Account-based Mindset

Applying Emotional Intelligence

Riley Smith
Content Contributor
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How EQ and Empathy Can Lead to Better Communication in Life and Marketing

Justin Bariso is an Inc. and Time Magazine contributor, an author, and Principal at EQ Applied. Most of all, he’s an expert on emotional intelligence and how you can apply it to your life for success.

We sat down with Justin to discuss empathy, emotional intelligence, and the simple, practical ways you can use both to improve your communication in all areas of your life.

Prepare to improve your EQ!


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Can you tell us more about how you began studying emotional intelligence?

I was writing a column for Inc. Magazine, exploring a lot of different topics, but my very first column was about showing empathy in the workplace.

I explored a lot of different topics in that column, but I kept going back to these principles, to empathy and related things like emotional intelligence.

I started looking for science-backed evidence on why you should be more empathetic in your communication, figuring out how empathy can help you communicate better, be a better manager, and deepen your relationships.

As I started writing more about it, I didn’t even know about the term emotional intelligence at the time.Yet, I saw this was how  people approached this topic, so it gave me a common frame of reference and a common language I could use. It also gave me an umbrella to work under, a way to focus, even though emotional intelligence is still a broad topic.

How would you define emotional intelligence?

I say it’s understanding and managing emotional behavior. Empathy is a huge part of that.

What research helped you learn about emotional intelligence?

One of the first books I read was by Daniel Goleman.

Goleman opened up this topic and brought it to the masses. He took a scientific paper from two scientists who were famous among other researchers and made it accessible.  

But even Goleman’s books, despite being interesting to read and having some practical examples, there was still a gap as far as ease of understanding. I felt it could be explained in an even simpler way and with real life examples.

How has Goleman influenced your work today?

My focus is on what’s real, what we can see, and then find an explanation. Why is this emotionally intelligent behavior? What’s the lesson here? How could you do things in a similar way in your workplace?

That’s the gap I tried to fill. It seemed like not a lot of people were doing that, and I don’t think many are even now.

I’ve had relative success as far as people reading my stuff because I’m filling that gap.

The other difference between my books and Goleman and others is that most of these people position themselves as the expert, whereas I viewed myself as a student.

I presented myself as the student and put that in my stories: “Okay, here’s something really stupid I did the other day, and here’s what I learned.”

I think people related to that. They’ve done that dumb thing, too! So I can see, here’s what I could do differently next time, and that resonates, because it’s helpful.

Tell us more about your company and its philosophy.

I founded a company called EQ Applied, which started off as my first book, EQ Applied: The Real World Guide to Emotional Intelligence.

In both the book and the business, we try to teach people what emotional intelligence is and how to use it in their life, both at work and at home.

Our go-to tagline is “Learn how to make emotions work for you instead of against you.” Because we’re all emotional creatures, and that’s a good thing, actually! We don’t want to be robots.

We want to be emotional. Emotions inspire us and allow us to inspire others. Even what we could consider negative emotions, they have good purposes. If we’re sad, or angry, there’s a reason we’re sad or angry.

Those emotions can motivate us to make changes, speak up, but it can also go too far. We can get swallowed up by sadness. We can let our anger take over and do or say things we regret.

My company is all about teaching people how to understand and manage emotions. We do that through all kinds of media.

We have a podcast where I communicate lessons in three to six minute chunks. It’s very lowkey. We started a YouTube channel as well. We have a few videos up so far.

The big thing we’ve been working on for the past several months is entering the online course world. We’re going to launch a course in the next month or so called The Rules of Emotional Intelligence.

It’s twenty-four simple constructs that you can carry around that helps you build emotionally intelligent habits and manage your emotional behavior.

Can you give us a few examples of the Rules of Emotional Intelligence?

One of them is called the three question rule. I learned it watching an interview with comedian Craig.

He said, before you say anything, you should ask yourself three questions:

  • Does this need to be said?
  • Does this need to be said by me?
  • Does this need to be said by me now?

He says it took him three marriages to learn that lesson. It’s humorous, but I use this rule every single day now. I use it at home, I use it at work, I definitely use it in meetings. There’s so many different applications for it.

That lesson is about explaining the rule and how you can apply it.

Another one is “disagree and commit.” It’s a management principle that was made popular by Intel initially. Jeff Bezos is big on it.

That lesson is all about how you have to talk things out and there’s always going to be a difference of opinion. Sometimes there will be disagreement, but at some point you have to move forward. So what do you do when it’s time to move forward?

It’s okay to still disagree. But if you’re not going to come to a consensus, generally, there’s backbiting, passive-aggressive comments, a lot of negativity from people who aren’t committed to making the decision work.

So instead of that, you disagree and commit. You still disagree. You don’t have to think the chosen way is the best way forward, but you realize you have to go forward. So you go all in and try your best to still make that decision work.

We try to see, how can you apply that at home? How can you apply that in the workplace? How does it apply to any team you may be working with?

How would you say these principles apply to marketing in particular?

Another rule I like to use is called the Golden Question.

You ask yourself, how will I feel about this in five minutes? In five days? In five years?

It helps me determine if something is really as serious as it feels at the moment. Is it something worth speaking up about? Most of the time, nothing is important five years from now, so the principle really helps you see if it’s something that must be addressed.

It goes along with that question, does this need to be said by me? Am I the right person to deliver this message?

So in marketing, we can ask ourselves, who is the best person to deliver this message? That can influence your strategy or whom you choose to represent your organization, the product, or the campaign.

I also think the three question rule is hugely important in marketing. Many times, I’ll say yes to the first two: It definitely needs to be said, it definitely needs to be said by me, but does it need to be said by me right now? Timing is such a huge thing.

If we take a common example from management, you might need to correct someone, but do you need to correct them right now in front of everyone else? Probably not. It’s not going to have the desired effect.

You have to consider the perspective of your audience. We’re not speaking in a vacuum. So even if it’s something we feel really strong about, why are we saying it? What’s the impact going to be on the person we’re saying it to?

You need to consider your goal. That’s how you should decide who, when, and how the message gets said.

Can you tell us more about empathy and how you categorize, discuss, and teach it?

Daniel Goleman worked with a psychologist named Paul Ekman that specializes in empathy. Ekman came up with this theory and then Goleman helped him to finalize and popularize it.

They classify empathy into three basic types.

1) There’s cognitive empathy, where we try to get into the mind of our audience. What are they thinking, what are they feeling?

Understanding even just that will improve your message, because if you are even close to knowing how another person thinks and feels, then that helps you relate to them and deliver the message in a way that reaches them.

Cognitive empathy is probably the most important for marketing purposes.

2) The second type is emotional empathy, which goes a step further, where you actually feel what the other person is feeling.

This is what a lot of us think of when we think about empathy. You may have heard the phrase “your pain in my heart”? So this kind of empathy is about being able to relate and physically feel those feelings.

That can help increase your cognitive empathy, because you can understand even better what a person is feeling.

Let’s say someone is talking to you about struggling with a presentation. You may understand what they’re talking about, but maybe you don’t feel that particular pain, because giving presentations is easy for you. In that case, you understand intellectually what they’re talking about, but you can’t really feel it.

Emotional empathy means you relate to the feeling and feel it yourself. So you can say to yourself, maybe I don’t struggle with presentations, but I know what it feels like to be overwhelmed by a problem.

Now you can relate to the feeling, feel it with them, and that really helps you with your relationship.

From a marketing perspective, emotional empathy can help you craft your message in an even more effective way. It’s not just understanding how people think and feel, but being able to relate to those feelings, as well.

3) The third type is empathic concern, or compassion empathy. It’s basically about taking action. You don’t just understand or feel things with the other person, but you actually take action to reach them.

From a marketing perspective, this is one of the reasons I love content marketing. It’s not the traditional, “Let me throw stuff at you and see what sticks,” but it’s more like, “Let me understand what this person is looking for. I’ll create this content they can stumble across organically, and it will naturally draw them in because I’m providing something valuable.”

Most of the time, when people are brought in like that, they want more.

This month on REACH, we’re following the story of a musician who found success only when he started empathizing with his audience. What can you tell us about the connection between artists, audiences, and empathy?

That’s such a great connection. I haven’t found much about researchers exploring emotional intelligence in music in particular, but who are our favorite musicians? It’s not the ones who just play a piece well in a technical sense, but the ones where you can really feel that the emotion is there.

I don’t make music myself. My wife’s a musician, but I’m not, as much as I’d like to be. But as far as writing goes, some of the best advice I got when I was first starting out, from a fellow columnist, was that you have to find a balance between writing what you want to write about and what other people want to read.

That was golden advice for me. You can be passionate about something, but you have to be able to communicate it in a way that other people understand.

Once you find that balance, once you can write or make music or communicate a message, you can give your natural passion about it, but in a way that reaches others. That’s what we’re all trying to do.

What do you think stops people from acting on empathy? What’s the biggest roadblock?

That’s something I’ve explored. There’s actually quite a bit of research on it, believe it or not.

There’s something that psychologists and scientists have explored called the perspective gap, or the empathy gap. I like the perspective gap because I think it’s a bit more descriptive.

The perspective gap says that if you are not in a situation at this moment, it’s very difficult to gauge how that situation would affect you. Or, a situation might affect you in one way, but that won’t tell you how it would affect another person.

Some examples include how oftentimes doctors underestimate a patient’s pain. Or mothers forget how much pain childbirth is until they’re going through it again.

In our daily lives, an example might be when we hear someone talking about a situation, and we think, “Oh, it’s not that bad. They just need to toughen up.” Then when we’re in that same situation, we react similarly to them, or sometimes worse!

Because we’re not going through it at that moment, we tend to remember things that happened as being easier or better than they actually were. Our brain has some good reasons for doing this too, but it can have bad effects.

We get this effect in our very best memories. You know, “Oh, the good old days!” They always feel so much better than what we’re going through now, because that’s how the brain works. Same with the bad stuff. Oh, it wasn’t so bad! Well, at the time, it was very, very bad.

In the marketing context, when we’re creating something, we may come up with what feels like a brilliant idea. We get a lot of great feedback on it. But we’re likely to overestimate how it will affect our target audience.

Maybe this is because the people we’re getting feedback from are not our target audience. So it is great for them! It does reach them on an emotional level, but if our target audience is a completely different set of people, we may completely miss the mark.

What advice do you have for people who want to improve their communications?

Two things immediately come to mind. One is, don’t just work on what you want to say, but how you want to say it. That way you can have maximum impact and the other person will really get the things you want to communicate.

That could include timing, it could be context, it could be how deeply do we need to get into this? Maybe it’s about different communication styles. But just spend time thinking upfront, “How do I want to communicate this?”

The second point is kind of related, but don’t be afraid to take the time. In our course, I call it the Rule of Awkward Silence.

I encourage embracing the awkward silence. Most of us hate awkward silences, we always feel like we have to fill it, but expect it, prepare for it, and leverage it.

If someone asks you a question, don’t feel like you have to respond right away. Same thing with text messages.

We’re so much in the habit of responding, “Oh, they texted me, they can see I saw it, I have to respond right now.”

But responding right away to a text or a spoken question is often not how you give the best answer. So, pause to the point where it’s awkward. That’s like ten or fifteen seconds.

If you’re not comfortable doing that in the beginning, say, “Give me a second to think about that.” That way, you let them know you’re listening and thinking about it, and it gives you a chance to catch your breath to really think through what you want to say.

That way you’re not speaking fluff, you’re giving a more solid answer. In normal everyday conversation, it’s fine to just respond. But if it’s a deeper question, or a request, if you respond immediately, later you may say, “Why did I agree to that?” or “Why did I respond that way?”

Embrace the awkward silence. It’s okay. If you don’t respond for a few hours over text, that’s okay. If you don’t respond for a whole day, that’s okay!

In the beginning, that might take some getting used to, but once you can lean into it, I’ve found it really improves communication. You’re able to improve the communication and show that you’re giving your full attention in the first place.

It’s simple in theory but difficult to practice. I’m still learning!

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We’re diving even deeper into Empathy on our podcast, REACH, where we explore the mindsets of high achievers and then seek to apply the lessons to life, business, and marketing.

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