3.      They were empathetic to the emotional drives of other people (social awareness); and
4.      They were good at handling other people’s emotions (social skills).

To help define EQ Goleman used the marshmallow experiment carried out by Walter Mischel in the late 1960s at the Bing Nursery School on the campus of Stanford University. To those unfamiliar with the study, Mischel got 653 four-year olds (including his three daughters) to participate in a simple task. They were taken into a room where there was a marshmallow on a table, and told they would be left alone for 15 minutes. If when they came back there was still a marshmallow on the table, they would be given a second one. About ten per cent of the children were able to hold back.  You can see a great video of the experiment here.

Walter Mischel, now 84 has now written his first popular book: The Marshmallow Test.  The key message of the book is that the secret of success in life is to be able to delay self-gratification.  And the way to do that is to change your perception of the object or action you want to resist. Trying to avoid the tasty treat in front of your nose? Put a frame around it in your mind, as if it were a picture or photograph, to make the temptation less immediate.  For example Mischel was diagnosed as a celiac late in his life but was able to overcome his adoration of Viennese pastries and pasta Alfredo by picturing these foods as poison.

Even more interesting is that Maria Konnikova, a former student of Mischel’s and a writer for The New Yorker has just written a blog about the book and her time with Mischel.  The blog is fascinating in that she describes how Mischel has great difficulty in practising what he preaches.  He has an infamous temper, cannot stand waiting in lines, and eats his food too rapidly even at formal dinner parties.
If there is one critical EQ skill in self-management it is the ability to delay self-gratification.  A good definition of Emotional Intelligence is the delay between impulse and action.  It is the ability to control your emotions that distinguishes the emotionally intelligent leader.  I have ordered a Kindle version of the book but there is excellent summary of Mischel’s work in an earlier edition of The New Yorker: Don’t!: The secret of self-control. Surprisingly Konnikova does not mention it in her blog but the article provides a lot of background to the development of Mischel’s theories.


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Chris Golis - Author


"Put in a sales perspective, I loved your presentation! I got a lot from what you talked about and I will read your book."

Peter Morris, Executive Officer, Lomax Financial Group

Your presentation on 'Lifting your Level of Emotional Intelligence" to 10 CEOs scored an average 8.9 out of 10 for the topic and 8.5 for the presentation which is great. A couple of the attendees gave you a 10 out of 10, and the comments were:

- Great presentation. Very informative.

- Excellent presentation.

- made me think.

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