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“Become more Self-Aware”, Trish Martinelli of ‘The Difference’ and Parveen Panwar, Mr. Activated

Become more Self-Aware — Back to basics, keep a diary or a journal. Jot down a few thoughts at the end of every day or a few times a week and go back to those entries to see how you felt, how you managed your reactions to the emotions you felt, and whether those reactions got you […]

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Become more Self-Aware — Back to basics, keep a diary or a journal. Jot down a few thoughts at the end of every day or a few times a week and go back to those entries to see how you felt, how you managed your reactions to the emotions you felt, and whether those reactions got you to where you wanted to be regarding your interactions with other humans. This is where you can determine if you actually identified the right emotion. Perhaps you felt angry when a person got a recognition at work and you did not. Anger might have been the emotion that you could identify, but after reflection, maybe it was more rooted in feeling insecure in your abilities. Again, EQ really starts by knowing your own emotional self.


As a part of our series about “Emotional Intelligence, I had the pleasure of interviewingTrish Martinelli.

Trish Martinelli is the founder and CEO of The Difference, a consultancy tailored to close the gap between intent and organizational execution through culture, innovation, and design thinking. Trish is a founding member of the Board of Directors for the Federal Innovators Salon. With three decades experience shaking up the bureaucratic brain, Trish is an expert in working with multicultural and multi echelon leaders to go from “what is” to “what works and what wows”. Trish is a veteran of the United States Army, a decorated Intelligence Professional, a culture facilitator, and an innovative Design Thinker.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

Thanks so much, I am so glad to be here today.

I grew up in Colorado, and attended a High School (Jefferson County Open School) that didn’t have any grades, required classes, or attendance policy. I know that sounds unusual (maybe even outrageous), but the process of being informed of what the graduation requirements were and then being personally responsible for meeting the requirements prepared me for the real world. I feel that path, of self-reliance in support of a bigger goal, prepared me for adulthood in a way that memorizing dates in European history would not.

I loved the process at my school and growing up to becoming a lifelong learner. In terms of emotional intelligence (EQ), my experience at my high school forced me early on to be an imaginative problem solver and innovative lifelong learner and to dig deep into what are my personal strengths and areas for growth.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.

My mother inspired my early career. About two years before I graduated from High School, she had a very deliberate conversation with me and told me that she thought that I was brilliant and should pursue higher education. As a High School student who did not have a GPA, it meant a lot to have someone who knew me label me as “brilliant”. Our family was of meager means, and my mother tabled the idea of getting to higher education through military service, and that started my process of testing to see what jobs I would be eligible for in the military, and eventually being offered the opportunity to become a Russian translator in the Army.

In the most recent stages of my career, I have to a couple of my bosses Jim Kelly and Butch Kievenaar. These two leaders could not be more different except that they shared the same quality of allowing me into opportunities that could be classified as “stretch” opportunities based on my demonstrated potential vice my established performance record. At every turn, Jim and Butch’s confidence put wind in my sails to do things that were bigger and more impactful than I could have envisioned for myself.

They were hard on me in terms of having high expectations and performance requirements, but they were just as diligent in giving me recognition and rewards for a job well done. Jim put me in numerous opportunities that were so big that I would have been intimidated by them if I knew in advance how huge a deal that they were. Butch taught me the conventional way things were done, then protected me and encouraged me to do things in an unconventional way. Many times, behind closed doors, both Jim and Butch fielded complaints from others about how I had overstepped my role. They backed me by saying it was at their insistence that I spread my wings.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?

Hands down, Chris Armstrong of Veritas Culture. His support harkened back to my conversation with my mother when she told me that she thought I was brilliant. Chris told me the same thing, but in a way that forced me to think bigger and to see more for myself. There were certain skills that I felt confident I could claim (good at analysis, creative problem solver, great at making connections between people) and Chris spoke to me about how to look more broadly at my abilities and how I could apply them.

Chris asked me once, “Why haven’t you started your own LLC yet? You seem to be doing a lot of work with and for others for free…. What you are doing is so valuable, you should get paid.”

I was doing work for free! Working for free is the opposite of brilliant, so I had to do something different. I started my business, The Difference, the day after that conversation with Chris. Chris has continued to be my biggest champion and encourager. For everyone in business or in life, having a trusted ally when you are in the business world is worth its weight in gold.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

One of my biggest mistakes was failing to know the gravity of a briefing I gave once when I was working for Jim Kelly. Jim had asked me to give a brief at the Pentagon, and I naturally agreed. I prepared the brief, the slides, and for what Jim and I thought would be the most likely questions. I had a rehearsal with Jim and some other senior leaders in my organization. I showed up at the brief, delivered the discussion, and fielded questions all without a hitch.

My mistake was in not knowing how BIG a deal it was that I had given the brief instead of Jim himself or our agency’s Director. This was a forum in which someone at my junior level was never supposed to brief such senior leaders. It just was not done, and conventional wisdom was that people much more senior to me stepped up to that particular podium. Jim hadn’t warned me, and I did not know.

In the end, not knowing was probably a good thing. I did not stress over the brief, I slept well the night before, and I felt very confident going into the forum.

It was not until months later that I learned what a huge leap of faith both from Jim and our Director that it was to allow me to deliver the brief. I am not exaggerating when I say the future of the organization hung on that brief, and it was entrusted to me.

I would never advise anyone to be uninformed about the seriousness of a setting they are going into when such high stakes are involved. I made a mistake in not doing the research to understand my setting, and the level at which briefers are traditionally ranked. The lesson that I took away is that sometimes it is beneficial to allow someone you trust (Jim) to do the worrying for you so that you can just do the work.

The road to success is hard and requires tremendous dedication. This question is obviously a big one, but what advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your success?

Know yourself and seek self-improvement.

This was an adage from the Army when I was serving, and it sums up everything that has positioned me for success in my career and as I started my business. It is important to know your strengths and to play to them, but it’s almost MORE important to know your weaknesses and where your blind spots are.

My High School always said that they were building lifelong learners, and that is the second half of my advice. You are never done learning everything you need to know in order to be successful.

I read, I listen to podcasts, and I attend conferences and meetings all of which end up POURING information into my mind. Then I really enjoy making connections in a way that will help my business, or other endeavors.

Is there a particular book, film, or podcast that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

There was a movie in the 90s called “Sliding Doors” that made a huge impression on me. It was a romantic comedy in which Gwyneth Paltrow goes through the movie in essentially two different realities; one in which she discovers her boyfriend is cheating on her and one in which she does not. When she experiences the tragedy, she has a breakthrough and starts a whole new life culminating in the love she was destined to find. In the version in which she is in the dark about her boyfriend’s infidelity, she suffers and nearly dies at the end, only to meet her love interest from the other story line at the very end of the movie in what looks like the start of the romance.

The impact that made on me is to never let today’s struggle or heartbreak define what your life is in a permanent way. So many success stories are born out of failure in another point in time. Where you are does not define where you will end up, and the mistake you make today does not limit your success tomorrow.

I do not want to dismiss or downplay the hard times that we all go through. I have been crushed by life in the past, and I would assume that I will have failures in the future. I dare big, and I put my heart into my endeavors. Anyone who live life will get hurt. After you sit with that pain and process it, what you do in that moment really defines your success.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?

Without a doubt, a poem by Marianne Williamson that Nelson Mandela quoted in his first inauguration speech, “Our Deepest Fear”

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness
That most frightens us.

We ask ourselves
Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.

Your playing small
Does not serve the world.
There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking
So that other people won’t feel insecure around you.

We are all meant to shine,
As children do.
We were born to make manifest
The glory of God that is within us.

It’s not just in some of us;
It’s in everyone.

And as we let our own light shine,
We unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we’re liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others.

I have had the great privilege on more than one occasion to have women, and some men, tell me that by being my authentic self in the workplace and in other areas of my life, I have inspired them to be braver, bolder, and to speak out in matters that are important to them. I do not run around making proclamations like “you should act like me”… but my authenticity is what inspires them, and I really embrace Williamson’s reminder that “your playing small does not serve the world, there is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.”

At its core, that is the first element of Emotional Intelligence (EQ). Knowing and being your authentic self in all situations is the first step. The second step is knowing what is called for in the situation and with the people involved. When a person knows themselves, and knows what is required in each moment, they have a high EQ.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

I serve on the Board of Directors of the Federal Innovators Salon which is a government wide effort to support and accelerate innovation efforts for the benefit of the organizations we all serve. Knowing the complexity of Federal work, the difficulty of innovation from inside a bureaucracy, and how easily Innovators get discouraged the work of the Salon is critical to the Federal mission. It is a new project, and as we mature and grow, getting that work right so that it serves as a supporting function is critical.

OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. Can you briefly tell our readers a bit about why you are an authority about Emotional Intelligence?

I draw on my credentials as a Culture and Diversity and Belonging Facilitator to assess culture at that organizational level, and on my Design Thinking and Innovation expertise to see what is within both people and organizations. As I work with my clients, and as I serve the Federal Innovation space, workplace culture and personal emotional intelligence become vital information to determine what some in this field call AI, meaning Appreciative Inquiry. In that process, I have become keenly self-aware of my own strengths and short comings, and I am able to see the same in others.

For the benefit of our readers, can you help to define what Emotional Intelligence is?

I will define Emotional intelligence (EQ) as knowing and being your authentic self in all situations, and knowing what is called for in the interpersonal realm in all situations.

This is comprised of 3 sets of skills, your own emotional awareness, regulating or controlling your own emotions, and then taking these skills and harnessing your emotional self-awareness to the task at hand. This is most important in complex, human centered challenges, where the answer is ambiguous and variable. Finding the right amount of force needed to bolt car parts together requires very little Emotional Intelligence, whereas solving the traveling experience of a blind passenger at an airport requires high EQ.

I describe EQ in a way that you can see in a discussion of IQ; when someone is smart, they know things. When someone is intelligent, they know how those things relate to each other or fit together. When someone is wise, they know when and how to demonstrate their intelligence. Following the same paradigm, and Emotionally Intelligent person knows the timing of their input is just as important as the content of what they have to contribute.

How is Emotional Intelligence different from what we normally refer to as intelligence?

EQ is knowing people, yourself included while Intelligence is knowing things and how the things relate to one another. There is a difference between a student of say, soccer, in comparison to the manager of Real Madrid. The best coaches use their EQ to get the work done by knowing when a player needs to be encouraged rather than chastised. It is no different in our own lives when we decide in the moment if we will take one course of action over another.

Can you help explain a few reasons why Emotional Intelligence is such an important characteristic? Can you share a story or give some examples?

When I was in the Army, I had a Drill Sergeant at my technical school. He gave me a life lesson that sticks with me to this day. He retold a story of his 4-year-old son who spilled some water on the carpet at home. When his son came to him to tell him that he had spilled the water, my Drill Sergeant did not lose his temper and chastise the boy. Instead he reacted and said, “Oh goodness, son, what should we do now?” and the boy told him that he needed a towel (his dad helped him get one) and then they went to the spill and pressed the towel to the water, and took all the necessary steps to clean up the spill completely.

He then asked us all, why was what I did important? Some of us answered that it was important to get the water out of the carpet. Some of us answered that the boy needed help getting the towel. My Drill Sergeant answered, “No, you missed the point. It was important that I praised him for being honest and that I did not lose my temper. You see, carpets can be replaced, but he needs to trust me to help him with complicated things as he grows up. When you are 4 years old, spilled water feels like a complicated situation”.

In 2016, I was responsible for hiring a few critical Government civilian employees. One of the positions was proving very challenging to find the right candidate and we had to run two separate interview panels to find the right person. In the second panel, we had an internal candidate that I felt would be a very good fit for the role. My boss at the time was the ultimate decision authority and had not been impressed by that candidate’s resume, I’ll call him Jake for the sake of this discussion.

When it came to the interview, my boss was describing the role that the person we hired would fill to Jake, Jake got a pained look on his face. Jake had the advantage of knowing the organization very well, and asked my boss if he would allow him to draw something out for him. My boss agreed and Jake took a piece of paper and drew a line down the middle. Jake drew out the process that my boss described about the position and asked the boss if that was what he had in mind.

My boss said yes, and then Jake drew a different diagram on the other side of the paper with one critical difference and looked in my boss’s eyes and said, “if you hire me this is how I want to do this work”. Jake went on to explain why this one difference was critical to success, and my boss’s feathers ruffled a little bit. Jake got the job. He spoke with candor in a high stakes situation and demonstrated mastery of the information. He demonstrated fearless EQ and was rewarded for it.

Would you feel comfortable sharing a story or anecdote about how Emotional Intelligence has helped you in your life? We would love to hear about it.

I had just started in a role that offered strategic advice to a 3 Star General in the Pentagon. The General was encouraged by other staff members to invest in a new technology that was outside the scope of our organization. All the staff that were in his immediate circles of advisors lined up to support the recommendations except for me. I was given 24 hours to prepare the contrarian perspective for a meeting in which the General would decide whether to go forward with the investment or not.

I did not have the expertise to do the counter perspective justice, but I did have an amazing network of professional associates who did have the expertise. I reached out to my network, did some initial research, and drew in some data from non-traditional information sources.

The thing I remember the most is being on my feet in front of the conference room for nearly 2 hours (and having really uncomfortable shoes on)! Some of the questions from the group were terse and I met those questions with facts and a stony demeanor. Some questions were inquisitive, and I answered with empathy and explanation. Some of the questions were questions previously asked (when the person wasn’t paying attention) and I was able to crack a joke. It was a situation in which the core of the discussion and the information did not change, but I did as I needed to in order to effectively communicate. I remained authentically myself throughout, and I responded to the situation as the other people in the room were most likely to respond to in support of our mission.

I wish I could say that the General chose my course of action. He did not. I did however earn the respect of many in the room, and the General counted on me for honest counsel from that point on.

Can you share some specific examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help a person become more successful in the business world?

Emotional Intelligence helps you to identify, understand, manage, and use your emotions and emotional strengths to get work done. Some may say, especially in technology driven businesses, that emotions have no place at work. That is a hold over from a workplace of a bygone era. Humans do the work, and humans are imbued with emotions. Improving EQ helps you build a wider network, stronger and deeper working relationships and alliances, and to help work get done in a way that feels satisfying.

I worked with an Executive Coach that told me once that we all want to love and be loved. I was a little bit taken aback at the word “love” in the workplace, but that advice was very freeing.

After that discussion, I was able to have conversations that started with, “I don’t feel valued for my input, and I off track?”. By opening with a display of vulnerability and an invitation to be empathetic, I have found that really deep conversations follow and understanding comes more quickly. That same coach always told me to “HALT”, and what he meant was do not say or do anything when you are Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired. The idea of waiting until my emotional balance was more relaxed kept me out of many unnecessary rows at work.

Can you share a few examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help people have better relationships?

As a culture facilitator, I find that the EQ skills of asking open ended questions and repeating back exactly what was said really help strengthen relationships both at work and at home.

There are 4 major EQ domains: Self-Awareness, Self-Management, Social Awareness, and Relationship Management. We have discussed Self-Awareness and the underlying emotional self-awareness that comprises that domain.

In Self-Management, one needs Adaptability, Emotional Self-Control, Optimism, and Goal Orientation. In Social Awareness, you need equal parts Empathy and Cultural/Situational Awareness.

In Relationship Management, you will find that Inspiration, Influence, Collaboration, Encouragement and Conflict Management are all essential. If you have ever been on the receiving end of a tough conversation, you know how important these elements can be.

Let’s look at a simple, yet common relationship irritant about where a couple spends the holidays when deciding between two sets of parents. If the couple are able to communicate to each other that they want a holiday free of stress, that include some family traditions, and that allow them to satisfy their respective families the couple may come up with a plan to visit one family in the morning and the other in the evening. If there is a low level of conflict management between the couple, there may be things said that will hurt the other and ultimately end up in a decision that is hurtful. Trust is essential and will go a long way to strengthening the relationship.

Ok. Wonderful. Here is the main question of our interview. Can you recommend five things that anyone can do to develop a greater degree of Emotional Intelligence? Please share a story or example for each.

Become more Self-Aware — Back to basics, keep a diary or a journal. Jot down a few thoughts at the end of every day or a few times a week and go back to those entries to see how you felt, how you managed your reactions to the emotions you felt, and whether those reactions got you to where you wanted to be regarding your interactions with other humans. This is where you can determine if you actually identified the right emotion. Perhaps you felt angry when a person got a recognition at work and you did not. Anger might have been the emotion that you could identify, but after reflection, maybe it was more rooted in feeling insecure in your abilities. Again, EQ really starts by knowing your own emotional self.

Develop successful Self-Management skills — This is an area where some people struggle by either being overly strict to personal disciplines, or completely undisciplined. As so many of us have recently been working from home, part of our essential self-management is to establish a schedule and stick to it! You may not have an hourlong commute into the office anymore, but that doesn’t mean you should role out of bed 3 minutes before your 9am Zoom call. The 3 productivity killers for any work from home endeavor are the TV, the couch, and the bed. Eat well, sleep regularly, and schedule your lunch and other work breaks.

Above all, be Empathetic — Every person you know and interact with has their own feelings, fears, hopes, and triggers. Not all people respond the same way to the same emotional interactions but ask yourself how the person you care about reacted the last time you had a similar conversation or interaction. As yourself how you would feel in their shoes. Open yourself up to being vulnerable with the other person and remain approachable as your project and relationship progresses. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you is a timeless phrase and is still as powerful in today’s modern world.

Resist gossip and drama — I don’t have any stories to share about how gossip and drama have ever helped a person do better and make more friends, but I have dozens if not hundreds of how it has hurt those efforts. Emotionally Intelligent people listen, are compassionate, and offer sound advice, but they do not allow that situation and other people’s lives to overshadow their own life. If you would not say it in front of them, do not say it about them.

Motivate yourself and Inspire others — Your personal goals and achieving them will motivate the people around you to do the same. As Melanie Spring says, “Figure out what you want. Write it down. Make a plan. Work on it every single day.”. Set goals for the day, week, month, and year and hold yourself to a way to be accountable to yourself and at least one other person. Be prepared to get out of your comfort zone. Stretch yourself without losing site of what is the art of the possible. I may want to win a Grammy, but as anyone who has ever heard me at karaoke will tell you, I will NOT be winning it with my singing voice. Being a lifelong learner is already an attribute that I have identified as essential to EQ, and I will include it here again. Every passion needs fuel, and information and the way you leverage that information is your rocket fuel.

Do you think our educational system can do a better job at cultivating Emotional Intelligence? What specific recommendations would you make for schools to help students cultivate Emotional Intelligence?

We are doing so much better now than we have ever done in the American education system of creating awareness of emotions and psychology, but there is still room for improvement. I would invest more in the arts and social sciences and ask that all curriculum be developed with one of the educational outcomes to be empathy for the practitioners and people who are connected to that discipline. For example, if a student studies biology, there should be part of the topic that discusses the gender imbalance of that particular field and hear from the men in biology. That might have surprised some of you to learn that 60% of biology undergraduate degrees are awarded to women.

Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Oh my! I have this concept rolling around in my mind nearly every day, and it is rarely the same idea. Much like my favorite movie “Sliding Doors” I believe that small changes as certain inflection points of a person’s life can make a huge difference. The idea that comes back to my mind over and over again is the full inclusion, empowerment, and belonging of women in all areas of society.

I see the difference in movies with more women as directors, the impact that women in politics are making at home and abroad, the prospect of the first woman in the role of the US Secretary of Defense, and the incoming Biden’s Administration pledge to “50/50 in 2020” to have half of all Cabinet level positions filled by women. Not to mention the first woman Vice President of the United States who represents not only women, but women of color in her groundbreaking role. All of these are great signs for the full inclusion of women.

There is still work to be done in this area. In the annual Women in the Workplace study, women have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic in the workplace. Women are at higher risk of leaving the workforce, of being judged as underperforming in connection with childcare obligations, and women of color are in a number of double binds. A world and society in which all our children, sons and daughters, have the same odds for success is the movement I would like to inspire.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂

I would be thrilled to spend time with Iris Bohnet, the author of “What Works: Gender Equality by Design”. Not only is she the author of this groundbreaking work, but she is the Director of the Women and Public Policy Program at Harvard. As if that is not enough, she has a leadership role in the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leaders at the Harvard Kennedy School. She is doing the work that I envision when I answered if I could inspire a movement what kind of movement would it be. I admire her even more because of her international sensibilities, her career success, and the family life she has created. I imagine she would be an absolute treasure trove of insight and experience.

I’ll take this in another creative direction though, and say I would recommend that anyone reading this article have a lunch with my friend and colleague Erick Ocasio of “Leadership is Tricky” fame. Erick is one of my fondest memories of really rolling up my sleeves and working on the most complex problems. He does it with finesse, humor, and authentic leadership that inspires others to reach to new professional heights. Everyone should know Erick.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Please drop me a note at my website, https://thedifferencemaker.me/ or on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/trishmartinelli-differencemaker/ I would especially love to hear the readers answers to who they would have lunch with and why!

Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.

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