Emotional Intelligence by Josh Freeman

By Dr. Wanda Wallace



Joshua Freeman is a leading thinker, researcher and writer on emotional intelligence (EQ). He advises some of the world’s largest companies on developing emotional intelligence to improve performance. He has been teaching emotional intelligence for decades.


According to Josh, emotions are a powerful channel – the most powerful one because they are linked to survival – to fight or flight. Emotions take precedence in the brain. Emotions regulate our attention (i.e., is it an opportunity or a threat).


As humans, we make decisions based on emotions and rationalize that decision after the fact. “We all have feelings. We can pretend to leave them out but we all know that doesn’t work. So we can be idiotic with our emotions or be smarter with our emotions,” Josh says. EQ allows us to tune into the data of emotions and use that data to make better decisions and work better with others – to get them on-side.


Emotions also hold a lot of information. Tuning into the information is important because it makes us smarter and more effective. What we need are skills to recognize the emotions (ours and others) and to use emotions to solve problems. I know from my work that EQ is extremely critical to almost every aspect of being an admired leader; yet, so many leaders struggle with EQ. Many leaders I have worked with believe they can use rational argument alone to persuade. They want to use facts, figures, logic, analysis and critical thinking. “It’s a lovely thought, but it just doesn’t quite work that way,” says Josh.


Josh cites one study where research induced a positive or negative mood in subjects. (There is a well-tested technique for making subjects feel positive or negative.) It turns out that what people noticed was what matched the mood that had been induced. That is if the subject was in a positive mood they noticed one set of items, if the mood was negative they noticed a different set. Our moods filter what we attend to.


Josh’s research includes one study that showed that an average male and an average female are very similar in terms of their levels of EQ – in contrast to the common mythology that says women have higher EQ. There was only one small difference.  In a very large, global sample, women were just slightly better at predicting others’ emotional reactions to a decision than men were – that was one of the average male’s weakest points.


On the other hand, men were considerably stronger at navigating emotion – meaning harnessing emotion to help them move forward rather than getting stuck in the emotion and in the current situation. Josh’s research likewise confirms what I have seen anecdotally in my work – that the best managers are those that can see the whole person – the emotional along with the technical competency. Also great leaders are those who “facilitate performance” – make space for individuals and us as a team to work. This is what I often see – that the best managers and leaders do not manage everyone the same.


The great news is it is possible to get smarter emotionally and to become better leaders. Josh has developed a simple three-step process for developing greater EQ, as follows:

  1. KNOW! Be aware of the emotional data. To do this we need to enhance our emotional literacy. Recognize the recurring patterns and behaviors. One system for recognizing emotions involves seeing emotions as opposites – Joy vs Sorrow, Anticipation vs Surprise, Anger vs Fear, Trust vs Disgust. Research shows that there are eight basic emotions which have a visceral (chemical) reaction in the body. That chemical reaction lasts for six seconds. Our interpretation of the reaction can last for years. The more we know the emotion the more we can manage the interpretation.

  2. CHOOSE! Pause and respond intentionally to emotions. Consider the options, what can you do. There are usually as many as 10 ways to respond. We just don’t consider enough options before we react. We often react because we feel stuck. If you expand your options, you can be more intentional. With multiple options on the table, consider which one moves towards your purpose.

  3. GIVE! Consider the purpose – mine and the other person’s. What do you want to accomplish? What do you need from others?

And the simple beauty of Josh’s method comes together when he speaks about how you as a manager can change the behavior of the team. “All we really get to control is ourselves. The way we influence others is by knowing, choosing and giving ourselves. The way we get others to change is by changing ourselves,” says Josh.

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