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Emotional Intelligence Exercises

Posted by Joel DiGirolamo | September 9, 2014 | Comments (14)

Emotional Intelligence (commonly referred to as EI or EQ) is one of those constructs in life which we may have difficulty defining but feel “I know it when I see it.” It may come to mind when we notice someone ignoring our feelings or observing a less-than-mindful supervisor running roughshod over a co-worker’s fragile emotions. We may observe and feel it when we buy into a vision articulated by a particularly charismatic leader.

The idea of an emotional intelligence has been around for quite a while (cf. Payne, 1986 or Salovey & Mayer, 1990) but has remained controversial in the psychology community because it is not clearly separated from general mental intelligence (G, g, or General Mental Ability, GMA) nor has a clear and consistent definition emerged. Emotional intelligence burst onto the business scene with the publication of journalist and psychologist Daniel Goleman’s best-selling book Emotional Intelligence in 1995.

Research and debate on the construct continues to this day. In one corner sit the purists who continue to search for the Holy Grail of emotional intelligence, i.e. the pure and distinct emotional intelligence that is separate from general mental ability. I doubt this can be attained because there is most likely a significant overlap of the two. In the other corner lie the pragmatists and practitioners who are simply searching for tools that will help them understand and model individual traits, as well as to assist in coaching individuals to perform better at their job or to improve their interpersonal relationships. This group feels that the integration of EQ constructs and business competencies will provide the most powerful tools to build high performing leaders.

The definition of emotional intelligence I find most useful is that offered by Mayer, Salovey, & Caruso (2000, p. 396), “the ability to perceive and express emotion, assimilate emotion in thought, understand and reason with emotion, and regulate emotion in the self and others.”

Mindfulness is a related construct that overlaps with EQ quite significantly. One model of mindfulness is the ability to bring attention to the present moment without judgment or automatic reaction (cf. Baer, Smith, & Allen, 2004). Your ability to remain mindful can be broken into five elements:

  • Ability to observe external stimuli and internal emotions, sensations, and thoughts
  • Ability to describe observed phenomena
  • Acting with awareness, or ability to fully engage in one activity
  • Accepting the present without judging
  • Ability to remain neutral and not react to inner experiences

It is clear that the five mindfulness elements described above are related to observing and regulating emotions. While we do not have data to determine if a correlation exists, we can hypothesize the existence of it for the moment. Figure 1 illustrates the overlap of these three constructs—emotional intelligence, general mental ability, and mindfulness.

Figure 1

Overlap of Emotional Intelligence, General Mental Ability, and Mindfulness

chart 1

I have found the emotional intelligence model developed by Hogan Assessments to provide a readily understood framework for emotional intelligence development and coaching that is built upon sound scientific research (Hogan Assessments, 2013). This model attempts to bridge the gap between personal characteristics and job performance outcomes. The model elements are either interpersonal (between individuals) or intrapersonal (within an individual) and fall into three categories:

  • • Emotional perception
  • • Emotional control
  • • Emotional sharing.

Table 1

Hogan Emotional Intelligence Model



Awareness: The degree to which people seem in touch with their emotions

Emotional Perception

Detection: The degree to which people seem aware of others’ emotions

Regulation: The degree to which people seem to maintain positive emotional states

Emotional Control

Influence: The degree to which people seem intentionally to affect others’ moods, thoughts, and behaviors

Expression: The degree to which people seem to communicate desired emotional states to others

Emotional Sharing

Empathy: The degree to which people seem to feel what others are feeling

These emotional intelligence exercises are structured within that framework and are meant to provide a means for an individual to enhance their awareness of emotions in daily life, frequently in the moment. You can begin by either working your way down the list or jump around and choose one or two that seem easy for you to start and then progress your way through all of the exercises you feel are most suited to you.



The degree to which people seem in touch with their emotions

☛ Set a timer to alert you every 15 or 30 minutes. When the timer goes off record the emotions you are feeling in that moment. You might also consider the emotions you felt during this last time period. Review this record of your emotions at the end of the day to see how your emotions flowed during the course of the day.

☛ Each time you get up from your work station and leave a meeting sense the emotion you are feeling and record it. Review this record at the end of the day.


The degree to which people seem to maintain positive emotional states

☛ Recall the last time you were angry. What expectations did you have that were not met? Were you attached to a specific outcome? How could you have changed your expectations so that you would have had a more positive experience or emotion?

☛ Each time you are going to a meeting ask yourself what expectations you have from the meeting. What outcomes would you like from the meeting? Record these before the meeting starts. After the meeting review the actual outcomes and compare them with your expected outcomes. What were your feelings and behaviors if the outcomes did not correspond to your desires?

☛ The next time you feel angry or frustrated, ask yourself what expectations you had that were not met or what outcome you were attached to.

☛ At the end of each day, record everything for which you felt gratitude that day.


The degree to which people seem to communicate desired emotional states to others

☛ At the end of each day record at least three times you felt grateful for something someone did. Tell each of them tomorrow how you felt, if that is possible.

☛ Each day record moments of satisfaction, happiness, joy, and exhilaration. How did you express these emotions?



The degree to which people seem aware of others’ emotions

☛ Observe people in public, on TV, or in a movie. Listen to their words and tonality, watch their posture, body language, and facial expressions. As you observe, think about what their feelings might be in that moment.

☛ When you are in a one-on-one meeting with another individual who has a complaint, guess their emotions at the beginning and end of the meeting, then ask what those emotions were at the end of the meeting.

☛ At least once a day try to think deeper into something someone said. Think of the deeper possibilities of what the person might mean. Record these thoughts.

☛ When you are in a meeting, or perhaps after one, think about an idea you are considering raising and what the ramifications are on the dynamics of the discussion it may have.

☛ A new contractor began working for you about a week ago. You are very impressed with his strong work ethic and conscientiousness. He seems to be relentless about taking on more work as tasks are completed. However, he takes little time to chat with peers or bond with them on a social level, and in fact some peers feel he is rude and abrupt. How would you describe the contractor’s emotional state? What would be your approach in your interactions with the contractor?

☛ You have a new customer and your team just had its first meeting with him. Several team members expressed concern about him, and actually felt scared of him. He didn’t smile once and his voice was almost monotone. How would you handle this situation? What emotions do you think the customer may be feeling?


The degree to which people seem intentionally to affect others’ moods, thoughts, and behaviors

☛ When someone asks you a question that can be answered with a “yes” or “no” and you respond with a “no,” observe the effect this response has on the conversation. Does it broaden the discussion or tend to shut it down?

☛ The next time you are trying to influence someone in a face-to-face encounter try to read their body language and speech. Attempt to discern at what point you have reached the limit in trying to influence the other person, i.e., you have gone too far. This is the point at which you may be considered pushy if continuing onward. Observe the words they are saying, the intonation, and their body language for clues.

☛ When in a situation where you would like to influence someone, discern how you might best influence them. Once you have interacted with them, review how effective your approach was and how it might be improved.


The degree to which people seem to feel what others are feeling

☛ At the end of a meeting, record what emotions you felt each person had in the meeting and at what times. Record the ways you saw emotions change during the meeting? How well did you relate to these emotions?

☛ Think back to a time when you were with someone who had an emotional crisis. How closely were you able to connect with their emotions?

☛ When in conversation with someone you know well, ask them how they are doing. Then ask yourself how well you are relating to their emotions.


Ashkanasy, N. M., & Daus, C. S. (2005). Rumors of the death of emotional intelligence in organizational behavior are vastly exaggerated. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 26(4), 441-452.

Baer, R. A., Smith, G. T., & Allen, K. B. (2004). Assessment of mindfulness by self-report: The Kentucky Inventory of Mindfulness Skills. Assessment, 11(3), 191-206.

Baer, R. A., Smith, G. T., Hopkins, J., Krietemeyer, J., & Toney, L. (2006). Using self-report assessment methods to explore facets of mindfulness. Assessment, 13(1), 27.

Baer, R. A., Smith, G. T., Lykins, E., Button, D., Krietemeyer, J., Sauer, S., . . . Williams, J. M. G. (2008). Construct validity of the five facet mindfulness questionnaire in meditating and nonmeditating samples. Assessment, 15(3), 329-342.

Cherniss, C. (2010). Emotional Intelligence: Toward Clarification of a Concept. Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 3(2), 110-126.

Daus, C. S., & Ashkanasy, N. M. (2003). Will the real emotional intelligence please stand up? On deconstructing the emotional intelligence ‘debate’. The Industrial-Organizational Psychologist, 41(2), 69-72.

Goleman, D. (1995). Emotional intelligence. New York: Bantam Books.

Hogan Assessment Systems. (2013). EQ technical manual. Tulsa, OK: Hogan Press.

Mayer, J. D., Caruso, D., & Salovey, P. (1999). Emotional intelligence meets traditional standards for an intelligence. Intelligence, 27(4), 267-298.

Mayer, J. D., Salovey, P., & Caruso, D. R. (2000). Models of emotional intelligence. In R. J. Sternberg (Ed.), Handbook of intelligence (2nd ed., pp. 396-420). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Mayer, J. D., Salovey, P., Caruso, D. R., & Sitarenios, G. (2001). Emotional intelligence as a standard intelligence. Emotion, 1(3), 232-242.

O’Boyle, E. H., Humphrey, R. H., Pollack, J. M., Hawver, T. H., & Story, P. A. (2011). The relation between emotional intelligence and job performance: A meta-analysis. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 32(5), 788-818.

Payne, W. L. (1986). A study of emotion: Developing emotional intelligence; self-integration; relating to fear, pain and desire. Dissertation Abstracts International, 47(1), 203A.

Salovey, P., & Mayer, J. D. (1990). Emotional intelligence. Imagination, Cognition and Personality, 9(3), 185-211.

Zaccaro, S. J., Gilbert, J. A., Thor, K. K., & Mumford, M. D. (1991). Leadership and social intelligence: Linking social perspectives and behavioral flexibility to leader effectiveness. The Leadership Quarterly, 2(4), 317-342.

Joel DiGirolamo

Joel DiGirolamo is the Director of Coaching Science for the International Coach Federation (ICF), where he leads the organization's efforts to develop, curate, and disseminate information around the science of coaching. He has more than 30 years of staff and management experience in Fortune 500 companies and is the author of two books, Leading Team Alpha and Yoga in No Time at All. Joel holds a master's degree in industrial and organizational psychology from Kansas State University, an MBA from Xavier University, and a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from Purdue University. He is a member of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP), the Society of Consulting Psychology (SCP), the American Psychological Association (APA) and the Society for Human Resource Management.

The views and opinions expressed in guest posts featured on this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of the International Coach Federation (ICF). The publication of a guest post on the ICF Blog does not equate to an ICF endorsement or guarantee of the products or services provided by the author.

Additionally, for the purpose of full disclosure and as a disclaimer of liability, this content was possibly generated using the assistance of an AI program. Its contents, either in whole or in part, have been reviewed and revised by a human. Nevertheless, the reader/user is responsible for verifying the information presented and should not rely upon this article or post as providing any specific professional advice or counsel. Its contents are provided “as is,” and ICF makes no representations or warranties as to its accuracy or completeness and to the fullest extent permitted by applicable law specifically disclaims any and all liability for any damages or injuries resulting from use of or reliance thereupon.

Comments (14)

  1. HI, Joel,
    I am grateful that my friend and colleague directed me toward your blog! (and I will tell her tomorrow 🙂 These are excellent exercises and I thank you for putting them down in this article. I believe they will come in useful with coaching clients. Thanks again!
    – Sherri

  2. What a great article on the relationship between emotional intelligence, IQ, and mindfulness. The exercises are also great and gave me some good ideas. Thanks so much!

  3. Gabrielle says:

    Dear Joel,

    Thanks so much for sharing your insights and suggestions for practice to improve ones Emotional Intelligence. Very practical and within everyones reach, best, gabby

  4. Nirmal says:

    Firstly thanks for this beautiful piece of article. You have given some concrete steps that one to can take here and I see very good chance that those actions will help one improve his/her emotional intelligence. I particularly liked the idea of writing down your emotions at a regular interval.


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