Episode 38: Understanding Emotional Intelligence
with Kedren Crosby

Emotions are information that help us learn something about ourselves – what is going on inside of us, and what we feel really matters. ‘Emotional Intelligence’ is thrown around a lot but few people know what it means or why it really matters in the workplace.

About our guest

Connect with Kedren via
LinkedIn,  Twitter,  Instagram,  
YouTube,  the Behaviorist podcast,
or at  Work Wisdom LLC

Additional Resources:
Emotional Intelligence by D. Coleman
The EQ Edge
Primal Leadership by D. Goleman, R. Boyatzis, & A. McKee
Resonant Leadership by  R. Boyatzis,
& A. McKee

Kedren holds a Master's degree in Policy Science from The University of Maryland Baltimore County, graduate-level certificates in Nonprofit Studies from The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Conflict Resolution at Notre Dame, and has completed graduate coursework in Organizational Behavior at Harvard University.  Kedren is also a certified practitioner of Emotional Intelligence and formerly served as adjunct graduate school faculty at Elizabethtown College.

Kedren has written and presented extensively on burnout, work-life integration, authentic leadership, organizational culture, organizational conflict management, and communication best practices.

Professionally, her 25 years of experience in all three sectors (for-profit, non-profit, government) fuel both her empathy and her ability to see quickly into your specific scenario. Her practice is rooted in authenticity, appreciative inquiry, emotional intelligence, positive organizational behavior, and positive psychology.

Episode transcript

Sara: Kedren, welcome to the Growing as Grown-Ups podcast, I'm so glad it has worked out for us to finally get you on the show. I'm excited to get to know you, get to hear more about the work that you do, and the expertise you bring, so thank you so much for giving your time to a random stranger who reached out to you and said, "Come be on my podcast!"

 Kedren: I can tell it's already future friends, so, yeah. It's perfect.  

Sara: Well, I'd love for you to tell us just a little bit about yourself and your work. You know, the stuff that's interesting beyond the credentials that you have, just how you ended up where you are, the passions that you have. What would help our audience get to know you a little bit?  

Kedren: Well, so I've been doing this sort of work focusing on coaching, long before we called it coaching", since about 1996 and so I ended up in this work. Originally, I was studying policy science, which is how do we use economics, sociology, and statistics to make the world a better place? And I ended up leading several organizations and realized that wasn't actually what made teams high-performing. What made teams really high performing was culture, was emotional intelligence, connection, meaning, inspiration and so continued to go back to school several times in order to grow my tools so that I could help my clients become the best version of themselves. So I've always really focused on what we consider world-changers, so people who are doing important work, going upstream to make the world a better place and trying to give them evidence-based tools and skills so they can have even greater performance. So that's a little bit about me. I think you've probably already shared my bio, so they don't need to know those details, but I just find a lot of joy in being helpful to people and then seeing their fruit multiply as a result of our work together.  

Sara: Hmm. I love that. I just love -- I was telling you before we hit record, like how fun it is to find other people with the same passion of, like, work is not just work. Work is an opportunity for us to improve ourselves and improve the world beyond just kind of the checklist of "I'm showing up, I'm getting a paycheck, I'm producing widgets, I'm selling things", right, and so I just love that you, you're in that space. I found you through your podcast, The Behaviorist, which is really fun. So another thing I'd recommend are people listen to you to learn more about the work that you're doing. But the reason I wanted to have you on is that one of the things that you mentioned a second ago and that you really have devoted a lot of your time and professional effort to is this idea of "emotional intelligence" and it's a phrase that I hear a lot, I hear it a lot when people are labeled as "not emotionally intelligent", I get a lot of coaching clients sent to me with just the description of "they need to be better with their emotional intelligence," which can mean a lot of things and so, let me just throw that question to you. What is emotional intelligence? How do you explain it to people of what it is and maybe what it's not, what role it plays?  

Kedren: Well, it's probably best to start with a tiny bit of history. So Dr. Wechsler was the man who invented the IQ, and so this was the measurement of cognitive intelligence. What can we remember? What can we regurgitate? How much information can we hold up there? He always knew that there was a type of intelligence that he was not able to measure, and that is called -- he called it "affective intelligence", A-affective emotions. So it was it was many, many years after he was stumped by that quandary of not being able to measure it until the EQ was created. So emotional intelligence is really measuring things that are different than cognitive intelligence and, in short, emotional intelligence is really four things. So the first part of emotional intelligence is how we perceive and express ourselves. Obviously, very important in the workplace, probably some of those people who are being sent to you. It's because they don't know how to perceive or express themselves. The second part has to do with how we build and maintain interpersonal relationships; also very important in the workplace. The third part really has to do with how we cope with stress, which is why we're very much focused on burnout, and the fourth part of the definition of emotional intelligence is really how we read emotional data. How we see emotional content in any problem that we're trying to solve or a decision that we're trying to make, and then we weave that in a constructive way into our decision-making or our problem-solving and we don't allow the emotional content to hijack the decision-making, but we allow it to improve our results. So those are the four things that really, when we're talking about emotional intelligence, perceive and express ourselves, build a maintain interpersonal relationships, cope with stress, and then weave emotional data into how we solve problems or make decisions.  

Sara: So what does it look like when someone has a high EQ, somebody who's really emotionally healthy, what does that look like? Is that a question that has an answer to it?  

Kedren: Mm-hmm. Yeah, that is an excellent question. I'm not sure I've been asked it just like that. So I really love the way you're framing that in such an appreciative way. What it looks like is that person has awareness of what they're feeling in that moment. They might even have the language to name what that feeling is that they're feeling. They hopefully also have the impulse control, the self-regulation to tap the brakes and not act on that feeling. They recognize that they are not their feelings and that the horse and the rider as Freud would talk about, you know, they can control how they're going to behave, but they use that information to guide better outcomes. So an emotionally intelligent person shows up very differently in every situation, but I think those are the elements that they're aware. They have the knowledge, they have the awareness of themselves, they understand how they are emotionally contagious, they're managing themselves to resonate on their teams and make better decisions and have better outcomes.  

Sara: So, I love the -- just the phrase that you use that "people are not their emotions", and I think, you know, that's something that I talk with people about is like emotions are real, you have them. They can be really strong in either direction and there's no good or bad associated with the emotion, it's whether or not you take ownership of that emotion -- if you have emotions or if your emotions have you. So I think that's a, you know, that phrase is a good one to hang on to, I think, when people are trying to wrestle through this.  

Kedren: Yeah. I think -- I love that you do that with your clients. We're always thinking about, "I am not my feeling", you know, it's information. So I like the idea of, like, seeing that as a gold mine and digging down in there and saying, "I'm curious, what are you bringing me and how can I use you?" but recognizing that feelings or emotions are like the weather and they come and they go and they pass and we can invite them in and, you know, get curious about them, but they don't have to control us.  

Sara: Yeah. Oh, that's beautiful. I love it. So have you found that there's any relationship between age, gender, personality type, like, what are the factors that lead into somebody's level of emotional intelligence?  

Kedren: Mm-hmm. Well, it's not really related to personality. It can be related to socialization, so somewhat how you've been nurtured. You might have been raised to have breadth of emotional vocabulary or to be reflective in a way to be emotionally aware, but if you control for lots of circumstances like that, we don't really -- we can't say, "Oh, women are more emotionally intelligent". They maybe have been sometimes socialized to pay more attention to emotions and how they impact outcome. We do tend to work quite a bit with men of a certain age. We're not socialized to give much attention to emotions, and so we spend quite a bit of our work with engineers or physicians. We have "feelings wheels" pillows in every coaching room in our office to help them learn, to identify feelings, to grow their vocabulary around feelings, to learn how to name it, analyze it for usefulness and applicability. So, but no, I would say it's not. It's -- we can't really attribute it to personality, and it's all developable. So IQ is fixed. Personality is fairly fixed from about five years old, but emotional intelligence is never fixed. So we grow in knowledge, then we grow in awareness and let that sort of seep into our being and then we let it guide our behavior. Now that it's conscious, we can say, "Oh, I always went left here, but now that I know the thing, I'm going to go right and see if I get a different result." So it's very optimistic. It's hopeful because it's not fixed, and that's one of the reasons why we think it's such a useful tool for people.  

Sara: That's great. So let's just go down that path for a second, then if somebody hearing your description of what emotional intelligence is recognizes in themselves, or maybe they've gotten some feedback from a boss or a friend that says "you're not so great at this," what kinds of things can people do to develop their emotional intelligence?  

Kedren: Many things are beginning with knowledge. So learning what emotional intelligence is, I think it's very helpful to go beyond that definition into the -- there are 15 concrete, measurable skills. So learning what those 15 skills are assertiveness, you know, emotional expression, interpersonal relationships, self-regulation, impulse control, things like that. So learning what emotional intelligence is and then starting to get curious about their own baseline. "So where am I at on these 15 skills?" Ideally, you would have used the psychometric measurement, the EQ, and have a valid, reliable measurement, but you might have a wife or a boss or a coworker who can give you a lot of insight too. So, you know, using them is important and doing a bit of a 360 on yourself, if you can, to start gathering up, "Ok, where do I have superpowers? Where am I kind of amazing, and where do I have some growing edges?" That also can be really helpful. So then once you've understood your status quo, "where-am-I-at" -- my baseline -- then starting to create a learning curriculum for yourself. So thinking about, you know, "If I, in fact, want to become more assertive or I want to grow in my interpersonal relationships, what new mindsets or behaviors or habits or skills do I need to drop into my toolbox so I become this envisioned more emotionally intelligent version of myself?" So I think starting with knowledge -- "what is emotional intelligence?" -- moving to a status quo, sort of "where am I at now?" Envisioning this future version of yourself and then that casting into, "What's my learning curriculum here?" At Work Wisdom, we use a lot of work by Richard Boyatzis, helping people change, intentional change theory, and so essentially, we believe that someone needs to vision a future better version of themselves, come back to the present, take a realistic inventory of who I am now, then start creating this learning agenda -- learning curriculum -- then experiment with all of those new ways of being and build relationships around them so they have a support system to experiment with those new ways of being. That's essentially intentional change theory, so that's the method that we believe in.  

Sara: So good.  

Kedren: I know. He's fantastic.  

Sara: Oh, there's so many other things running through my head, but I'm going to stay on track. So, is there a resource that you would recommend, that I did not tell you this in advance to come prepared, but if someone wants to learn the 15 skills of emotional intelligence, where do they even start?  

Kedren: Mm-hmm. Well, you know, I began by reading Daniel Goleman's book Emotional Intelligence. I think that was 19 -- Oh, I want to say 1985. I can't remember what year that book came out.  

Sara: We can link to all this stuff, so.  

Kedren: So yeah. Yeah, I think that is a fantastic resource. Then, I think, the second most practical thing they can do is pick up the HBR compendium of the best articles that they've published around emotional intelligence. So yes, there are some articles in there by Daniel Goleman, but really great ones by Andy McKee and lots of other people. I think that's probably the best start if they want to learn about the 15 concrete measurable skills. There's a book called The EQ Edge that really takes you through each of the 15 skills. It's really a text book that goes along with the..I Have a Certification in Emotional Intelligence, the psychometric tool… It really does go deep into what does it look like when it's practiced well, you know, these are some of the tools to go deeper into each of the 15 skills.  

Sara: Yeah, that's great because for our listeners, what the feedback I get from people is, we have some people that want the, like, highlight version and some people love the like going deep, reading the textbook, studying it and so to have a range of that, I think, is great.  

Kedren: You know and -- you know, one more thing, Sara, I want to add to that, since you're really focused on leadership, there are some books about emotionally intelligent leadership that are fantastic resources. So Primal Leadership by Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis and also Resonant Leadership is about emotional intelligence, emotionally intelligent leadership, how-to, learn-how-to resonate. So how to use your emotions to build positive contagion so that the culture really improves. Those are two more books I would say put on your list.  

Sara: Love it. Oh my gosh, my reading list is just growing, so this is great. So let's go down this path a little more about emotional intelligence in the workplace and leadership and why is it something that even matters at work? It feels like it's more of a personal thing, it's more of a soft skills, why is that something that's important talking about in the context of work?  

Kedren: So many reasons. One is just empirically, emotional intelligence is attributable to between 60-85% of your success in the workplace, depending on what research you read. So that's one reason it's wildly correlated with success in the workplace. Secondly, the more power an individual has in the workplace, the more contagious they are and I'm sure that you have seen this in your work, and I'm sure all of your listeners have heard it too, but, you know, someone with high power in the workplace, if they walk down the hallway and they're in a terrible mood and they're very grumpy, all of a sudden everyone's infected, right?  

Sara: Right.  

Kedren: Conversely, if someone knows how to manage those emotions and they walk down the hallway and they're bringing this positive best version of themselves, there's resonance and there's joy and there's more meaning and there's more awareness and so that impacts the whole system. So I think that's one reason why leaders really need to be more aware, maybe than even non-leaders about emotional intelligence. The third factor has really been exacerbated by the great resignation. So as we've been seeing, the reason why people are leaving the workplace has to do with two primary factors. There was a McKinsey Report that came out in September that was pretty mind-blowing. The first reason why people are saying that they are leaving their jobs is because they don't feel valued by the organization, the second is they don't feel valued by their manager, and the third reason they're leaving their jobs is because they don't have a sense of belonging in the workplace and so all of that has everything to do with emotional intelligence, so.  

Sara: Which is so contrary to what people tend to think of "they're not getting paid enough. They don't have the right benefits." It really is.  

Kedren: Yeah. Not anymore.  

Sara: Less tangible things.  

Kedren: Mm-hmm. Yeah.  

Sara: So I feel like there's this interesting paradox, and maybe that's not the right word, of being aware of this emotional contagion and the impact that I can have on the culture in the environment in which I am showing up in, and also being authentic, right? Because I've worked with several companies that have what I call like the Disney World culture, where you have to come in and you have to put this smile on your face and you have to be OK and it's not OK to not be OK. Because we have to be happy and we have to bring happiness to the workplace, but especially with everything going on in the world right now, a lot of people are not OK.  

Kedren: Yeah.  

Sara: And so how do you -- how does that work?  

Kedren: I love that you're asking that. So Work Wisdom, we're positive organizational behaviorists, so we're interested in positivity. We're also interested in toxic positivity. When is it really damaging, that you're shining it on and you're inauthentic? So what we practice is authentic positivity. So if, in fact, you're experiencing grief or burnout, anxiety, depression, any of those things, we want you to take care of yourself and we want you to own what you're experiencing, but as much as possible, be bringing that best version of yourself to the workplace. So just as if there was some physical ailment, you would take care of that, you would see a doctor, you would heal. We believe in doing that with your emotional health as well. So seeing a therapist, seeing a grief counselor, making time in even in the culture of the organization to honor mental health so that people are in fact authentically flourishing, not shining it on, not toxic positivity at all, and that means that there are times where people need to take some breaks and there may be some sabbaticals and there may be some time off, but honoring that. You know, one thing I've been really fascinated and doing a lot of work on right now is burnout is so often seen as a deficiency of self-care, like, you're not getting enough massages or you're not getting enough, you know, something like that.    

But I really think as leaders, we need to start reframing it as an organizational issue. So burnout, clinical burnout, you know, when we're thinking about clinical burnout, what does it mean for us as a leaders to start caring for the whole person? So the three elements of burnout, of course, are the emotional exhaustion, cynicism, and the lack of professional efficacy. So as leaders, as the caretakers of our culture, can we think about what we would need to bake in to our mindsets and our behaviors so that we were caring for the emotional wellbeing that we were caring about enthusiasm and mitigating the cynicism, and we were building that professional efficacy so that when someone put effort in, they could see the results that were commensurate, and they would feel that kind of joy that that goes along with that agency. That was a rambling.  

Sara: Yeah, I know, but like it paints a picture of what I would love the workplace to be, right? This envisioning the future kind of thing, but I have worked in organizations where I was working under leaders that did not have that mentality. It was a "You're here to show up and do your job. I don't really care if you're happy. Get it done," and so if somebody you know, obviously, for the people that are listening to this who have the influence to shape the culture, do that, right? Care for your people in their mental health. What about the people who don't have that scope of influence, who are working in an environment that doesn't take care of their mental health? Are there things they can do or is there a point where you say, "This environment is not healthy for me and I need to remove myself"?  

Kedren: Mm-hmm. Yeah, I think the answer is "yes and", you know that if we think about where you are today, you voted with your feet and you decided to move away from that environment that didn't value you, where you didn't feel like you could be a whole person, and I think more and more we're seeing that. So I think it is wise for leaders to take the long view and take care of their people. If you are an individual who is in a situation where you have a leader who isn't taking care of you, I think then it's very much about boundaries and understanding how to behave if you really value yourself. Always thinking about in burnout, very often we talk about self-compassion. I think it's more than self-compassion, it's what would I do if I really valued myself? What would I do if I absolutely loved myself, and then doing that, and it may be staying in that job for a while and making a plan, it may be staying in that job for a very long time, but having incredibly healthy boundaries so you're taking care of yourself?  

Sara: Yeah, I think that's really good and I think, you know, some people that I work with say, "Not only am I going to do that for my own good, I want to also try to help shape the culture. I want to be there for other people," and I think some people, they don't have the strength to do that in a good way, and it can lead to some, really detrimental outcomes. So what do you -- I've worked with somebody once who was not emotionally intelligent, who was kind of a -- he kept referencing celebrity CEOs and people -- well, I won't say names, I guess -- but the celebrity CEOs who are kind of known for being jerks, who are known for being hard to be around, but who are super successful, and his argument was: "They don't sit around talking about touchy-feely things, and they're super successful and rich and famous. I want to be like them," and so in those extreme cases, is there a way to sell somebody on why it matters to think about a person's emotions, their mental health, creating positive work cultures instead of just focusing on the bottom line?  

Kedren: Mm-hmm. Well, I think, you know, sometimes when we look at those seemingly eccentric, you know, celebrity CEOs that don't seem emotionally intelligent, they might be. We don't really know what's going on there. So they might just have incredible hubris, which makes them annoying, but they might be emotionally intelligent. It's hard to say, but it's really -- so much of it comes down to "Are you taking the short view or the long view for your company?" and this is true with culture-shaping. This is true with socially responsible business practices. "Are we short-viewing? Are we thinking about this quarter? Are we thinking about next quarter? Are we thinking about next year? Are we like Patagonia thinking one hundred years from now? And are we thinking about not just, you know, who is going to be on our team in eight months, but who's going to be shepherding this company in 20 years?" So I think that as much as we can take the long view for our companies, our communities, our planet where we're wise to do that and I think that not only does that ultimately give us better results, bottom line, but triple bottom line -- people, planet, and profit. But it also probably gives us more joy as an individual. So when people ask you that or people ask me that, I always ask, "Well, what's the goal? What's the goal? Is the goal about Q4 and the financial bottom line? Or is the goal about 2030?" and so I think that changes our perspective about what is important.  

Sara: That is great advice, and it's hard to imagine how you can think about the long view without thinking about the people in the ripple effect that your behavior has today. So I hope, I hope people take that advice to heart and think about that and in, you know, I just love what you said a while back about this idea of kind of understanding your baseline, getting the feedback, start watching yourself to see "How am I showing up in this way? What impacts -- ?" One thing I ask people who are struggling with this idea is to go ask other people, "What impact does this behavior have on you?" Right, if I am always interrupting you in a meeting because I'm impatient, what impact does that have on you? What impact do you see that has on other people, and start thinking about that ripple effect of impact, so an idea of --  

Kedren: Sara, that's a great question. I hope you don't mind that I'm going to borrow that.  

Sara: I'll let you use it.  

Kedren: But it comes down to this sort of the space between two people. I know the Japanese have a word for it -- we don't yet, right? -- but, you know, that really so much of our relationships is this invisible space between us. So your question of how does this impact you when I'm constantly interrupting you? Is it diminishing this, the quality of the space between you and me, that interpersonal relationship? Yeah, I love your question and I'll be borrowing it.

Sara: You're welcome. Kedren, as we wrap up, what's going on in your world, in the Work Wisdom world, that you are excited about that you would love to tell our listeners?  

Kedren: Well, the -- probably -- there are a couple of things. You know, we just hired someone on our team whose background is sports psychology. So that's new for us and that's interesting. We're focusing quite a bit on burnout and just as I was saying, not burnout as a deficiency of self-care, but as a culture issue. How do we create flourishing cultures where we're mitigating burnout? Probably the most exciting thing is our new book that we're working on right now called Relate, so this will be the third book on Work Wisdom Press, which is all about how do we create healthy relationships in the workplace? How is that different than personal relationships? So that's really exciting. That's what we're probably most excited about right now.  

Sara: That's awesome. When does your book come out?  

Kedren: We have no idea.  

Sara: Ok. Work in progress.  

Kedren: Work in progress. Yeah, I think about a year ago, we thought we were close to being finished and then we were not. So, you know, these things, they're born when they're ready to be born.  

Sara: Yeah. Well, keep us posted. We'll definitely share it with our listeners when it comes out and send people your way. So where do people find you? Where do they learn more about the work that you have going on?  

Kedren: Probably our website is the best place. That's, but we have quite a following on Instagram and our YouTube channel. We have a lot of animated shorts that we do about positive organizational behavior. So, yeah, probably the Instagram or YouTube or the website.  

Sara: Now are you @workwisdom on Instagram?  

Kedren: Yes, and on YouTube. Yeah.  

Sara: OK. Yeah, we'll send everybody those links and we love to help connect you with our listeners and our listeners with the resources that they are interested in, so that'll be great. I'm going to go check out a bunch of that and my reading list has just gotten a lot longer, so.  

Kedren: A lot under your stocking this year. Yeah.  

Sara: I know. I know. Well, thank you so much for being generous with your time. I know you're a very busy woman and you're doing really great work, so thank you for coming to the Growing as Grown-Ups world and sharing this, and we will definitely stay in touch. So let us know about your book and other things you have going on.  

Kedren: Thank you so much, Sara. It was really a joy to be with you and learn about what you're doing too, so good luck to you.  

Sara: Oh, thank you so much.