Be open to feedback. I once had a supervisor who regularly surveyed us with questions like “How can I meet your needs?” “What would you need from me to thrive here?” The thing is, when we answered honestly that we needed him to give us credit for wins and (we put it much more nicely) to stop micromanaging us, he got offended and became defensive. He had so many strengths and could have been an excellent supervisor, but he wasn’t open to feedback. It was a real shame.
As a part of our series about “Emotional Intelligence, I had the pleasure of interviewingDr. Nadine O’Reilly.
Dr. Nadine O’Reilly is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Englewood, NJ. She serves clients struggling with relationship difficulties, depression, anxiety, stress and trauma via in-person and virtual therapy sessions. She has been counseling adolescents and families in her role as school psychologist since 2003, and began her work with adults after completing her doctorate in 2011. Dr. O’Reilly is bilingual in English and Spanish.
Dr. O’Reilly’s approach to therapy is eclectic and dependent on the individual client’s needs. She is trained in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Psychodynamic Theory (talk therapy), and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). Her work with EMDR has been especially well-received by first responders and individuals seeking to move past episodes of trauma.
Nadine’s clients have described her as a warm, all-embracing straight-shooter with a healthy sense of humor who is genuinely invested in her clients’ journeys. She keeps it real, so if you’re tired of — or just not into — flowery, woo-woo therapy she’s your person.
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?
I grew up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in the late 70’s, relocated to a small, rural province in Argentina when I was 11, and moved back to the States at the age of 16. I went from subways and taxicabs to horses and ranches and back again. Aside from having to learn a new language (and how to hitch a horse to a post at school), I’d consider my background quite ordinary.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
I didn’t always know I wanted to be a psychologist. In fact, right after high school I started taking college courses in linguistics and criminal justice! But, as life would have it I married at the age of 21 and went right into the workforce as an Executive Administrative Assistant to the Vice President of Strategic Marketing for Nabisco International. I had no idea that relationship would be a turning point in my life.
My boss, Martin Buss, was such a cheerleader. He saw so much more in me than I was able to see for myself at that time. He always told me I had a knack for making people feel comfortable and encouraging them to seek more out of life. He would gently encourage me to find my “true North.” Martin eventually arranged for me to go back to school for a Master’s in School Psychology and the doctorate was a natural transition from there. I’ve never looked back.
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?
That would be my oldest son. He sacrificed a lot of his time with me while I was working full-time and pursuing my degrees. I still have the handwritten notes he would slip under my office door when I was furiously chipping away at my dissertation. “You can do this mom!” “You’re almost there!” It lights up my heart to remember how selfless and intuitive he was when I wasn’t available to him.
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?
I speak Spanish fluently after spending five years living in Argentina, but the language varies greatly depending on region of origin and that can lead to some embarrassing mistakes from time to time. I remember being in session with an individual from Guatemala and as we were exploring some difficulties she was having in her marriage I used a word that meant “unavailable” to me. Apparently it meant something much more vulgar to her! We processed it and were able to get a good giggle out of it, but it taught me to be mindful of cultural differences in my 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?
It’s cliché, but I would say “never give up.” Don’t worry about the timeline as much as the process — you’ll get there eventually! Learn as much as you can by tuning into others. Remember you won’t always be everyone’s cup of tea and that’s OK!
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?
My favorite book is the children’s classic, “The Little Prince.” I use that book in session with children and adults alike because it’s packed with life lessons. What resonates with me the most are the messages that we should choose to focus on what’s important, not let anyone convince us that our dreams are silly or unworthy, there are blessings in setbacks, and we should always retain an element of childhood curiosity and wonder, no matter how old we get.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
“No regrets in life. Just lessons.” I find that my clients often come to me all caught up in the “What ifs,” beating themselves up over bad choices they’ve made, feeling the burden of guilt and self-deprecation. It gets so heavy. What I wish for them is to be able to look at those experiences as lessons, learn from them, and move on. The thing is, we’re human and we’re flawed and we’re going to make mistakes. It’s so important to embrace the benefit of hindsight, and to make a conscious effort to forgive ourselves.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
Right now I’m focusing on expanding my private practice. I’ve got two incredibly skilled therapists who are on board to grow with me and we’re excited about offering group sessions and personal development workshops. While it might not sound like the sexiest project, I’m super excited for the groups because they’re a fantastic way for people to grow within a supportive environment and not feel alone. There’s strength in numbers. There’s nothing more reassuring than looking across the room and seeing that there are others in the same boat as you are. And it offers a sense of community that is unmatched.
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?
Having been at the forefront of the Character Education movement in schools since 2003, I’ve become an unwitting expert in EI. I’ve developed curriculum for social skills trainings in grades K-12 and have run thousands of sessions focusing on emotional awareness with children, adolescents, and their families. In addition to my work with the younger set, I’ve coached countless executives on EI protocols since 2011, helping individuals working in the corporate setting to develop the insight required to develop emotional intelligence.
For the benefit of our readers, can you help to define what Emotional Intelligence is?
The standard definition for EI is “the ability to understand, use, and manage your own emotions in positive ways to relieve stress, communicate effectively, empathize with others, overcome challenges and defuse conflict.” In
a nutshell, it’s awareness of self and awareness of others. It’s the ability to introspect and to tune into others’ emotional needs with minimal cues. It’s a form of intuition and empathy.
How is Emotional Intelligence different from what we normally refer to as intelligence?
Emotional intelligence and cognitive intelligence are based in different areas of the brain. While cognitive abilities are based in the neocortex, social and emotional capacities flow from the amygdala. A person with high IQ may have very impaired EQ, and vice versa. I’ve often been of the controversial thought that IQ doesn’t hold a candle to EQ. IQ is innate verbal and visual-spatial intelligence; it’s one’s ability to reason intellectually with and without words. One’s IQ is measured with a standardized aptitude test and yields a score considered to be a measure of cognitive ability — it doesn’t measure one’s ability to relate to others. Knowing one’s IQ can be useful in some settings (i.e., K-12 schools) but it doesn’t predict success. Also, most measures contain an element of cultural bias (we’re working hard on eliminating those biases in our assessments but we’ve got a long way to go).
On the other hand, EQ relates to “relating.” We’ve all met that person who is impressively book smart but who can’t read a room to save their life. That’s someone with limited EQ. People with highly developed EQ are able to empathize and connect with others and are likely to find great success in social and career settings, whether they have a high IQ or not.
Can you help explain a few reasons why Emotional Intelligence is such an important characteristic? Can you share a story or give some examples?
Life is a series of interpersonal connections and in order to truly connect with others, we need to be aware of our own feelings while remaining open to what others bring to the table. EQ is important because it allows us to respect others’ perspectives, interpret others’ behaviors, have meaningful conversations, and lean into discomfort. EQ is especially important for those in leadership and team-building positions, as managing workplace issues is often about getting to the heart of what your employees are needing from you as their leader, which they may not feel comfortable expressing outright.
I’ll go back to my experience with my first boss as the perfect example of what EQ can do in the workplace. Martin was of what I expect to be above-average intelligence and undeniably in a position of significant power. Rather than wield that power over me, he treated me with respect, asked questions about my life, and truly wanted to know me better. His EQ was off the charts. He seemed to “just know” when I needed a break or a change of pace. He made me want to be a better person and I went above and beyond for him as a result. I remember working 80-hour weeks, giving up weekends and holidays at times, yet never feeling an ounce of resentment towards him for it. That’s the power of EQ.
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 moved around a lot as a kid, which meant making new friendships every few years. When I was 11, we moved to a small, rural province in Argentina where my stepfather had grown up. (We’re talking no electricity after 6 pm, riding horses to school, one telephone for the whole town to use — this was next level rural.) I didn’t speak a word of Spanish at the time and no one there spoke a word of English so verbal communication with anyone other than my parents was ridiculously difficult. I started to tune into others’ body language to compensate for my inability to communicate verbally and it’s amazing how much you can learn from people if you just lean in and pay attention.
Can you share some specific examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help a person become more successful in the business world?
Emotionally intelligent leaders fare better in the workplace — period. They more easily enlist the assistance of their staff, have greater buy-in, and excel at employee retention. Emotionally intelligent leaders recognize that they are only successful if those supporting them feel valued and understood. They benefit from tapping into the strengths of their team and aren’t intimidated by their potential.
Can you share a few examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help people have better relationships?
Emotionally intelligent people have better relationships because they understand the law of cause and effect. They understand the impact their behaviors can have on others’ feelings. Let’s take the example of a couple where one is a verbal communicator and one struggles to find the right words at the right time. The person who is an excellent verbal communicator can foster closeness by asking targeted, meaningful questions and tuning into the less verbal partner’s body language — this way, they are making sure the other feels heard despite their inability to express themselves thoroughly with words. Conversely, the one who struggles to express their emotions can still show emotional intelligence by offering small acts of kindness, like bringing the other a cup of coffee when they’re bogged down with work and can’t make time for a break.
Can you share a few examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help people have more optimal mental health?
Emotional intelligence is about awareness and mindfulness. Emotionally intelligent people are able to control their thoughts, feelings and behaviors and when we are in control of those, we are mentally healthy. An emotionally intelligent person will know, for example, when they are on the brink of burnout by gauging their responses to stress. They’ll understand that their irritability with a coworker or a family member may mean that it’s time to take a minute and recharge. Those breaks are essential to overall mental health.
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.
- Be open to feedback. I once had a supervisor who regularly surveyed us with questions like “How can I meet your needs?” “What would you need from me to thrive here?” The thing is, when we answered honestly that we needed him to give us credit for wins and (we put it much more nicely) to stop micromanaging us, he got offended and became defensive. He had so many strengths and could have been an excellent supervisor, but he wasn’t open to feedback. It was a real shame.
- Identify which emotional competencies are most important to you and start there. Are you lacking in self awareness, struggle with interpersonal relationships, lack social awareness, or need to develop self regulation? Pick one and focus on improving your EI in that area. If you’re a negative nelly, practice positivity. If you’re self-absorbed, practice empathy. If you’re not sure where to start, ask someone you trust for positive, constructive feedback (then see #1 above).
- Set clear goals for yourself. It’s commendable to say you’d like to be a better listener, but you have to take action. Start small. For example, set out to listen with intention to two friends per week without interrupting. Bump that up to three friends when you’re ready and so forth.
- Practice makes permanent. Each time you practice a new skill, neural connections are being strengthened. Therefore, even though some of your newly learned skills may seem choppy and effortful at first, you’ll become more fluent in social-emotional language as time goes on.
- Embrace vulnerability. Social-emotional communication is scary for the best of us. If you’re the type of person who keeps things close to the vest, practice opening up when it feels safe. Find someone you trust and lean into them for support. Learn from each encounter (and see #1 above).
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?
Absolutely. Right now, we’re making great strides towards teaching emotional intelligence in the schools but we have a way to go. Much of our system is set up to be reactive (i.e., suspending students found guilty of bullying behaviors), but we know that children are capable of learning at lightning speed, so why not be more proactive? We need to start teaching empathy and inclusion in the lowest of grades and have a streamlined curriculum that builds on social-emotional skills each year in developmentally appropriate ways. Continuity is key.
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.
Bring sustainability to the schools. Set up vegetable gardens and create farmer’s markets so that children learn everything from growing food, to cooking it, to managing commerce. Let’s get back to our roots!
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 🙂
Brené Brown, because she’s EVERYTHING!!!
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.