Emotional Intelligence

by Andy Smith

How to bring EI to any situation

Strong emotions make us stupid.

Joseph Ledoux, The Emotional Brain

Emotions are often overlooked in decision-making. At work we like to think that we make decisions on purely rational grounds. In practice, emotions have an enormous impact on the decision making process, because

  • they give us information about how other people are likely to behave
  • how we feel about our desired end result determines which information we regard as relevant
  • how we feel about our decision will determine how much ‘discretionary effort’ we put into making it work.

Goleman’s four-quadrant model of emotional intelligence can also be used as a problem-solving or coaching format to make sure that you are bringing your emotional intelligence to bear on a problem.

Goleman’s four-quadrant model of emotional intelligence


Joe, Chris and Jane

Joe has been in a technical role for several years and is competent and reliable. Chris has recently been hired at a more senior level for a particular project which has now been cancelled.

To give Chris a role in the team and retain him for future projects which are in the pipeline, line manager Jane has asked Joe to report to Chris in future. Previously Joe reported to Jane directly. Joe has complained on the basis that this is in effect a demotion, and is refusing to cooperate.

You are Chris’s coach. How would you use the four-quadrant model to guide him in resolving the situation?

Look at the steps below and note down your ideas. Then check the suggestions that follow this exercise.

Step 1: Self-awareness

Help Chris to identify his emotions accurately. How does he feel about this situation?

Plus, why is he feeling that way and how might those feelings change?

Step 2: Social awareness

Help Chris to identify the feelings of the other people involved. How does Joe feel? How does Jane feel?

Plus, why are they feeling that way and how might those feelings change?

Step 3: Self-management

How do you want Chris to feel about this? In other words, what emotional state will help him achieve a good resolution?

How does Chris want to feel? What does he have to do to keep or change the feelings involved, to bring about the best outcome?

Step 4: Relationship management

How does Chris want Joe and Jane to feel? What can he do to keep or change the feelings involved, to bring about the best outcome?


Step 1: How is Chris feeling?

Chris feels somewhat annoyed with Jane for putting him in a difficult situation, and more so with Joe for not accepting him as someone to report to. He also feels anxious at the prospect of confrontation with Joe.

Underlying Chris’s annoyance is some insecurity about his position in the team. He wants to make his mark, but feels embarrassed because he suspects the role has only been created to provide him with a job.

He is also beginning to believe that joining the team has been a bad career move; this is his first big career move and it has not turned out the way he was hoping. If he is not given a meaningful role soon, he will start looking for another job.

If nothing is done to remedy the situation, Chris’s anxiety may have an impact on performance for some time to come.


While most people are aware of their ‘surface’ emotions in any given situation, becoming aware of underlying feelings usually takes more time and attention than many of us are in the habit of giving ourselves.

Useful questions to ask yourself to elicit your underlying feelings may include:

  • How do I feel about this?
  • What else do I feel?
  • What is behind that feeling?
  • When have I felt like this before?
  • What is this feeling trying to tell me?

Step 2: How are the other people feeling?

Joe has expressed his anger that Chris has been brought in over his head, as he sees it. He can see no benefit to him or to his project, and takes the decision as a slight to his competence, experience and conscientiousness. This feeling is not going to go away as long as the situation persists.

The background to the way Joe is reacting is that for some time he has felt that his contribution to the team is undervalued. In a competitive team environment, he is beginning to suspect that he has risen as far up the ranks as he is going to get. If reporting to Chris is forced upon him, he will respond in a ‘passive-aggressive’ way by doing the bare minimum he can get away with, and making life as difficult for Chris as possible.

Jane feels less strongly about the situation than the other two. She saw the new arrangement as neatly solving the problem of what to do with Chris in the short term. She is determined not to back down to what she sees as a tiresome minor challenge to her authority.

She now realises she has made a mistake. She had not realised that status was so important to Joe, and she is beginning to see the threat to team morale. However, status is also important to her, and she can’t see how she can give in to him without her authority being undermined. She values both team members, and if a face-saving way out was offered, she would be ready to take it.


When investigating how other people feel, we can never be absolutely sure we have got it right – our ability to mind-read other people’s emotions is not infallible. However, our unconscious ability to recognise emotional signals is stronger than we realise. When we fail to pick up on what someone else is feeling, it is usually because we have not paid sufficient attention, because we have projected our own emotions on to others, or because we suppress the information because we don’t like what it implies.

You can increase the accuracy of your guesses about how someone else is feeling by putting yourself in the other person’s shoes, pretending you are the other person, with their beliefs, attitude and so on. You also need to ‘reality-check’ your insights by asking ‘Is this emotional state consistent with how I observe the person behaving?’

Another useful question when we are trying to understand how others are feeling is to ask ‘What is the positive intention (for them) of what they are doing?’ In this example, Joe’s positive intention might be to preserve his self-respect, while Jane’s might be to keep the team looking busy and to affirm her authority as manager. Any solution that does not fulfil these intentions will run into difficulties.

Step 3: How does Chris want to feel?

Chris is our client here. In order for him to get to a resourceful state where he can see other people’s points of view and come up with creative solutions, we need to guide him into being able to detach himself from the situation and look at it objectively. This needs to happen whether the situation changes or not – in fact the worse things get, the more important it is that he is in a resourceful state to deal with it.

A quick and easy way to help him get into a resourceful state is the technique of dissociation – getting him to literally see himself and the other players from the outside, as if from a detached third-party point of view. This will let him see things objectively, without the emotional content.

Step 4: How does Chris want the other people to feel and what does he need to do in order for them to feel that way?

How does Chris want the others to feel and what does he need to do in order for them to feel that way? The ideal win/win solution will be one that gives Chris a productive role and retains him as a resource for future projects while leaving Joe’s pride unhurt and Jane’s authority unchallenged. It will be useful if the team can learn from the experience to prevent similar conflicts arising in future.

Simplistic win/lose solutions which would not achieve one or more of these aims include:

  • Forcing Joe to accept the new reporting structure. He may comply for fear of losing his job, but his morale and probably that of the rest of the team would suffer. He will certainly not be motivated to do more than he has to. Chris will become unpopular in the team, and the overall message Jane is giving out is ‘Do it because I say so, or else.’
  • Giving in to Joe without offering any alternative. This leaves Chris without a role, and Jane loses face. Chris may well leave to look for a job where he feels more useful and valued. The overall message to the team would be ‘The stubbornest person wins.’

So what emotions are most likely to allow people to reach an optimum solution and avoid insisting on a win/lose outcome?

It may not be reasonable to expect Joe to be pleased about the new structure, but we want him to calm down to the point where he can see that Chris has not engineered it deliberately, and where he is ready to discuss possible alternative solutions.

We want Jane to be ready to take more account of the feelings of her team members, and to feel sufficiently secure in her own authority to not regard alternative solutions as a challenge.

The process we have already taken Chris through – detaching from the situation to view it objectively, exploring his own emotions in greater depth and putting himself in the shoes of the other players – will necessarily mean that he feels calmer, more understanding, and more resourceful. He also has more information now and is in a better position to generate creative solutions.

From Chris’s point of view, it is not necessary that Joe feels better about the change in reporting (however much Jane would like him to). It may well not even be possible to get Joe to like the situation. However, what can be influenced is Joe’s perception of Chris as a usurper.

Chris can challenge this perception by framing the situation to Joe as something that he did not seek and that he is embarrassed about. He can ask Joe ‘What can we do about this?’ If Chris suggests that they can jointly generate some alternatives to present to Jane, this should go a long way to healing relations between them.

Jane’s emotional state does not need to change very much in order to allow a more successful resolution. She is already less emotionally invested in the situation than Chris and Joe were, and so is able to take a more objective view. As long as Chris can demonstrate that the solutions that he (or he and Joe jointly) come up with are better for the team, and that neither he nor Joe are going to regard her flexibility as a climbdown, she will be ready to accept one of them.


The four-quadrant model provides a simple, step-by-step process for achieving a necessary detachment from any emotionally fraught crisis in the workplace, and for focusing on desired outcomes rather than blame and judgement. In doing so, it helps to bring the locus of control back where it should be – with the person who is experiencing the crisis.

About 15 years ago, the writer was actually involved in the situation used as an example, but as a player rather than as a coach. Because we were not aware of this model – indeed, the concept of emotional intelligence was still confined to a specialist area of academic psychology – things did not turn out as well as they do in the example. You may want to further exercise your emotional intelligence by guessing from which of the three perspectives – ‘Chris’, ‘Joe’ or ‘Jane’ – the writer experienced the events.