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By now, we have all heard that Emotional Intelligence is a necessary skill for a leader. Truthfully, few people fully understand what Emotional Intelligence (or EQ) means. 

Most people equate emotional intelligence with having empathy for another. For example, “If I can relate to how you are feeling about an issue, I am emotionally intelligent.” While empathy is a part of emotional intelligence, it is not the whole story. In addition, many people confuse being empathetic with genuinely caring for another. One can truly care about others without necessarily having the ability to express empathy easily 

In this blog series, I will share each of the four branches of EQ that we focus on and perhaps most importantly, ways to build capability in all four branches. In our coaching practice, we assess our clients on all four branches. By doing this, we can isolate the particular branch of EQ that our clients need help to build aptitude in and fully leverage the branches where they demonstrate strength.

Let’s start with first defining what EQ means. EQ stands for “emotional quotient” or “the level of a person’s emotional intelligence.” As for the definition of Emotional Intelligence, there are a number of definitions available. I like the definition of  “The ability to accurately perceive, use, understand, manage and handle emotions.’’

The four branches of Emotional Intelligence:

  • Perceiving Emotions
  • Using Emotions
  • Understanding Emotions
  • Managing Emotions 


We will focus on perceiving emotions first. I will go into detail about each of the other three branches of EQ in this series, so stay tuned!

This branch of EQ refers to the capacities and abilities to recognize and identify emotions in others. Practically put, Are you able to read the room? 


Are you able to catch the emotions displayed by others and, more importantly, accurately deduct the emotion this person is feeling? 


Pay particular attention to the body language displayed, as well as one’s tone of voice. These are clues that tell the story regarding what the individual is really feeling. Can you tell when someone is showing excitement, sadness, anger, or fear? Some of these are potentially easier to determine than others, but a leader who can discern the subtleties from emotions displayed, such as sadness versus apathy, has a tremendous advantage. Leaders should use this skill to engage their employees better, determine their emotional state, and therefore seek to understand what their current state of being might be.

Suppose that you are in a coaching or counseling session with an employee of yours. You are asking her for her commitment to the discussed action plan on a project. You hear her say, “Yes, I am committed,” but her body language conveys that she appears disengaged from the conversation at hand. Which one do you trust? If you can discern the incongruence in the words she is expressing versus the body language she is demonstrating; you are hitting on the ability to perceive the emotions of another.


So how do I build more skills in this area?

Tune into your Conversations

  • Try a daily practice of keying in on a specific individual during a conversation. Just picking one person a day helps build skills in this area. Choose to be intentionally and consciously focused, fully present, and observing what message the person is telling you, more than just the words they say. 

Ask Questions

  • As you observe them communicating to you, ask yourself questions like: How would I describe his tone of voice? What is his body language telling me?
  • What am I noticing? What emotion(s) am I seeing displayed?  

Reflectively Listen

  • To be sure that your intuition is on track, reflectively listen by saying things like, “It feels to me that you are struggling with this. Am I getting that right? Or perhaps even more direct, ask the person, “If you could name the emotion(s) that you are feeling right now, what would you say?” 
  • Reflective listening gives you the chance to check yourself and make sure you correctly perceive the emotions this person is displaying.


Knowing how to recognize emotions in other people is just the start of your journey to becoming a more emotionally intelligent person. In the following blogs, I will expand on how to use, understand, and manage emotions.

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