The Empathy competency enables us to interpret unspoken emotions and to understand a range of perspectives. With empathic concern, our understanding of others extends to caring deeply for them. But it is also important that we practice Empathy towards ourselves.
When we experience empathic concern or feel compassion toward others, we become the first to benefit. Empathizing with another person activates our brain’s salience network, enabling us to experience our compassion first-hand. In this way, compassion is beneficial for others as well as for our own well-being. It creates inner happiness independent of receiving compassion ourselves.
We can also practice Self-Empathy by treating ourselves with kindness. Many of us have been conditioned to be highly critical of our mistakes. We may be far tougher on ourselves than on our friends and coworkers.
Strengths in Emotional Self-Awareness can enhance our understanding of how we treat ourselves. We recommend you take a moment to reflect on these statements and also ask someone who knows you well whether they think these statements are true for you.
When I make a mistake, I tend to be very critical of myself.
When I look back, I tend to remember the mistakes I have made rather than the successes I have had.
I can be really heartless toward myself when I feel down or am struggling.
When it comes to achieving my goals, I can be really tough on myself.
I am driven to achieve my goals and set very high standards for myself and those around me.
If you found yourself agreeing with most of these statements, and the significant people in your life also agreed, you are not alone. Many of us were raised to believe that being brutally self-critical was necessary in order to achieve the highest standards. Indeed, you may still believe that if you aren’t hard on yourself you will become lazy, aimless, or complacent.
In some instances, practicing Self-Empathy can make it easier to expand our circle of caring and to extend compassion toward others. But if you identify as extremely self-critical, it can be helpful to begin with compassion for others. Caring for others makes it easier to love and forgive ourselves.
When we take responsibility for forgiving and caring for ourselves, the compassion we extend to others also becomes more genuine. Self-Empathy enhances our confidence and inner strength and opens us up to connection and shared purpose. This enables us to inspire others with our vision and articulate common goals.
Self-Empathy can also make it easier to forgive people in our lives. When we replace self-criticism with self-understanding and accept that as humans we will inevitably make mistakes, it becomes easier to extend this understanding to others.
Practicing empathic concern doesn’t mean that we allow others to walk all over us. Rather, we can act strongly when necessary and remain open to helping everyone, including ourselves. By combining Empathy for ourselves with Empathy for others, we can find our inner strength and make meaningful connections with people from all walks of life.
For further reading, our series of primers focuses on the twelve Emotional and Social Intelligence Leadership Competencies, which include Emotional Self-Awareness, Empathy, and Coach & Mentor.
The primers are written by Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis, co-creators of the Emotional and Social Intelligence Leadership Competency Model, along with a range of colleagues, thought-leaders, researchers, and leaders with expertise in the various competencies. Explore the full list of primers by topic, or get the complete collection!
Want to cultivate your Self-Empathy? Reserve your spot for the Foundational Skills of Emotional Intelligence. During twelve, two-week online experiences, you’ll explore the Foundational Skills of Emotional Intelligence through facilitated, group learning. You’ll discover the science behind each competency, why they matter, and how to apply them to positively differentiate yourself.
For a taste of the Foundational Skills, join our two-week Emotional Balance experience. In this portion of the Foundational Skills of EI, you’ll build your resilience, self-awareness, and focus.
**Update: all 12 Wild Boars, their coach, and the rescuers are now safe! A true effort, from those who cooked and fed the volunteers, to the schoolchildren who prayed, to the frogman who stayed with the team. A moment of gratitude and respect for Saman Gunan.
Much of the world has been riveted to the rescue of 12 boys and their soccer coach in Thailand. As the eighth “Wild Boar” is now in the hospital, it goes without notice how much mental fortitude, mindfulness, and emotional balance has played a role in the survival of the soccer team for two weeks in claustrophobic, frightening conditions, and in the innovative problem solving and collaborative action of an international team of planners and rescuers putting the young men’s lives over their own.
The boys look skinnier than usual, but seem to maintain their humanity and humor. They joked about getting fried BBQ and asking their teacher not to give them too much homework. How do these young boys and their coach, barely older than them at 25, have the fortitude to maintain their calm despite great uncertainty of their rescue?
First, let’s take a look at what happens to our brains and bodies in emergencies.
Our brains are designed to react quickly to threats for our survival. When we’re under sudden attack, stress-related hormones adrenaline and cortisol flood our bodies, our heart rate goes up, and our vision decreases up to 70%. All these physiological changes compromise our cognitive flexibility to come up with the wise or innovative solutions. Our fight/flight/freeze default take over our prefrontal cortex – our brain’s executive functioning area, and we have an amygdala hijack. Our ability to logically think is greatly reduced. We go into autopilot, reduce our capacity to consider wise or innovative solutions, or fail to make the choice that will actually get us out of trouble.
Have you ever been caught in a tight bind and made the wrong turn? You’re not alone. We hear unfortunate stories of people who have met their doom because of a sudden wrong decision in the heat of the moment. According to psychologist John Leach, 85% of people respond inappropriately in a crisis. In 2011, George Larson was one of 17 survivors out of 65 because he was one of the few with the wherewithal to get himself out of a burning plane before it exploded. In airplane crashes, it is common for passengers to scramble for their bags from the overhead lockers first. It’s easy for us to say now “that wouldn’t be me,” but in an emergency, even the “smartest” of us get stuck brains.
Daniel Goleman uses the analogy of a basement and balcony. In emergencies, whether catastrophes like tsunamis or getting stuck underground in a cave for weeks, we often go to the “basement,” our brain’s primitive threat response system. But if we are to respond with greater wisdom and flexibility, it is important to “go to the balcony,” and view the crisis from a broader perspective and get as much information as possible to make a wiser decision of how to proceed. This requires our prefrontal cortex to stay in the game.
Let’s go back to the question: how does the young Thai soccer team have the fortitude to maintain their calm despite great uncertainty of their rescue?
Undoubtedly, there are many factors, and researchers will probably be eager to learn about their survival. A few early indicators suggest that mindfulness, meditation, compassion, cognitive flexibility, collaboration, and resilience have played a huge role. The boys’ soccer coach, Ekapol Chanthawong, is a novice monk. Reports indicate that he taught the boys how to meditate as they sat in dank darkness without any indicators of how they would get out. He taught them to refocus their minds away from hunger and fear, and to maintain emotional balance and build resilience during this harrowing ordeal.
Now as the first eight boys are safely in the hospital, divers continue these efforts, recognizing that the most difficult part is not the lack of the boys’ ability to swim or visibility – the divers are there to guide them. The most difficult part is for the boys – and divers – to maintain their mental focus and calm for each of the 11-hour trek through tight passageways underwater so that they do not get an amygdala hijack and panic. If that happens, then they are in real trouble.
There is also the mental fortitude and resilience required of the remaining boys and their coach as they watch their mates leave the cave, not knowing if their mates survived and not knowing if they too will be rescued. The team of rescuers are rescuing the mentally strongest last. There was a 10-hour gap between the rescue of the first and second group to replenish oxygen, and now another long gap until the next group. Ten hours is an eternity once you see your mates leave. Being left behind can pose additional threats to the body’s survival instinct, and so they will have to draw from even greater reservoirs of mindfulness and emotional balance.
Then there are the rescuers. These rescuers have clearly stepped up to the balcony rather than the basement. They have taken as much into account to make the decisions to begin rescues now rather than wait for more heavy rains. Additionally, their emotional balance has allowed them to put aside any personal differences to form an international coalition of 90 divers – 40 Thai and 50 non-Thai. There are 13 medical teams each with their own ambulance and helicopter, and 30 doctors await. There are the engineers who pumped out water. There are others ready to activate Plans C, D, and E, from Elon Musk’s submarine to Pairojana Toontong’s inflatable tube. There is Saman Gunan, the Thai Navy Seal who gave his life ensuring the treacherous path has oxygen. Their collective diversity of perspectives, languages, cultures, and experiences fuels the cognitive flexibility, trust, and clarity of when to act, and is indicative of how a sense of purpose can lead to greater connection and team performance. This team’s sense of empathic concern has moved a global movement from just sitting by and feeling badly for the boys to putting their own lives at risk. Watching the rescuers is to watch true leadership and teamwork in action.
Finally, the emotional balance the boys’ families are demonstrating is a lesson in compassion. While some are chiding the coach for being negligent, and Ekopol himself has already apologized to the families, the children’s families are focusing on how Ekapol has helped their children survive. He is said to be the weakest, having given his share of food to the boys. One mother said: “when [Ekapol] comes out, we have to heal his heart. My dear Ek, I would never blame you.”
As we write, we continue to send our collective thoughts for all to return safely.
Interested in cultivating your own Emotional Balance? Reserve your spot for the Foundational Skills of Emotional Intelligence. During twelve, two-week online experiences, you’ll explore the Foundational Skills of Emotional Intelligence through facilitated, group learning. You’ll discover the science behind each competency, why they matter, and how to apply them to positively differentiate yourself.
For a taste of the Foundational Skills, join our two-week Emotional Balance experience. In this portion of the Foundational Skills of EI, you’ll build your resilience, self-awareness, and focus.
If you would like to learn more about the fundamentals of Emotional Intelligence, our series of primers focuses on the twelve Emotional and Social Intelligence Leadership Competencies, which include Emotional Self-Control (or Emotional Balance), Empathy, and Teamwork. The primers are written by Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis, co-creators of the Emotional and Social Intelligence Leadership Competency Model, along with a range of colleagues, thought-leaders, researchers, and leaders with expertise in the various competencies. Explore the full list of primers by topic, or get the complete collection!
Fancy adverts for retreats offering yoga by oceans or a fine wine often grace the pages of magazines on mindfulness and wellness. Then there are the less advertised retreats, those done in silence or without the luxuries of a 5-star restaurant or indoor plumbing.
Regardless of our preferences or current goals, time away from our “regular” lives is meant to help us reset and renew in some manner. In a world that doesn’t stop moving, our brains are constantly under fire, and as we now know, chronic stressors can have long-term implications on the way our brains function, our emotional balance, and our capacity to maintain healthy relationships. While some retreats allow participants to delve deeper into self-reflection, and others are meant more for pleasure, they all help us press the pause button and find space.
Retreats may provide us with physical refuge, but they can also serve as liminal spaces. Liminal, from the Latin root limen meaning “threshold,” refers to the notion of the in-between, a place of transition, the after-the-before and before-the-next. Liminal spaces generally refer to those places and even states of mind in which we feel uncomfortable. The sense of uncomfortableness often stems from a place of uncertainty. For many of us, uncertainty can give us great anxiety. For many obvious reasons, we find security in knowing what we’ll be doing, who we’ll be with, and where we’ll be living. We are creatures of habit and often squirm when we have to endure upheavals, whether big – a job loss, divorce, relocation, or small – ever get upset because your regular coffee shop runs out of your preferred roast? However, these transitional times require us to sit in the discomfort because, well, we have no other option. And it is often during this discomfort and in these spaces that we find growth.
People have sought out such spaces for thousands of years in search of meaning and purpose. One such liminal space is the famous Camino de Santiago, the Way of St. James. Rare would be one who has walked this Catholic pilgrimage who was not changed in some capacity. While there are many paths to Santiago, the most popular is the Camino Frances, an 800-km walk from St. Jean-Pied-de-Port in southern France to Santiago in western Spain. Several years ago, I spent 30 days walking the Way, carrying with me everything I needed, food notwithstanding. For 30 days, I woke up at 4:30am and walked until I was tired. For 30 days, I kept my cell phone in my pocket for emergencies and occasional check-ins. For 30 days, I met pilgrims from all over the world walking for different reasons: honoring religion, recovering from divorce, celebrating beating cancer, sightseeing, adventure. Whatever the reason, each pilgrim entered a physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual liminal space of their own.
Such liminal spaces force us to confront ourselves, our thoughts, and our emotions and to remove the façade many of us carry. One conversation I will never forget was with a young Dane, who was a good foot taller than me. As we walked, he said to me, “you’re only the second American I have met who truly seems happy.” He articulated his observation that as a generalization, he found Europeans more willing to be upfront about their struggles, and the Camino was a way for them to confront their transitional discomfort. On the other hand, he found Americans were generally eager to express a mirage of happiness and upbeat engagement that crumbled as the Camino became not the escape they hoped for, but a journey that required them be naked with themselves.
The Camino, like many liminal spaces, can leave its pilgrims feeling unsettled, whether because we wished we paid more attention in Spanish class, or that we didn’t have ten pairs of shoes to choose from, or that we weren’t really sure where we’d be sleeping that night until we stopped for the day. Much of this journey is done in silence for hours, and for some, its entirety. During this time, we are alone with nature and our thoughts and for many, it is the first time to be so, and it can be uncomfortable.
Pilgrimages and retreats can be extremely challenging for those of us with an underlying mental condition and even those who do not have a regular practice in mindfulness. For example, there are reports every year of tourists to Jerusalem, a rather powerful liminal space, who exhibit symptoms of the Jerusalem Syndrome, a disorder whereby individuals who had no previous signs of psychosis suffer from an acute episode when there. On the Camino, while not common, it was not unheard of for pilgrims to seek refuge in a bottle after a few days because the discomfort of silence and the space was overwhelming. Sadly, there is an increasing number of pilgrims who bring their iPhones to drown out their inner voices with other people’s noises.
Fortunately, mindfulness and emotional intelligence can help us to seek out liminal experiences for their capacity to help us grow and transform. When we are able to bring a greater awareness of our emotional states, we become more willing to step into physical and mental places of discomfort. We are less susceptible to external and internal triggers, we ruminate less, and we worry less about the unknown. Mindfulness and emotional balance allows us sit in presence because we are less preoccupied with what happened or what will happen. By expanding our awareness – and awareness of awareness – we can be more readily available to act with wisdom and discernment and to listen to our inner voices with kindness, without being swept away by their cacophony.
When we build our emotional intelligence, particularly though mindfulness meditation, we build our capacity for resilience and balance, allowing us to better manage the subtle and the tumultuous disruptions of life. As Daniel Goleman and Richard Davidson wrote on the impact of meditation in Altered Traits, “the after is the before for the next during.” In other words, after we meditate, we can make long-lasting internal changes, which alters how we were before the meditation, setting a new baseline before the next practice. With repeated practice, we find strength in stillness and courage in balance.
This practice doesn’t require us to go on a 30-day pilgrimage or a mountain retreat. While those can be valuable and transformative experiences, we can also sit in our bedrooms to enter liminal spaces with awareness and a beginner’s mind, enhancing our ability to embrace life’s constant uncertainties with curiosity and presence.
If you’d like to work with Belinda and help others develop their Emotional Intelligence, we encourage you to apply for the Daniel Goleman Emotional Intelligence Coaching Certification. This in-depth program, akin to a professional degree, draws upon a range of evidence-based concepts and practices, including the Emotional & Social Intelligence framework. Coaches will gain meaningful new insights to impact their personal and professional lives through online learning, one-on-one guidance from a Meta-Coach, a coaching practicum, and more.
Kully is an executive coach who helps individuals maximize their drive, resilience, and performance in both work and life. She has combined her 15 years of business experience with Deloitte and Andersen with her coaching skills to deliver coaching assignments and group workshops on Executive Coaching, Mindfulness, and Personal Resilience. Kully is a Certified Coach and a teacher in training with the Google-born Search Inside Yourself program. In 2011, Kully founded her own Coaching business in Hong Kong and is now based in New York, leading a global team.
What led you to begin coaching?
During my tenure at Deloitte, I experienced firsthand the transformational benefits of coaching. It boosted my confidence, reframed negative thoughts, and led me to be more open to new opportunities. It was a life-changing experience, which piqued my interest in coaching and its powerful role in helping individuals to create more meaningful lives.
In what ways has your background in accounting and finance influenced your current work as a coach?
My corporate background in accounting and finance enables me to understand the actual pressures that professionals face on a daily basis in global, complex, and high-pressured work environments. Having led global client accounts and worked with teams across different services lines and countries, I recognize the challenges leaders face when dealing with people issues, difficult clients, and negotiations. My skills and experiences are fundamental to my coaching style and enable me to build credibility and trust with clients in similar fields.
What drew you to become a Meta-Coach for the Daniel Goleman Emotional Intelligence Coaching Certification?
Having been an avid reader of Daniel Goleman’s research on Emotional and Social Intelligence for the past few years, I was thrilled to hear about the Emotional Intelligence Coaching Certification. I’ve utilized various resources from Goleman’s research and applied them to my coaching and training programs, however this is a practical program focused on helping coaches and leaders discover an alternative way of relating to themselves, to others, and the world around them. The fact that it’s based on research from neuroscience and evidence-based frameworks of Emotional and Social Intelligence is particularly compelling. Coaches are provided with a structured process to help clients and teams develop their positive human qualities and leadership competencies, which is much needed in today’s world.
You were born in the United Kingdom and founded your own Coaching and Training business in Hong Kong. Are there any ways in which your approach to coaching internationally differs from the coaching you conduct in the United States? Do you find that differences in eastern and western professional environments necessitate different coaching needs?
I adopt a holistic approach to coaching, rather than focusing solely on obvious challenges a person may be facing. An individual may be looking for career coaching but to help them truly move forward, I would seek to identify what may be holding them back in the first instance. I would work with them to recognize any emotional blocks and reframe negative self-talk before even starting to explore career challenges.
Due to its holistic nature, my coaching approach hasn’t changed since moving from Asia to the USA. Recognising that every client has their unique challenges, I adapt my style to support them in line with their needs. Sometimes, I’m a sounding board and other times, I provide more tools, exercises, and assessments to deepen their awareness.
I do find the western world is more open to coaching and views the process in a positive light. High performers in organizations in the US and the UK understand the benefits of coaching to their increased success as do individuals simply looking for support whilst making difficult decisions. In Asia, however, there is still some perception of Coaches being ‘people doctors’ – we are there to fix people issues. This perception is gradually changing as coaching becomes more widely available.
Could you share a difficult experience you had with a client and how you handled it?
I had one difficult experience when working with a client in Asia. He felt his team was incompetent and disrespectful toward him by not following his instructions and fulfilling their responsibilities. In fact, issues were arising because he had a harsh style of communication and ultimately, a lack of EI. He had no idea that his annoyed facial expressions, tendency to cut people short, and his body language when communicating made his team feel highly uncomfortable around him.
As his coach, my role was to raise his self-awareness about the impact his behavior was having on team morale. Initially, this was difficult because as expected, he started out defensive and guarded. Accordingly, we gave him the space he needed to share his perspective, which allowed us to build trust and openness. He was then more willing to listen to the 360 feedback and acknowledge my observations.
Through various self-reflection exercises and mindfulness practices he was able to see the impact he was having on this team. He became aware of his own triggers and was able to pause before reacting, especially when communicating with his team. This had a positive impact on his own motivation and effectiveness as a leader and his team’s morale significantly improved. He continues to practice mindfulness to build self-awareness and has started journaling on a regular basis to reflect on his own behaviors, emotions, and frustrations.
How did you begin incorporating mindfulness into your coaching? In your experience, what are some of the unique benefits of mindfulness coaching?
When I initially started coaching, I would catch myself thinking: “What’s the next question I need to ask?”, “Is this helping?”, “Are we making progress?”. Through the integration of mindfulness in my role as a coach and facilitator, my inner voices are stilled. I am fully present for my clients, able to listen to not just what they are saying but what they are not saying through their body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice, for example. It’s an incredible journey and allows me to be an effective coach and facilitator.
The practice of mindfulness has also allowed me to make more conscious choices about my own business and vision, enabling me to align my work with my core values and key strengths. I feel comfortable with saying no to work that is unaligned to our vision, and instead invest time and money on relationships and services that accomplish our goal of helping individuals and companies to develop greater resilience.
You have also focused on career development in your coaching. How do you set about working with a client who feels stuck in their career or has yet to identify their passions?
When clients are stuck I typically use various assessment tools and self-reflection exercises to help them identify their strengths and passions. Harrison Assessment, for example, has a Career Assessment report that identifies ideal careers based on a person’s strengths and the things they enjoy doing. The Game Changer Index report enables individuals to identify how they can make the greatest impact to their team in terms of the type of role they are doing and who they are working with. Both reports can provide initial awareness of suitable next steps. Through coaching, we then further explore skills, strengths, peak performances, and a person’s most enjoyable moments to clarify potential roles or companies that could be of interest.
Often clients work with a Career Coach as they feel like they need a complete career change, but frequently a shift in mindset or making changes to their current role can lead to greater fulfillment. One client simply changed her mindset from saying ‘I don’t like my work and will never succeed,’ to ‘The challenges I am facing are great learning opportunities to help me develop and become a better leader.’ This shift in mindset helped her through the challenging period and later she was thrilled to lead a new and meaningful project on Corporate Social Responsibility, which aligned with her personal values and goals. She stayed with the company for 6 more years and was extremely grateful for the shift in mindset. It led her to focus on the impact she could make rather than looking for external factors to bring her success. This was a transformational shift from the way she previously approached life’s challenges and it all came from greater self-awareness and self-management.
What advice do you have for people who would like to become coaches?
If you naturally enjoy listening, problem-solving, and helping people, I would start by practicing your coaching skills on friends/colleagues to obtain honest feedback. If it feels like a natural fit, continue to research, find a niche market that aligns with your purpose, and ensure you obtain a professional certification before building a client base. Bringing consistent quality and credibility to the profession will help all coaches.
Interested in being coached by Kully and becoming a certified coach yourself? Apply now for the Daniel Goleman Emotional Intelligence Coaching Certification. This in-depth program, akin to a professional degree, draws upon a range of evidence-based concepts and practices, including the Emotional & Social Intelligence framework. Coaches will gain meaningful new insights to impact their personal and professional lives through online learning, one-on-one guidance from a Meta-Coach, a coaching practicum, and more.
Michelle is Founder and CEO of Lucenscia LLC, a human capital development and business strategy firm dedicated to developing leaders and organizations with positive impact in the world. She is a Genos International Certified Emotional Intelligence Practitioner® and Master Teacher with the Google-inspired Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute® who leverages her more than 35 years of contemplative practice and two plus decades of business and legal experience to create relevant and practical solutions to transform how we “show up” as more compassionate, impactful and resilient leaders.
How did you begin coaching?
I am a teacher and facilitator at heart; one who serves as a seed planter and a gentle “way shower.” So coaching came very naturally to me in my early years of professional work. John Mackey, co-founder of Whole Foods Market and the Conscious Capitalism movement, once said that, “If you are a leader of an organization, you have a duty to evolve yourself or you are holding the organization back.” I take this to heart. In order for people in organizations to thrive, managers have an obligation to do their self-work and assist others to do the same which very often takes the form of coaching and mentoring their people. I found myself doing this as a young attorney in law firm life and also later as a business professional in the tech and online industries. Today, I consider it a privilege to share in the journey of others and to play a supporting role in helping them discover the wholeness that makes them who they are and aligning the vision and values they have for their work and their lives.
In what ways has your background as a corporate attorney and business leader influenced your work as a coach?
Across both the legal and business arenas, the most salient insights I gained were about people. I learned quite a bit about the quiet suffering that occurs in the workplace, about inspiration and innovation, about the need for people to feel heard, seen and valued, about culture, connection and engagement, and more. My legal and business experience deepened my understanding and appreciation of how people were showing up and their emotional drivers. This, in turn, helped build my capacity for compassion and support of their journey in a way that created psychological safety (regardless of role or title) and paved the way for meaningful conversation, exploration, self-discovery, insight, and change.
What are your thoughts on Emotional Intelligence?
Whether in my own self-work or those with whom I collaborate, I have found that Emotional Intelligence is a foundational skill set that makes the difference between those who truly thrive and are living a life in alignment with their values, passions, and optimized skill sets and those who are not. EI does not just help us with what we do. It helps create an inner and outer connectedness that creates a way of being that informs how we do what we do. This nuanced difference creates ripples of positive impact across diverse stakeholder communities.
EI helps us shift from “me” to “we” thinking. Although people tend to lump it into the category of “soft skills,” this terminology creates a misperception of being easy or less important. The reality is that developing Emotional Intelligence competencies is simple, but not easy. It is simple to understand the steps and components intellectually, but challenging to practice and cultivate because they require the creation of new, sustainable habits and shifting of mindsets. In our instant access, on-demand world, it is important to remember that developing these skills is a lifelong journey where they are honed over time with patience, persistence, and great self-awareness (which brings in its connection to mindfulness meditation).
What drew you to the Daniel Goleman Emotional Intelligence Coaching Certification?
Like many, I have followed Dan’s research on Emotional Intelligence, and more recently, its intersection with mindfulness, for quite a while. What drew me to the certification was its interconnected framework and the depth of the content coupled with time, spaciousness and support for self-reflection, application, and integration.
The Coaching Certification is experiential in many ways so that it affords the greatest opportunity for participants and coaches to connect on deeper levels and peel back the layers for meaningful transformation. I believe it is a model that will help coaches be more effective at supporting the client as a “whole person” and to facilitating personal revelations and impact across their spheres of influence.
How do you approach the topics of diversity and civility within the framework of your coaching practice? Do you have any advice for leaders who want to become more aware of the ways in which unconscious bias impacts their leadership?
Civil discourse and belonging are so important for our world community.
As a critical element needed to facilitate shifts of hearts and minds, I like to take a step back and first recognize that, perhaps even the language we use may be outdated and may unwittingly leave some people out of the conversation.
Historically, we spoke of “Diversity,” Then we evolved to “Diversity & Inclusion.” However, despite our best intentions we have not achieved a felt sense for all people – from LGBTQ, to women, to people of color, to white men – that they are valued, heard, and seen. While language alone will not fix the human connection gap we are experiencing, it is a start. Instead of looking at diversity and inclusion, I much prefer to call it “Belonging and Unity.” With Belonging and Unity, we naturally weave in civil discourse as a pathway to create the greater felt sense of a common humanity.
Another perspective I take is to understand how critically important it is to create safe space to allow for the difficult conversations and emotions that naturally arise during this type of work. Everyone has biases – some unconscious (or implicit) and some conscious. That, too, is part of the human condition. And, it is important for us to be open to what we see about our biases without beating ourselves up about it; to follow the lines of where the impact of these biases goes at work (who do you hire, give high profile projects to, promote, associate yourself with?) and at play (who do you interact with socially?). After all, we cannot transform what we do not see or will not acknowledge.
The discovery and awareness process is a great first step, but it is not enough. To truly make a sustainable shift, we also are called to move forward into action and impact where we put practices into place that help us see others as ourselves. This is the part that can be most challenging because it makes us step out of our comfort zone and asks us to extend empathy and compassion to others we may feel uncomfortable with or not understand. However, the good news is that we can leverage practices from wisdom traditions to assist us. To help build better connection, diminish the “us” and “them” mentality, I encourage clients to practice Loving Kindness and Just Like Me meditations. Over time, with sustained practice, these enhance self-awareness and cultivate our capacity to extend compassion to a broader spectrum of people and communities, stretching us beyond our biases.
What led you to your contemplative practice? How has it evolved over the years?
I was introduced to meditation the summer after first grade. As a child, I was raised in a Roman Catholic family in Cape Cod, MA. However, one summer, I spent several months with my Great Aunt in Wyoming where she introduced me to the cultural traditions of indigenous communities in the area as well as meditation. What was remarkable is that she did not use typical terminology with me. Instead, she simply invited me “to sit” with her as she gently placed her hands on my head saying, “Quiet here,” and then slowly moved her hands down to my heart saying, “so you can be here.” For some reason, at that age, I did not need any more than that. I knew that I felt good – different even – after sitting with her and regularly returned to my practice after my summer visit was over. As the years passed, I found myself sitting frequently feeling the ease of well-being, clarity, and replenishment that it provided. It was not until I was in college that I learned what I was doing was called meditation.
When I think about the inspiration behind my Great Aunt’s introduction of meditation to me, she explained that she did not use all the words associated with her Buddhist philosophy because I was seven years old and she wanted me to find a way to share it with others my age in our own language. I also remember her telling me that it was not enough to have a broader view beyond my own community or even to have a world view. Rather, she often emphasized the need for each of us to have a view of interconnectedness and humanity.
Over time, my contemplative practice evolved and expanded to include different forms of meditation such as walking meditation, gratitude meditation, loving kindness/just like me, retreats, and more. Additionally, my ability to understand the importance of language and how to use language that meets people where they are also was influenced by my early meditation practice and its evolution over time. Ultimately, my practice has shifted the lens through which I view myself and others enabling me to embrace the seeds my Great Aunt planted so long ago and that was so nicely summarized in a speech once given by Salma Hayek where she proudly proclaimed, “The world is my home and humanity is my family.”
Has mindfulness always been a part of your coaching practice? In your experience, what are some of the unique benefits of mindfulness coaching?
Yes, I have found that mindfulness coaching is one of the most effective ways to cultivate self-awareness. As the foundational EI domain, self-awareness is uniquely developed through mental focus training which enables our capacity to construct a solid and sustainable foundation upon which all the remaining Emotional Intelligence domains rest.
Mindfulness also is an important part of coaching because it further develops our empathetic and compassion responses in a way that helps us shift to other perspective taking, understanding of a common humanity, and our shared connection. With this embodied understanding, we are better positioned to evolve our social and leadership skills that influence how we show up with others in our family, our community, and the workplace. When you step back and look at it, you can see how mindfulness enables the EI domains to help us more fully flourish as human beings with positive presence, intention, and impact.
What does authentic leadership mean to you? How do you develop authentic leaders?
Authentic Leadership has been studied, taught and talked about for decades. There is quite a bit of information and opinion out there on this topic. Whether recognized industry experts or an average Joe or Jane, what is believed to make an authentic leader is as varied as the people you ask. For me, similar to mindfulness, authenticity is one of those characteristics that infuses how you do what you do:
You don’t do authenticity, you are authentic.
Just as you don’t do mindfulness, you are mindful.
Authenticity doesn’t mean that you say whatever you want, whenever you want, to whomever you want, however you want. That is merely a way of not exercising self-awareness or self-management and it mistakenly places the responsibility for your words and actions on others around you. Rather, when we embody authenticity, we cultivate positive and healthy relationships and are comfortable being vulnerable in the room. Being vulnerable includes being accountable and moving through interactions with integrity, trustworthiness, awareness, compassion, and more – and if you don’t, immediately owning it and taking corrective action. Authenticity, like compassion and other EI competencies takes courage. When this courage rests on a stable foundation, authenticity nicely flourishes.
What advice do you have for people who would like to become coaches?
For people who wish to become coaches, I would offer that they must be clear on their “why” for this work and be committed to consistently doing their own inner work. Coaching places us in a sacred position of trust by others who share their dreams and deepest desires as well as their frustrations and deeply rooted fears. If we do not continuously do our inner work, when we coach we then risk personal projections on our clients and a potential level of disconnection that depletes us. The same is true if we are not clear on our “why.” Without this clarity of self and intention, we can come from a place of ego that could leave us blind to crucial information that is present for us to see and work with.
Ultimately, we have to remember that while this work can be tactical or functional in nature, like most of the EI and mindfulness work we do, coaching is a journey where we plant many seeds. By simultaneously being heart-centered, humble, and wise, we help people move from head to heart so they can re-align both in a most magnificent way.
Interested in working with Michelle and becoming a certified coach? Apply now for the Daniel Goleman Emotional Intelligence Coaching Certification. This in-depth program, akin to a professional degree, draws upon a range of evidence-based concepts and practices, including the Emotional & Social Intelligence framework. Coaches will gain meaningful new insights to impact their personal and professional lives through online learning, one-on-one guidance from a Meta-Coach, a coaching practicum, and more.
Developing Emotional Balance begins with a solid foundation of Self-Awareness, the heart of Emotional Intelligence. Self-Awareness enables us to recognize our emotions as they occur and the ways in which our emotions impact all aspects of our lives. Without Self-Awareness, we remain on autopilot and fall back on unquestioned behavioral responses and routines. In order to affect behavioral change, we must first become attuned to our emotions, and the ways in which they positively and negatively inform our lives.
Focus, a foundational skill for Emotional Intelligence, is intrinsic to a range of competencies, including Self-Awareness and Emotional Balance. In the workplace, leaders with strengths in Emotional Self-Awareness cultivate focused teams that are engaged and motivated. While there are several types of focus, including the ability to focus on others, which requires Empathy, and big picture focus, which is related to Organizational Awareness, inner focus is the most essential to the development of Emotional Balance.
Mindfulness or presence of mind, like inner focus, is condition of Emotional Balance. Mindfulness is that aspect of mind that acts as an inner rudder, alerting us to when we’ve deviated from our path in the moment. For example, if we are aware of a bad habit we have, like interrupting others, it is our presence of mind that catches us on the spot before we interrupt someone, sending us a subtle reminder or cue not to interrupt. Practices like meditation with focus, body scan, and self-reflection enable us to strengthen our concentration and awareness. By routinely tuning-in to our emotions and utilizing practices that familiarize ourselves with patterns in our reactions, we can cultivate Emotional Balance.
In this way, self-awareness, focus, and mindfulness serve as the three, interconnected skills that enable us to exercise Emotional Balance. While it may seem intimidating to develop each of these skills, their interdependence makes it easier to turn progress in one area into positive development across all three. Similarly, just as Self-Awareness and Emotional Balance are foundational to Emotional Intelligence, they can open doors to strengthening our Emotional Intelligence across the suite of twelve EI competencies.
Ready to develop your competencies in Emotional Intelligence? Reserve your spot for the Foundational Skills of Emotional Intelligence. During twelve, two-week online experiences, you’ll explore the Foundational Skills of Emotional Intelligence through facilitated, group learning. You’ll discover the science behind each competency, why they matter, and how to apply them to positively differentiate yourself.
For a taste of the Foundational Skills, join our two-week Emotional Balance experience. In this portion of the Foundational Skills of EI, you’ll build your resilience, self-awareness, and focus.
Interested in helping others develop Emotional Balance? Our new Daniel Goleman Emotional Intelligence Coaching Certification is now accepting applications. This in-depth program, akin to a professional degree, draws upon a range of evidence-based concepts and practices, including the Emotional & Social Intelligence framework. Coaches will gain meaningful new insights to impact their personal and professional lives while elevating their expertise.
If you would like to learn more about the fundamentals of Emotional Intelligence, our series of primers focuses on the twelve Emotional and Social Intelligence Leadership Competencies, which include Emotional Self-Awareness, Emotional Self-Control, and Empathy. The primers are written by Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis, co-creators of the Emotional and Social Intelligence Leadership Competency Model, along with a range of colleagues, thought-leaders, researchers, and leaders with expertise in the various competencies. Explore the full list of primers by topic, or get the complete collection!
Mindfulness practices have traversed from the world of yogis to the C-suite. Notable leaders, such as Aetna’s CEO Mark Bertolini, LinkedIn’s CEO Jeff Weiner, and Google’s “Jolly Good Fellow” Chade-Meng Tan, are driving a sea change in corporate culture to develop employee engagement, wellness, and productivity not through bonus schemes, but yoga and emotional intelligence training. It’s almost impossible not to read about mindful eating, mindful schooling, mindful walking. An emerging field of research suggests that the state of being aware and present result in improved mental, emotional, and physical health, greater concentration and attentiveness, and increased productivity.
Only three years ago, mindfulness had yet to really make its way into the jargon of international diplomacy. For all that was written and taught about cooperation and getting to “yes,” little could be found about the role of mindfulness, despite diplomacy being a most obvious place to benefit. In 2014, former ambassador Chas W. Freeman, Jr noted that despite efforts to depend less on military might to shape foreign affairs, the U.S. approach of declaratory diplomacy and sanctions have only led to more entrenched, adversarial positions. He argues that this approach to “diplomacy,” whereby the U.S. cuts off dialogue, communicates disapproval, and exaggerates differences, seems predicated on the idea that diplomacy is only used when “the enemy lies prostrate before us.”
In other words, talk is for the weak.
Or is it? Much of the corporate world has embraced competitive collaboration as desirable, even necessary, in today’s interwoven, interconnected world. Leaders who have witnessed personal transformation from mindfulness and emotional intelligence training are transforming corporate cultures in which mutual inspiration and collaboration bring more profit, as well as more fun and possibilities to achieve greater societal good. While civilians break bread together and find more commonalities than not through citizen diplomacy every day, and businesses create partnerships to innovate and increase market share, international diplomatic effortssometimes seem stuck fighting in the sandbox.
What, if anything, can be learned from the world of mindfulness in a world of zero-sum tacticians? In an early article written about mindfulness and diplomacy, former South Korean ambassador Seok-Hyun Hong offers an alternative approach based on the Eastern philosophies of Daoism, Hinduism, and Buddhism that:
1) human relations are far more complex than good versus evil, and
2) harmony is a worthy goal.
Such an approach challenges the traditional hegemonic worldview of one winner. Starting from a different predicate establishes a foundation from which dialogue may be nuanced, respectful, and authentic, and diplomacy becomes a genuine effort to find balance of powers.
Perhaps in response to the backsliding on global decency as well as emerging scientific evidence, secular mindfulness is getting recognition as a necessary skill in nation building and negotiation. The notoriously colorful UK House of Commons committed over 100 parliamentarians to take an eight-week mindfulness course and articulated a national commitment to bring mindfulness to its health, education, business, and criminal justice systems. In 2017, Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn led a meditation session there with dignitaries from Israel to Sri Lanka. Bhutan, the “happiest nation in the world,” has committed to training all 9,000 of its teachers in emotional intelligence. U.S. Congressman Tim Ryan authored a book on how mindfulness can “recapture the American spirit.” As the world watches U.S. and China play a potentially dangerous game of chicken amid many other conflicts, bringing mindfulness and emotional intelligence skills to diplomacy is critical.
With a practice of mindfulness, players enter negotiations with a beginner’s mind, bringing awareness and equanimity to avoid fixed thinking and aversion to unattended emotions.
With mindfulness, ego is set aside, as well as the obsession for one predetermined outcome or a battle between “us” and “them.” As lateral thinker Edward de Bono has found, the ability to view things from multiple vantage points increases constructive alternative solutions to problems.
Emotional Intelligence Provides a Clear Framework
With Emotional Intelligence, players refine their abilities to pause and control their thoughts before reacting, learn and grow from criticism, and demonstrate empathy and compassion. It even builds the courage to say “I’m sorry,” when appropriate. Although not traditionally taught in the training of diplomats, it can – and should – be. Dr. Daniel Goleman, who co-created the Emotional and Social Intelligence Leadership Competency Model, recently announced its Coaching Certification program to prepare more impactful and wise leaders. The model articulates four primary domains to increasing efficacy and agency: 1) Self-Awareness as the foundational capacity of how emotions affect the self and others; 2) Self-Management as the balance of emotions towards goal attainment; 3) Social Awareness as the fostering of connection and understanding of others; and 4) Relationship Management as the interaction with others for the greatest impact.
By staying present and aware, players around the negotiation table can preempt impulsive reactions that often result in greater divides and create barriers for resolution. Consider this: two monkeys are fighting for a banana in a tree. Each has an iron grasp on the banana and pull and pull. Eventually, either one or both will tire and fall out of the tree, or the banana will slip from their hands and be lost forever. If instead, the monkeys paused before acting and were aware of their own emotions and that of their “foe,” they might let go of their tight grips on the desired fruit, gently set it down, and share in its delights.
Obviously, international diplomacy is more complicated than two monkeys and a banana. Yet progress in diplomatic efforts may happen far more quickly when both parties are more mindful of the present, impulses and reactions, and ultimate goals. Mindfulness and emotional intelligence prepare them to lead with authenticity and the mindset of “how to be of service.” As Hong notes, both sides can then stay true to the “deeper commitment to the common causes of humanity [and establish] a balance, not of power, but of perspective, and in the process aspire to a harmony among nations worthy of the name.”
 In full disclosure, author is both engaged with the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute and the Daniel Goleman Emotional and Social Intelligence Coaching Certification Program.
Interested in working with Belinda and becoming a certified coach? Apply now for the Daniel Goleman Emotional Intelligence Coaching Certification. This in-depth program, akin to a professional degree, draws upon a range of evidence-based concepts and practices, including the Emotional & Social Intelligence framework. Coaches will gain meaningful new insights to impact their personal and professional lives through online learning, one-on-one guidance from a Meta-Coach, a coaching practicum, and more.