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Emotional Intelligence - Book summary

Today, there’s extensive research to suggest that emotional intelligence is a much better predictor of success than academic intelligence. This book by Daniel Goleman was one of the first books to comprehensively review the research, insights and implications of emotional intelligence. In this free Emotional Intelligence summary, we’ll briefly outline the biology and neurology behind emotions, and how to develop emotional intelligence for better outcomes.

Emotions and the Human Brain

Emotions are basically strong impulses that drive us to take action. They’re nature’s way to guide our actions, primarily to help us survive. Each emotion primes us for a different type of action. For example, anger increases our heart-rate and blood circulation to unlock energy so we can confront an enemy. Surprise causes our eyes to widen so we can take in more of our surroundings to figure out what’s happening. Love helps us to relax, cooperate and feel contented.

Our biological makeup comes from 50,000 generations of evolution. Yet our lifestyle has changed drastically in the last 5-10 generations alone. Our biological evolution hasn’t quite caught up with our new realities, and problems arise when our emotions are out of sync with the situation.

Basically, we have 2 minds. The emotional mind (limbic system) is intuitive and impulsive (with the amygdala as the emotional center). The rational mind (pre-frontal cortex or neocortex is thoughtful and analytical. Emotional hijacking happens when we act on impulse before the logical brain has had the chance to assess the situation and choose a response.

In our full 20-page Emotional Intelligence summary, we’ll elaborate more on:
• The architecture of the human brain, and how it evolved over millions of years;
• The relationship between our “emotional brain” and “thinking brain”, how signals are transmitted, when/how the emotional brain can hijack our rational brain, and what exactly happens during an emotional hijacking.

Typically, your rational thoughts and emotions work together. You need emotions for effective thought, e.g. to choose a life partner or to weigh your priorities. Yet, strong feelings can disrupt your cognitive ability, making it hard to think clearly. Emotional trauma can also impair learning and increase the risks of depression, alcoholism, drugs, crime etc.

Emotional Intelligence: What and Why

Emotional intelligence refers to your ability to exert self-control, regulate your moods, empathize with others, and motivate yourself to persist in face of setbacks.

Research suggests that IQ accounts for only 20% of our success in life. The remaining 80% comes from non-IQ factors, such as luck, social class and emotional intelligence. No matter how smart you are, you won’t do well if you can’t manage your emotional impulses.

Goleman did a comprehensive review of the theories and insights from numerous researchers and psychologists, and presented 5 components of emotional intelligence:

Emotional Intelligence summary - Components of E.I.

In his later books, these were re-organized these into 4 categories: self-awareness, social-awareness, self-management and relationship-management.  [You may also wish to check out Daniel Goleman’s book Primal Leadership, or Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradberry & Jean Greaves].

Here’s a brief overview of the 5 components.

Self-Awareness: Know your Emotions

This is about being aware of your emotions as they arise, instead of being swept away by them. When you can observe and identify the emotions as they arise, it shifts your mental activities from the amygdala to the neocortex, making the unconscious conscious.

Self-Regulation: Manage your Responses

We usually can’t control our emotions when they first surface. However, once we’re aware of them, we can manage our response to (i) determine how long those feelings last, and (ii) react in a way that’s appropriate for the situation. In our complete Emotional Intelligence summary, we take a closer look at the 3 common feelings that people struggle with—anger, anxiety and sadness—to understand each emotion and how to effectively manage or regulate them.

Self-Motivation: Channel your Emotions Productively

This is about managing your impulses so they support your goals, not hinder them. It includes the ability to delay gratification, stay motivated, and channel your feelings productively. In our complete Emotional Intelligence summary, we’ll share more scientific background on (i) the link between feelings and productivity, (ii) how optimism (attributing failure to specific reasons within your control) positively affects performance, and (iii) how to get in “flow” (a peak performance state).

Empathy + Relationship Management: Recognize Others’ Emotions

Relationship management is ultimately about managing others’ emotions. To do that, you must first develop empathy, i.e. recognize others’ feelings and be attuned to their needs and wants.

Emotional Intelligence Applications & Implications

The rest of the book zooms in on the role of emotional intelligence in various aspects of our lives. Daniel Goleman focuses especially on the role of emotions in the family, since emotional literacy directly affects marriages and children’s development, with significant long-term implications for society. There’s simply too much to be covered here, so we’ll outline just a few key ideas. Do get our full 20-page summary for the remaining details, actionable tips and insights.

Emotional Intelligence summary - Develop Emotional Literacy

Emotional Intelligence in the Real World

Emotional Intelligence in Marriage

Over the generations, there’s been a decline in social pressures for couples to stay married, and divorce rates have been on the rise. Emotional intelligence is now more crucial than ever to hold a marriage together. Daniel Goleman provides a detailed review of John Gottman’s findings on the dynamics in relationships, and how these tie in with the earlier insights on our emotional-neural responses.

Get our full Emotional Intelligence summary for details on:
• Gender differences in relationship-management;
• Warning signs to look out for in a marriage;
• How emotional hijacking and “flooding” can doom a relationship; and
• Specific tips to improve your marriage and relationship.

You might also enjoy our summary for The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman.

Emotional Intelligence at the Workplace

Emotional literacy affects how we relate to others, manage conflict, and manage our emotional states and productivity. Specifically, managers need emotional intelligence to (i) give effective feedback, (ii) harness diversity at the workplace, and (ii) build effective teams.

Emotional Intelligence in Health and Medicine

The medical definition of a disease is very different from a patient’s experience of the disease. There’s now strong evidence that patients’ emotional states can affect their disease progression and recovery. Get our complete book summary for (i) research findings on the link between emotions, disease, and recovery, (ii) why/how emotions can affect our physical outcomes and (iii) how to address patients’ psychological needs along with their medical needs for optimal results.

Windows of Opportunity for Change

The Role of Family

Unlike the neocortex, the amygdala is almost fully-formed at birth. So, infants start to accumulate emotional memories and form their emotional outlook even before they have the language/logic to make sense of their experiences. The neural patterns formed in childhood get reinforced over time, making them harder to change

Bullying, drug/alcohol abuse, eating disorders, depression, unwanted pregnancies, etc. are all associated with a lack of emotional awareness and emotional-management skills. Left unaddressed, these emotional deficiencies tend to get amplified into violent crimes and psychological dysfunctions by adulthood.

In our full Emotional Intelligence summary, we’ll dive into (i) good and bad parenting styles, (ii) the reasons behind “problematic behavior” in children, and (iii) opportunities to develop emotional health and literacy in children/teens.

Conquering your Temperaments

Our genetic makeup affects our natural temperaments or predispositions. You may be more timid or bold, depending on how easily your neural circuits are triggered by uncertainty. You may also be more upbeat or melancholy depending onw whether your left or right frontal lobes are more active. Our innate predispositions  stay with us for life, but they can be magnified or dampened by our childhood experiences, especially  those during our critical formative periods.

Trauma and Emotional Relearning

The good news is, most emotional trauma can be healed, even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In our complete 20-page summary, we explain the neurology behind trauma, how patients can recover from trauma or reprogram their emotional circuits with the right interventions.

Getting the Most from Emotional Intelligence

If you’d like to zoom in on the ideas above and get more detailed tips and examples, do get our complete book summary bundle which includes an infographic, a 20-page text summary, and a 29-minute audio summary.Emotional Intelligence summary - book summary bundleThis book is packed with academic research, studies and examples on the human brain, psychology, and behavioral sciences. Daniel Goleman also includes appendices on emotions, the emotional mind, fear neural circuits, and the list of active ingredients for prevention programs. You can purchase the book here or check out more resources/details at

About the Author of Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ was written by Daniel Goleman—a psychologist, author, and science journalist. He was a visiting lecturer to Harvard, and wrote for The New York Times for 12 years, reporting on the brain and behavioral sciences. Besides authoring and co-authoring several books, he also co-founded the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, co-directed the Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations and sat on the board of the Mind & Life Institute.

Emotional Intelligence Quotes

“Emotional intelligence [is] a meta-ability, determining how well or how poorly people are able to use their other mental capacities.”

“Our emotions have a mind of their own, one which can hold views quite independently of our rational mind.”

“IQ and emotional intelligence are not opposing competencies, but rather separate ones.”

“Intellect cannot work at its best without emotional intelligence.”

“Empathy is a balm for anger.”

“The art of relationships is, in large part, skill in managing emotions in others.”

“Listening is a skill that keeps couples together.”

Click here to download the Emotional Intelligence summary & infographic


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