What if I don’t have any EQ?

Emotional intelligence boosts performance. It’s seen as a core business skill. But Georgie Russell, Associate Director at Bladonmore, wants to know, can it be learned?  

When I’m advocating the importance of emotional intelligence, or EQ, in successful communication, I mean the ability to read a room.  

If our clients want to land messages, they need to understand the needs of their audience and adapt their delivery accordingly. 

And I’m not wrong.  

But on closer inspection, I can see that I am missing a bit. 

A not insignificant bit according to the doyen of the ‘emotional quotient’, psychologist, Daniel Goleman. In his ground-breaking book, ‘Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ’, he’s clear that a strong understanding of one’s own emotions is what counts. What triggers them? How do they play out? And how do we respond to them to produce the behaviour that we want? 

Amygdala Hijack
Emotional intelligence is something we need in business; the research is clear on that. It makes us better communicators, better relationship-builders, better leaders. But not everyone is born with it in spades. If you’re in this camp, EQ has to be learned. And for Daniel Goleman, that journey starts with something called the ‘amygdala hijack’. 

This perilous-sounding event is happening in the limbic system of our brains all the time and as the name suggests, we are often at the mercy of it. The amygdala’s job, from its position somewhere between our ears, is to constantly ask itself, ‘am I safe’? If it perceives a threat, it has the power to override the rest of the brain to coordinate a suitable response. 

But as the blood comes away from the thinking brain in the frontal lobes to support this hijack, good decision-making can slip. This is when we might say something or do something we regret. In a tricky meeting, for example, or a highstakes media interview, we might get flustered, misread support for criticism, be sarcastic or even passive-aggressive. In that moment it’s hard to be an effective communicator, hard to inspire, and hard to lead. 

What’s annoying is that we are basically on autopilot when in this state. The amygdala is falling back on over-learned reactions – hence why we sometimes experience an internal monologue recognising what’s happening with seemingly little power to stop it. 

How to switch back
Getting good at switching from the emotional brain back to the thinking brain is the answer. And that’s where building stronger EQ comes into play. The higher our emotional intelligence, the more able we are to understand, identify and subdue a hijacking situation, and reinstate cognitive control. Thankfully, neuroscientists have a myriad of strategies for this, and some of them are beyond simple. Most come down to knowing your triggers and then doing something mindful to get yourself off autopilot.  

Taking deep breaths or counting to ten can be enough. At work, role-playing mini scenarios that have historically led to regretful behaviour can put you on a more fruitful path, too. Or there’s my personal favourite, asking yourself what’s become known as ‘the golden question’; which is actually five questions in one: How will I feel about this in a day? How will I feel about this in a week? In a month? A year? Five years?  

It’s hard to see red for five whole years. 

Having a high EQ absolutely does enable you to read the room. But not without a large dose of self-awareness first. 

If you’d like to hear how Bladonmore can help you tame your amygdala and boost your emotional intelligence, get in touch. 


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Georgie Russell

Associate Director

Georgie delivers executive media and presentation coaching.

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