Emotional Intelligence for High Achievers. Strategies to help you understand yourself, interact effectively in your relationships, and optimize leadership effectiveness. Title image with venn diagram of personal, interpersonal and organizational excellence.


Many people rely only on academic success to measure their intelligence. Yet, this simplistic view fails to capture the degree to which intelligence correlates with real-world functioning. In 1983, developmental psychologist, Howard Gardner, proposed a theory of multiple intelligences. Rather than viewing intelligence as reflected only in the academic sense, he described eight discrete areas of ability that allow people to thrive. Two of these, intrapersonal (knowledge of self) and interpersonal (knowledge of others) form the basis of emotional intelligence.

In more recent years, Daniel Goleman has researched and authored numerous resources on emotional and social intelligence.  Both Gardner, who theorized multiple intelligences, and Goleman, who popularized emotional intelligence, recognized the fact that our ability to succeed is much broader than our grades in school.

Similar to other skillsets, emotional intelligence is naturally stronger for some people but can be taught for others. For everyone, an ongoing attention to personal and interpersonal effectiveness can sharpen leadership, performance and fulfillment.

Emotional Intelligence Challenges for High Achievers

 ♦   Analytical High achievers may under-estimate the importance of the social nuances that contribute to success.

         High achievers’ goal orientation may cause them to focus on task achievement at the cost of relationship building.

        ♦.  High achievers who intellectualize emotion may respond inappropriately to their own and others’ emotional needs.

♦   High Achievers who dislike emotion will try to win an emotional argument with intellect.

♦.  High Achievers who hate “politics” may lose opportunity.

Three cartoon headshots of Successful Sam, Logical Larry and Caring Carey. Each person has a quote bubble describing what they find difficult about navigating emotion and people.

Many smart people feel dumb about emotion. It’s okay.

Relational Genius for High Achievers - The Book on Emotional Intelligence

Relational Genius covers many of the Emotional Intelligence conundrums High Achievers face. High Achievers often question themselves and feel unnecessarily alone because many High Achievers struggle with similar issues. Relational Genius seeks to provide practical information and tactics for these common challenges.

Picture of the Relational Genius book by Dr. Tricia Groff

Components of Emotional Intelligence

SELF-AWARENESS–The awareness of our own reactions to other people and situations.

EMOTIONAL MANAGEMENT–The ability to predict and manage our moods and impulses.

SOCIAL SKILLS–The ability to identify and react appropriately to the emotions of other people.

EMPATHY–The ability to  tune into and understand what other people are feeling.

MOTIVATION–The ambition to be effective

People will only feel understood when you speak to their emotions.

The Role of Emotional Intelligence in Peak Performance

Self-awareness and emotional management allow us to manage ourselves effectively and to interact optimally with others. In our professional lives, they allow us to make decisions that optimize our performance and our career satisfaction.

Empathy and social skills help us to make choices about relationships, both personal and professional. They help us to interact effectively with those around us, enhancing both our own goal achievement and our value to others.

Motivation allows us to run further, faster. The combination of increased self-awareness, emotional management, empathy and social skills enhances our personal confidence, which in turn, fuels motivation.

Emotional strength is not the absence of emotion.

Exercises to Sharpen Emotional Intelligence


  • Practice tuning into the way you are feeling. If you are happy, what are the contributing factors? If you are upset, when did you start feeling that way and why? People assume that they know why they are feeling their emotions, but a closer look reveals more complexity than anticipated. Being aware of what is most likely to make us happy, angry, hurt, impatient, relaxed, or content is the first step in being able to manage negative emotion and create positive emotion.
  • Ask people who you trust for feedback about what they see in you. Disseminate the suggested survey in the The 80/20 Principle  (author: Richard Koch) to 10-15 people and then look for themes in the answers. The observations of people we trust can help us be aware of blindspots in our own perceptions and can also increase our awareness of the way others see us.

Emotional Management

  • Experiment with strategies to help you maintain emotional equilibrium, especially when you are sad or angry. Try distraction, talking with friends, breathing or relaxation exercises, and gratitude lists. See what seems to work the most effectively and the most consistently.
  • Practice reframing situations from another perspective. Is there something you can learn from the situation?
  • Above all, practice allowing the emotions to move through you. Try not to push them aside. Experiment with sitting and feeling sad (not fun, I know) instead of immediately pushing aside the feeling and focusing on the next task. Being disappointed, hurt and sad are not weaknesses. The faster you are able to accept them as human and allow them to move through you, the easier it will be to move on to a more positive perspective and refocus on the task at hand.

Social Skills

  • Watch and listen. Watch the interactions of other people. If there is a person who is not well-liked, what is he/she doing that tends to distance others? How do the well-liked people act? What do they do or say to make other people feel comfortable? When do people lose attention? What is the conversational exchange ratio (i.e., how long each person speaks)?
  • Observe others’ reactions to you without personalizing their responses. Watch people’s body language when they are interacting with you. Are they leaning in? Angled away? Are they gradually moving backwards? If it seems that you were connecting with them, and suddenly, they become more distant, at what point did that happen? When people respond extremely well to you, what are you doing or saying? If what you are saying is not resonating with them, are you able to shift the topic to something else?


  • Obtain more information on others’ backgrounds to understand their point of view.It can be difficult to understand the emotions and behavior of others, especially when their reactions are very different from our own. It is helpful to gather information that might help you see and feel things from their perspective. Would you be so quick to judge your colleague’s meltdown if you know that he had just received a health diagnosis? Often, we don’t have the inside information, but it helps to imagine the various possibilities that may account for others’ emotions. This is not mind-reading. We are not making assumptions–just trying to open up our minds to factors that we may not be able to see.
  • Watch for micro-expressions. To accurately tune into what another person is feeling, it is helpful to watch their face. First, your attention to their face helps your brain engage your mirror neurons. Mirror neurons help us feel what other people are feeling. Secondly, tiny movements, such as an eyebrow twitches or a shifted eye glance, can give you information about how they are processing a conversation.


  •  Apply the Premack Principle Do the things you don’t like doing first. Follow them with either fun rewards or tasks that you enjoy doing. Using this principle helps us to be productive throughout the day and reduces the time spent in the emotional dread of whatever we don’t want to do. Pay attention to how long the disliked task takes so that you can use it for positive future reference. If it takes only 30 minutes, remind yourself of that the next time. If it takes a long time, focus on how you will feel when it’s accomplished AND see if there is a way to avoid it being as painful in the future.
  • Talk yourself through it. You don’t need to feel like doing something to accomplish it. Most people focus on the emotional aspect of motivation. If you know that the task is linked to your values or your long-term goals, talk yourself through it. “I know you don’t want to do this, Jim. I know it is tedious and annoying. But you know it’s important, and you can do it.”