6 Secrets Successful People Know About Emotional Competence


Words spoken cannot be unsaid. A few years ago I was in a meeting with a cross-functional leadership team and my boss (who seemed successful); and I had just announced a new plan that would drastically change our customer approach. The idea was not only shot down, but I was belittled in front of the team. The boss even asked if I had “been living under a rock the past 6 months?”. Of course I handled it wrong, I felt the shame first and then the anger rise, and rise until I was going to put my boss in his place. At the last second, I remembered a book about emotional intelligence (Daniel Goleman’s) that I had just finished and realized I better not say what was about to be said. So I held my tongue and kept quiet.

The situation was handled wrong though. If I was more emotionally competent I would not have just kept quiet but I would have done a better job of reading the entire situation, understanding my emotions and the emotions of others, and knowing what words to speak and questions to ask in order to move the agenda forward. At that moment the situation was handled wrong because of a lack of emotional competence. Eventually with the effective use of one-on-one discussions the new approach was approved by my manager. Yet, I never trusted him again after the words he spoke, since once words are spoken, they can never be unsaid.

Success, Learning from Others, and Emotional Competence 

We all want success. How we define success might be different, but we all want it. (Jeff Haden has a great article about how we define success) It could be based on financial & professional goals, relationship goals, skill based goals, travel goals, or health goals. Whatever success you are searching for, there are actions that you can take to help you get there. Sometimes it is important to follow the lead of those who have been successful before us. Learning from others helps us shorten our time from where we are to the success we are pursuing. Finding joy in the journey is key to happiness. No matter what else is surrounding you, if you are happy you are successful. For me, success and true happiness is found from understanding who I am, pursuing my talents, building strong relationships and helping others.

One main skill that successful people have is the ability to understand and work well with their own emotions and the emotions of others. This is often called emotional intelligence. Last week I learned the difference between Emotional Intelligence and Emotional Competence (thanks LaRae Quy). Competence includes action; intelligence is theoretical.

These actions separate the emotionally competent from everyone else:

Emotionally Competent People Do These 6 Things: 

1. They Open Lines of Communication

“To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others.” – Tony Robbins

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” – George Bernard Shaw

2. They Thrive on Feedback

“I think a lot of times if you get feedback that is critical, your emotions might flare up and you might reject it. You need to be able to dial it back, calm down and listen to what they’re saying, because maybe they’re right.” – Laura Brown

“Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” Ken Blanchard

3. They Are People Centered

“A purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved.” – Arianna Huffington

“If you make a person feel smart and insightful, that person will enjoy your company more.” – Gretchen Rubin

4. They Only Speak When Adding Value

“Blessed is the man who, having nothing to say, abstains from giving us wordy evidence of the fact.” – George Eliot 

“Remember not only to say the right thing in the right place, but far more difficult still, to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.” – Benjamin Franklin

5. They Recognize and Respond to Emotions

“Our feelings are not there to be cast out or conquered. They’re there to be engaged and expressed with imagination and intelligence.” – T.K. Coleman

“An emotion does not cause pain. Resistance or suppression of emotion causes pain.” – Frederick Dodson

6. Use Smart &  Effective Body Language

“In short, our body language, which is often based on prejudices, shapes the body language of the people we’re interacting with.” – Amy Cuddy

“Sure, your personality and your emotional state will impact your confidence levels, but it’s obvious that assuming better body language, taking up space, and expanding your physical presence can play an important role as well.” – James Clear

In order to do those 6 things well you need 4 foundational skills:

Dr. Travis Bradberry teaches that emotional intelligence has 4 specific skills:

  1. Self-awareness (Personal Competence)
  2. Self-management (Personal Competence)
  3. Social-awareness (Social Competence)
  4. Relationship-management (Social Competence) 

These skills can be learned. As we focus on recognizing and labeling our own emotions we then can begin to focus on others. The more we focus our thoughts and actions on others, the more we are able to develop our own emotional competence. The purpose of success is to create and find (recognize) happiness along our journey. The more people we can help become successful, the more we will find our own personal success.

“Emotional self-control…delaying gratification and stifling impulsiveness- underlies accomplishment of every sort.”- Daniel Goleman

What a Former FBI Agent Just Taught Me About Confidence

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Recently I was lucky enough to have a Skype video call with LaRae Quy and she dropped huge amounts of knowledge. I would like to share the secrets I learned:

Confidence is not just faking it until you make it. LaRae Quy spent 24 years of her life in extremely tough situations. As an FBI counter intelligence and undercover officer she had her fair share of “defining” moments where the outcome could mean life or death. In these types of situations LaRae says:

“There is no room for faking it until you make it. You must summon the confidence from within first, and act on that confidence.”

In order to gain confidence you must be able to overcome obstacles. Some people gain confidence from success. That is great. What happens if you have never been successful in even a remotely similar situation though?

When LaRae was training at Quantico one of the requirements was to jump into a pool while holding an M-16 and then resurface and swim to the other side. The problem was, LaRae, growing up on a cattle ranch in Wyoming, never learned to swim. Even right before the exercise, she still couldn’t actually swim. But she understood that failure was not an option, she knew she had to do it and summoned the confidence to jump. Then she jumped. She is still here and believes that action is the proof of confidence. When you push your limits, your limits expand. You don’t fake courage. You take action.

LaRae Quy likes to use the term “Emotional Competence” instead of Emotional Intelligence. While they might seem one-and-the-same, the difference made perfect sense to me. Competence is a more relevant term than intelligence. I know a lot of intelligent people who are not competent. Competence is about action, while intelligence is about knowledge. This idea of competence over intelligence also manifests itself in a quote she told me during our video call:

“Theories are nice, evidence is better. Our lives are our evidence”

Competence leads to confidence. According this FBI Agent “Emotional Competence’” has 2 Main components: 

  1. Being Able to Identify The Feeling
  2. Regulating Your Feelings & The Resulting Actions

One of the main weaknesses we have when it comes to emotional competence is our vocabulary. When we discuss our feelings we are “ just fine” or “good”. This is weak and not descriptive. Being able to effectively identify and describe your emotion allows you to take the next steps in order to process and determine correct action. We need to be able to understand if we are angry, frightened, frustrated, jealous, concerned, worried, scared, or happy. Once we know what we are feeling we can then begin to understand why.

LaRae taught me that in order to be able to control (regulate) your actions and feelings there is a 5-step process:

  1. Quiet Your Mind
  2. Explore: Ask the Hard Questions
  3. Determine: Is This (Feeling/Idea/Perception) True?
  4. Decide What Needs to Be Done
  5. Take Action. Dare Yourself. Be Aggressive.

1. Quiet Your Mind – some people meditate. Some people exercise. Some people are religious. Whatever you do, make sure you have space and time to think about your thoughts. When your mind can focus and you are not being bombarded by outside noise, your ability to reflect and process information greatly increases.

2. Explore – this is where you ask what does this feeling do? Is it good for me? Is it self-limiting or is it helpful? Where does this feeling come from? Is it from my parents, my childhood, teachers, or friends and coaches? How did I get it? Why do I have it? Trace the origins. This is where all those questions must be answered.

3. Find Truth – is the feeling with its origin and meaning true? Does the feeling portray reality or am I making it up?

4. Decide What Needs to Be Done – what action if taken will move me closer to my desired outcomes? What action can I take? Where is my influence? Decide what you want to feel, what you want to accomplish and then focus on the actions that will get you there. By determining the best possible course of action, following through becomes easier.

5. Take Action – We need to challenge ourselves to proceed. All fear can be killed with action. Dare yourself to push your boundaries. Most limits are self-inflicted and can be broken. Break through those limits. Be aggressive with your actions and take control of your personal limitations.

The lack of confidence is present at all levels. Executive leaders feel unsure about their abilities just as much as junior analysts. It is rampant for both men and women, often though it is just expressed differently. Feeling afraid or questioning your abilities is ok as long as you do not dwell on the feeling and start believing it as true. Feel the feeling. Label the feeling. Then apply LaRae’s 5-steps to understand, question, and take corrective action. If you follow this process, you will be able to gain true confidence and thereby take more action in the future.

More about LaRae: LaRae Quy was an FBI undercover and counterintelligence agent for 24 years. She exposed foreign spies and recruited them to work for the U.S. Government. As an FBI agent, she developed the mental toughness to survive in environments of risk, uncertainty, and deception. LaRae is the author of “Secrets Of A Strong Mind” and “Mental Toughness for Women Leaders: 52 Tips To Recognize and Utilize Your Greatest Strengths.”

More posts by Mareo can be found Here