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Thinking about Thinking

Thoughts on thinking about thinking from the Raising Thinkers Series


Filtering by Tag: Emotional intelligence

Emotional Intelligence Part 1: The Neuroscience Of Emotions

Tremaine du Preez

Tremaine du Preez for the Huffington Post and the Coaching Club

Emotional intelligence is no longer simply about understanding and managing our emotions. Neuroscience continues to reveal the origins and impact of our emotional language, giving us clues as to how to wield emotions intelligently in both our personal and professional lives. But before we can use EI as a tool we need to understand emotions; how they are generated and affect our thinking, decision making and actions.

Here's a brief introduction to the neuroscience of emotions - what we know today. 

What are your emotional red flags? Coach Tremaine du Preez helps you explore your emotional language and lay the foundation for the 3rd domain of EI: emotional regulation.

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Don't Tell Me To Calm Down - The Worst Advice To Give When Someone Is Angry

Tremaine du Preez

Don't Say - Don't Let Your Emotions Get In The Way

In the movie The Judge, Robert Downey Jnr is a high profile New York lawyer of ill repute. Back in his hometown he finds himself in a bar brawl and narrowly avoids having his teeth relocated by the local degenerate - thanks to his quick thinking and very smart observations of the said degenerate's parole status. Downey's character is perfectly calm, logical and confident throughout. Hostage negotiators, lawyers and actors are trained and rehearsed in this superhuman trait of not showing emotion in stressful situations. But what about the rest of us?

Why we say things we later regret

When our brain senses that we are being threatened by a word, a gesture or even a micro expression on someone's face, something incredible happens that is completely outside of your control. Activity in the frontal parts of the brain where rational thought occurs is suppressed. Can you see why we say things we later regret, or don't say things we should have said? It's our cognitive conditioning working against us.

At the same time, blood flow increases to our emotional circuitry and our instinctual hindbrain. This is the moment we become a warrior. It's also the moment we literally lose our ability to think clearly. It's physically impossible not to experience emotion at this point, but it is possible to manage the emotions that arise. Understanding this is the key to staying cool when agitated.

Tell tale signs in your body warn you when this is about to happen. You heat up, especially your face or neck, your heart rate speeds up a little or a lot. Your palms may get sweaty and you feel a burst of adrenaline, like a kick of energy flowing through you.

I had a coaching client who told me that once he felt this burst of energy during a conversation, there was no going back. He could not back down. It was as if the only thing that mattered from there on was the need to settle the conversation on his terms.

2. Don't Say - If She'd Said That To Me I'd Be Angry Too

Have you ever blamed someone else for making you angry? That idiot that cut you off in the traffic this morning, your teenage son who thinks curfew is only a suggestion or the incompetent salesperson at the end of an unhelpful helpline? Do I even need to mention your boss?

For most people getting angry feels good, the hormones that are released when we rage make us feel powerful. People stop and pay attention to us when we yell - unless we're the crazy on the street corner who yells all day at imaginary evils. More dangerously, stress hormones increase our risk tolerance. Making us more likely to do or say something foolish that we'll regret later - cue crimes of passion or football hooliganism.

Emotions are gone in 90 seconds

This initial bout of stress hormone (a chemical) burns up in 90 seconds. That's it. After that you have to choose to be angry to continue to be so. Thinking angry thoughts such as, how dare you say or do that? who does she think she is? will tell your brain to continue being angry and it will oblige with producing more stress hormone. If someone else ticks you off, you can blame them for how you feel in the first 90 seconds but how you respond to these feelings in your body is your choice alone.

Don't get me wrong, this is as easy to do as eating jelly with chopsticks. Take a breath, use a filler phrase that you can say in different situations such as, that's an interesting point of view or, I appreciate you sharing this with me, I hear what you're saying, do you really think that's appropriate behaviour? This tells your brain that you are not under physical threat and gives a you few precious seconds to think about how to respond as the first wave of stress hormone passes. Us coaches call this increasing your stimulus-response gap - and that's a good thing.

3. Don't say - Think Like A Hostage Negotiator And You'll Win Every Argument

This is popular advice from corporate trainers and bloggers. It's simply not possible that an 8 hour Sniper Mentality or Hostage Negotiator training program will turn anyone into a poker-faced boardroom negotiator. A hostage negotiator trains for years in the science of influence, mental agility and tactical combat. Even so, they don't win every argument.

There are two ideas from hostage negotiations that we are able to implement rather easily. The first is never to ever tell someone to calm down, that's like putting a fire out with gasoline. Instead, let them go on, for as long as possible, let them rant and rage. Fuming is hard work and requires a tremendous amount of physical resources. It won't be long till they stop and this is when you implement your strategy. What strategy?

Ask open questions such as Why do you think this has happened? This will get them thinking about your questions. Thinking forces blood back into their prefrontal cortex (the thinking part of the brain) helping them overcome fear and think a bit more logically.

4. Don't say - No-one Really Wins An Argument

Someone always wins an argument. Every argument will leave you changed. You can decide to brush it off as a bad experience or debrief it like you would an important client meeting.

I'm betting that the person who sits down and truly thinks about why they argue, what makes them angry, what they say and how they can be more constructive about it, is the winner. If neither one does this then my money is on the big guy.

Tremaine du Preez is a behavioural economist, author of Think Smart, Work Smarter, and lecturer in Critical Thinking. She blogs at The Huffington Post and Her next book Raising Thinkers - Preparing Your Child For The Journey Of a Lifetime, will be out in 2016.

How to Survive An Emotionally Unintelligent Boss

Tremaine du Preez

My boss has the emotional intelligence of a wrecking ball. This was the opening line in a recent coaching conversation I had with Pat (not his real name, of course). Divisive, two-timing, self centred, political, insert your own adjective here, bosses and colleagues are very familiar to coaches. It's not a new topic.

Pat works in a pretty entrepreneurial environment where wrecking ball bosses are found in abundance. In fact, empathy is the quality that entrepreneurs* have been found to lack the most. Why would they need soft skills when their job is to solve problems, launch product and make money out of it all? I think you already know the answer. For a company to grow beyond the start up phase, its leaders must be able to make good decisions and keep their best people motivated and engaged. Lack of emotional intelligence affects both of these - especially the ability to make good decisions. More about that later.

Stop wishing for others to change

So what would I recommend to Pat? Firstly, you can't change another person, only yourself, so stop wishing and waiting for your boss or colleague to change. Unlike a marriage, your boss may not have enough invested in your relationship to want to change for you. She may not even know she needs to change. Secondly, she won't be your boss for ever, you can either focus on her shortcomings and spend your time complaining about them or work on improving yours.

Finally, (and this is the hardest one) can you see this unpleasant person as a gift on your career path? By working with someone with low EI you are able to feel the impact of it first hand and, perhaps, this will encourage you to turn inward and examine your own emotional intelligence towards your colleagues, friends and family. Without this difficult person in your life, you may never have done this and so not lived up to your own leadership potential. They truly are a gift, if only with hindsight.

Emotional intelligence consists of four domains as coined by Daniel Goleman, namely self awareness, self regulation, motivation, and social skill. Of course, the theory is easier than the practice but the benefits outweigh the effort many times. Let's look at the first two aspects of gaining greater emotional smarts.

Do you know yourself as well as you think?

Self awareness is the first and most influential aspect of EI: the few who are gifted with true self awareness have a realistic understanding of how what they feel affects what they do. They also understand which situations trigger certain emotional responses in themselves and others.

Has your boss ever claimed your idea as his own in a board meeting? How did that make you feel? How did you respond? Do you ever take time after a difficult meeting to think about your behaviour and responses in that meeting? What did you do well and what would you do differently if you could do it all over? As you spend time examining your responses to others you will notice a pattern. Certain things will continuously trigger more emotive responses from you than others. This is when your heart rate picks up, your jaw stiffens or palms get sweaty.

I can keep a lid on my emotions in a meeting but I have a pale complexion and when I feel unduly challenged my neck turns bright red and betrays me. Even though I can keep a poker face, my body still generates stress hormones when I feel threatened, belittled or undervalued (my emotional triggers). So I have had to work out a way to stifle my response to these triggers - or wear a neck scarf, which isn't always possible in sunny Singapore.

Are you always in control?

This is where self regulation comes in. Once you are able to recognise your emotional triggers the next step is to contain your physical response to them such as getting angry, disengaging or other more subtle changes in your body. The first step here is to resist responding instantly when in a difficult conversation.

In the bestseller, Crucial Conversations (McGraw Hill 2011), the authors explain the physiological complexity of a heated conversation. When we feel challenged, or even when someone simply disagrees with us, adrenaline pumps through our body and blood flows away from the brain to the limbs to meet our natural instinct to fight or flee. Leaving a half-starved brain to come up with a coherent argument with sensible facts, whilst processing the torrent of incoming information! This is why low EI affects our ability to make good decisions. You simply cannot evaluate an argument and say the right thing when your brain is in crisis mode - even if you look calm on the outside.

What's your filler phrase?

Take a breath, use a filler phrase that you can say in different situations such as that's an interesting point of view or I appreciate you sharing this with me. This will help you in several ways. It tells your brain that you are not under physical threat even though the hormones it generates are the same as it would if you were. It then gives your brain a few precious seconds to think about what has been said and how to respond. Us coaches call this increasing your stimulus response gap - and that's a good thing.

Take a tour of your self awareness over a week. On your way home from work review your day; where there any situations where you acted impulsively? What emotion was behind that? Did you get any criticism? How did you respond to it? Did you say yes to a request that you really should have said no to because you felt pressured into doing it or didn't give yourself time to think about it first? Do this exercise everyday this week and a mental map of your emotional drivers as well as your ability to self regulate will emerge. If, like Pat, your boss has low EI, take heart that he or she probably won't advance very much further up the corporate ladder than they already are.

* Harvard Business Review, April 1, 2013. The Skills Entrepreneurs Lack, by Bill J. Bonnstetter @ HBR.Org

Tremaine du Preez is the author of Think Smart, Work Smarter, and coach and lecturer in Critical Thinking based in Singapore. She blogs for the Huffington Post where this article first appeared and at Her next book Raising Thinkers - Preparing Your Child For The Journey Of a Lifetime, will be out in 2016.

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Under pressure? Frustrated with your boss? Lashing out at others and blaming them?

Tremaine du Preez

It may be time to to check in with your emotional intelligence. 

Dare to take the EI test?

This is my most popular ‘just for fun’ test that really gives you something to think about. If you are still hanging on to the belief that EI is optional or fluffy, think again, quickly. The hormones that regulate our emotional state have the potential to cause havoc with our ability to process data and make sound decisions. 

An understanding of your emotional language and triggers is essential to making sound decisions. This is exactly what researchers have found. From entrepreneurs, to Fortune 100 CEOs, those that are successful in reaching their professional goals are either highly emotionally intelligent or know that they aren’t and surround themselves with people who are. Well, that’s a relief. You don’t have to be the cool calm and collected guy with high EI. If you are the one with a hair-trigger temper or nerves that are constantly offended, that’s ok. You just have to know your own emotional language and stop it from affecting your thinking. You won’t win ‘boss of the year’ but you’ll be better at reaching your goals. Where do you fit in?


Mark true or false (honestly) next to each statement and tally up your trues.


1. I never try to avoid tough conversations.

2. I know exactly what makes me angry.

3. There is someone I don’t like but I’m not exactly sure why.

4. I know what makes me sad.

5. I always consider how my words or actions will make someone else feel before I speak.

6. I put time aside everyday to reflect on my behaviour and interactions.

7. I never say things that I regret later.

8. I’m OK with saying sorry.

9. I know exactly what I do well. 

10. I know exactly what I can’t do well.

11. I can say NO to my boss/client when I know I can’t meet his/her expectations.

12. I am interested in hearing other people’s opinions.

13. I can usually find something to respect in others, even those younger than I am.

14. Colleagues value my feedback.

15. People tell me I am patient.

16. I am calm under pressure.

17. I think very long and hard about my mistakes.

18. I think very long and hard about my successes.

19. I love challenges that no one else can solve.

20. I can listen to someone without interrupting.

21. My mood never affects my interactions with other people.

22. I don’t mind if plans change.

23. I don’t mind if MY plans are changed.

24. I don’t get irritated if someone can’t follow my instructions.

25. I try not to lose my temper in public.


Grand total   Number of trues?

How did you do?

Rating - number of trues

        20 - 24:     Emotionally gifted, the world needs more of you 

        12 - 20:     Emotionally competent.You’ve clearly spent time reflecting on your EI

        below 12:    Human like the rest of us with the potential to improve


Over the next four weeks we’ll explore the four corners of EI; self awareness, self regulation, social skills and motivation, just in case you need a primer in any area. 

Copyright @tremainedupreez 2014, all rights reserved