Tackling those difficult conversations with EQ

What is emotional intelligence?

We go on about it all of the time. So do a lot of people. We hashtag it in all of our articles, blog pieces and posts on Linkedin. It seems to be quite fashionable to talk about it particularly in relation to your working environment.

So, are we just keeping up with fashion?

No. Emotional intelligence is so valuable to almost every aspect of effective communication. At The Speakers’ Gym™, we’re all about effective communication and feeling great in the process.

I define emotional intelligence as a great capacity to understand human emotion, in yourself and others. An awareness and deep understanding of how you and others are feeling. This understanding gives you the power to harness, and guide these emotions, rather than them governing you and your behaviour.

The greater your emotional understanding, the greater your power over the situation.

You’re in the driving seat.

The emotions aren’t driving you.

When they do, it can be dangerous; you’re erratic, and prone to huge errors in judgement. It’s a little like drunk driving. This can happen under intense provocation. When our emotions become particularly pronounced- stressed, angry, frustrated, jealous, distrusting, excited, nervous- to name a few – we can experience what is known as an emotional hijacking.

As Daniel Goleman says: “The thinking brain plays an executive role in our emotions- except in those moments when emotions surge out of control and the emotional brain runs rampant.”


As we discuss in our article on Nerves,the fight, freeze or flight response is activated. A part of the brain called the amygdala triggers this response causing your heart rate and blood pressure to increase. Your muscles tense up in preparation for quick action- In preparation to fight, flee the scene or freeze entirely. This hijacking comes into play in response to a perceived threat. This is a somewhat unhelpful state to be in approaching conversations day to day at work.

However, work can be extremely stressful. Emotions do run high. We have to face difficult situations and have challenging conversations with other emotional people all of the time.

How do we approach these with EQ?

A few mindset tips:

  • Be Objective: with yourself and others
  • You are not your emotions: acknowledge them, sit with them, be curious about them, don’t judge them
  • Step outside of yourself: observe and conduct the situation as a neutral

Now let’s get one thing straight. You do need emotions. I like to think of them as our fuel. They are what make us human and can be great guides. Our emotional lives are our energy and life-blood.

EQ is not about being emotionless.

Humans are emotional beings. If you come across as emotionless, you’re likely to come across as inhuman. Humans generally feel most comfortable talking to humans. So, this won’t wash.

So, how do you “do EQ” without sounding too measured, or like you’ve just come off of a course. I can certainly draw on experiences where people have used phrases like, “I can see that you’re frustrated,” or “I’m sensing some anger here.” It’s all very measured language. That’s good. But it’s measured to the degree that it comes across as studied, scripted, or even robotic. Stop naming emotions! Put simply, it’s annoying! That is not EQ.

It’s not all technique. As I said above, it’s a genuine understanding of your and the other person’s emotions. This is very human. It’s also very much about emotional life. The key, is that you’re not swamped by your emotions so much that they drive your behaviour – drunk driving. Stay sober at the wheel.

What a lot of people get wrong about EQ is that they see it as something to “do”, like above, rather than “be.” People are often so hell-bent on finding a solution that they skip the very human part of understanding how the other person is feeling and empathising.

The following 5 steps are great for handling difficult conversations- be it a colleague or client:

  1. Assess yourself and your feelings- breathe
  2. Acknowledge and accept your and the other person’s feelings
  3. Listen to understand, not to speak
  4. Take ownership for what you can
  5. Focus on what you can do to make things better- Solution.

Disclaimer: Do not skip to Step 5.

All of the EQ is in steps 1-4. This is where all of the empathy, understanding and intimacy lies. Steps 1-4 are extremely human. It’s limbic to limbic communication and very effective for building trust.

Within Steps 1-4 is the answer to whether 5 is possible or even appropriate.

Sometimes people just need their feelings to be acknowledged, heard, and understood. You don’t always need to have the answer. And, without having made the effort to genuinely listen and understand, you can’t possibly find the right solution for that person.

By Chris Wickenden, 14 March, 2019

6 Comments

  1. Great thoughts on understanding our emotions and the emotions of others. I also believe that being able to understand our triggers will help us become more self-aware and empathetic to others.

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