Updated: Jan 14
Daniel Goleman's Emotional Intelligence: The Good Life Concept Review | Usefulness 10/10
Emotional Intelligence (EI) is a key differentiator when looking at leadership and talent development.
However, while the concept of EI is powerful, it needs to be better understood if you are going to develop it as a differentiating competency for you or your organisation.
In this blog you’ll find out more about the challenges you can expect to overcome as you seek to develop Emotional Intelligence. I’ll also give you a tool to help you develop your aw
areness (I'll also explain what awareness is) through the use of powerful questioning techniques.
what is emotional intelligence?
Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify, make sense of and manage your emotions and the emotions of others. It generally includes three skills:
the ability to harness emotions and apply them to tasks like thinking and problem solving
and the ability to manage emotions, which includes regulating your own emotions and cheering up or calming down other people.
In this blog I'm focusing on the cornerstone of Emotional Intelligence, awareness:
Awareness of one’s own feelings
Awareness of the feelings of others (empathy)
Emotional intelligence is not a skill in itself - a skill being knowledge applied under pressure (i.e. put to use in real-world conditions - in other words, experience) - it is an overarching label for a grouping of skills (e.g empathy, critical thinking, decision-making and complex problem-solving).
What is the link between variety & emotional intelligence?
The key to having better Emotional Intelligence hides in a little-known law, Ashby’s Law of Requisite Variety; a powerful law that explains constraints to your ability to be aware of the feelings of others (to be empathetic), thereby limiting your emotional intelligence.
Ashby's Law: For a system to be stable, the number of states that its control mechanism is capable of attaining (its variety) must be greater than or equal to the number of states in the system being controlled.
Simply put, you need variety to overcome variety!
To put this law into action you need to consider that in order to become aware of the feelings of others you will need a similar variety of knowledge, skills and experiences as the person you are attempting to empathise with.
Without such variety of knowledge skills and experiences, you are merely projecting your knowledge, beliefs, skills, behaviours, actions and experiences onto their context. In such circumstances, are you demonstrating awareness of the feelings of others or awareness of what your feelings would be if you were in that situation?
To the point, how can it be possible to become ‘fully’ aware of the feelings of others without having the requisite variety of knowledge, skills and experience that allows you to ‘sync’ with (have appropriate levels of insight into) that person’s context, thereby providing understanding of their knowledge, beliefs, skills, behaviours, actions and experiences?
Consider whether you have the requisite variety of knowledge, skills and experiences to have sufficient awareness of the feelings being experienced by a retired soldier with PTSD or, the experiences of a CEO who has had to make 1500 people redundant?
Complexity & emotional intelligence
Wherever there is cooperation or competition, there is complexity; meaning that outcomes are non-linear and emergent; therefore, cause and effect can only be determined, if at all, through hindsight - the number of variables at play as well as the connections and interaction between those variables are unknown.
If you don't have the requisite variety of knowledge, beliefs, skills, behaviours, actions and experiences, you can have an awareness of a person's feeling, but you can you make sense of the variables and their connections and interactions that work to create that feeling?
Ho do you become aware of the feelings that others are experiencing?
In responding to that questions, you are probably concluding that empathy starts with your senses. However, have you considered the various dimensions of awareness?
Intellectual Awareness: the ability to understand problems - a space where data/information/knowledge increases understanding.
Emergent Awareness - requires Intellectual Awareness: the ability to recognise a problem as it is happening (useful in complex environments).
Anticipatory Awareness - requires Emergent Awareness and Intellectual Awareness: the ability of foresight - a space where people link actions with consequences (requiring abstract reasoning).
[adapted from Crosson et al.'s Pyramid of Awareness, 1989]
Think of the last time you found yourself in a conflict situation at work. If you had high levels of anticipatory awareness, then would that conflict have ever occurred?
Therefore, if you are to attain the requisite variety to have sufficient awareness to understand the feelings of another, do you need to be able to “understand” what it is they are sensing.
Emotional intelligence needs awareness, but what are you aware of?
Think back to a time when a close friend has sought your counsel regarding a challenge they were experiencing.
You were listening to an autobiographical story, a retelling of an experience recalled from memory. Your ability to have awareness of your friend’s beliefs, behaviours and actions was limited by intellectual awareness or your ability to link the variety of your knowledge, skills and experiences to theirs.
You probably asked questions of your friend, probing their memory of an event for details to help you hook on to something familiar within your own knowledge, skills and experiences. Furthermore, your ability to understand the situation was limited by your expertise in interrogating and interpreting the justification of your friend’s beliefs, behaviours and actions (take time to look at Sagan’s, Fine Art of Baloney Detection - a fantastic toolkit for improving intellectual awareness that, when deployed, helps to build your emergent awareness capability).
Building on the last point, you then have even more considerations to deal with - for example:
Memories are shaped by bias and inattention, and, therefore, they cannot accurately represent reality (i.e. the unbiased perspectives of all the actors involved that would come together to form the whole) - for example, our mind doesn’t like gaps and, therefore, it will fill gaps in the sequence of a story to fit the overall picture.
Specific or concrete examples are curated to fit the story and, therefore, do not represent all an individual’s experiences - for example, memories can be curated to ignore outlier or focus on primacy or recency of memories, selecting other memories that fit with those experiences while neglecting the forgotten middle.
Wait, there's even more to awareness and emotional intelligence!
Take another step into the world of requisite variety and you'll find yourself constrained by the depth, completeness and security of the learning that informs your skills (e.g. what you know, when you have used it, where have you used it and with whom).
To help your thinking, you might find it useful to think of skills being formed through a blending three ingredients:
competence (what you know)
competency (how you deploy what you know and to what effect)
capability (how you take what they know and how they use it in non-routine circumstances)
Tools to help develop awareness & your emotional intelligence
I’ve thrown up multiple opportunities to explore the limits of your Emotional Intelligence. It's now time to give you two tools to demystify awareness and, consequently, enhance your EI:
The Clarity Awareness Framework
Powerful Probing Questions
The Clarity Awareness Framework is designed to help spotlight domains of awareness and actions you could take.
Enrich: where you are aware of people in your work, family or social environment having knowledge, skills and experiences that you also have - here you can 'feel' as though you have high levels of awareness of the feelings of others (empathy) because you have the requisite variety (similarity) of knowledge, skills and experiences. For example, think of a childhood friend or your closest friend from university.
Act Quick: where you are aware of people having knowledge, skills or experiences that you do not have - act to close the gap or create links with others whom you can bring into the situation to help close the gap (i.e. bring others into the conversation or extend your network to include people who can provide insights for you). To not act, therefore, limits your ability to have an awareness of the needs of others and, therefore, your emotional intelligence in that given context.
Probe: where people have knowledge, skills and experiences that are informing their beliefs, behaviours and actions, and you are not aware of said knowledge, skills and experiences - you need to probe for such gaps by using powerful questioning/coaching techniques (see the video below).
Consider: people have knowledge, skills and experiences that influence their beliefs, behaviours and actions and they are not even aware of them - again, probe for such gaps by using powerful questioning/coaching techniques (see the video below).
The second tool is a summary video, produced for one of my clients, which is designed to give you a range of powerful questions that you can use to bring to light to those unknown-knowns and unknowns-unknowns (Probe & Consider) that surface in the Clarity Awareness Framework.