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“Practice Empathy”, Gunter Swoboda and Parveen Panwar, Mr. Activated

Practice Empathy. You will learn more about yourself when you can step into someone else’s shoes. When I worked with kids with Down’s Syndrome I initially struggled with appreciating their view on the world. Once I suspended my judgement about what is ‘normal’ and learnt that they were more open to themselves emotionally than I […]

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Practice Empathy. You will learn more about yourself when you can step into someone else’s shoes. When I worked with kids with Down’s Syndrome I initially struggled with appreciating their view on the world. Once I suspended my judgement about what is ‘normal’ and learnt that they were more open to themselves emotionally than I had thought. Their experience of themselves was less defended than mine and most of the time more authentic. They expressed themselves more spontaneously than I would. It was for me a great lesson.


As a part of our series about “Emotional Intelligence, I had the pleasure of interviewing Gunter Swoboda.

Gunter is a psychologist, speaker, author, mentor, coach and facilitator with over 30 years of experience in counseling and organizational development.

After more than 30 years of experience Gunter’s passionate perspectives on what makes human beings thrive makes him a very insightful commentator and speaker. His aim is to stimulate your mind, touch your heart, and inspire your soul. Gunter’s passionate perspectives and scrutinies on what makes human beings thrive allow him to develop relationships with people in order to ignite their aspirations. Gunter is exceptional in facilitating outcomes in learning, productivity and communication by providing a safe environment with unobtrusive assistance and guidance wherein participants experience the flow between content and context.

Swoboda is the creator of the Making Good Men Great movement and the author of Surfing the New Wave of Masculinity: Making Good Men Great. He also has an upcoming novel, Mountains of Sea, with Winterwolf Press. Recently, Gunter was a Consulting Producer on Lifelines a film directed by Miranda Spigener-Sapon, Starring Lew Temple and Ross John Gosla. He just signed another book deal with Winterwolf Press and M3 Literary Management for his Brian Poole Mysteries trilogy. Gunter is also the writer/creator of the documentary feature, Masculinity That Inspires Change, on Amazon Prime, an entrée film to the docu-series, The Crisis of Man.


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?

My family migrated to Australia from Austria when I was twelve years old. I fell in love with the ocean and the land. Because I had to learn English, I wasn’t a very good student initially and focused more on surfing, music and girls. I ended up working in a bank for two years which really didn’t suit me or the Bank too well. Because I felt stuck, I was open to taking a day off and going with a friend to his University lecture in first-year Psychology. In ten minutes, he was asleep, and I was hooked. Unfortunately, I could attend because I had no entrance qualifications. I ended up doing my SAT equivalent studies of two years in one. It was a struggle but worthwhile.

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

I guess the most interesting story has to do with when I chose to enter my own therapy. My initial premise was that if I was going to be a good therapist, then I needed to experience therapy myself. I carefully chose my therapist and presented it to my first session with a righteous attitude. Within twenty minutes, my therapist stopped me and asked why I was here. I was surprised because I thought I was pretty clear at this stage. What do you mean, I wondered? He replied, saying simply that I should stop, go away and figure out why I had come and why he is now finishing the session. Now I was shocked and starting to feel angry. He had closed the session twenty minutes in. How could that be? I sat there for a moment, puzzled. Surely this is some test that I needed to work out before we would go on. As I began to speak, he held up his hand and said, come back when you are really ready to do the work. It took me a few weeks to get to the point of what he was teaching me. Being a therapist meant being humble and truly self-aware, not righteous. And it meant that I needed to begin to delve into my own inner world emotionally and cognitively. Three weeks later, I started my real journey into working on myself.

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?

The most important person in my life that is equally responsible for my success is my wife, Lorin. She has stood by me to this day and has kept me focused even when I had doubts. She appears to have a never-ending conviction in me. Without her, I don’t think I would have got through my Psych degree let alone to where I am in life now.

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?

This was not so much a mistake as it was a life lesson. It was the first day of University; enrollment day. I was really excited to begin this new part of my life. I filled in my academic program with meticulous care and handed it to the advisor. She looked at it and then asked “Are you doing a Psych major?” Puzzled, I replied ‘Yes.” “Well, you can’t be. You have not included the required Statistics course.’ Shocked, I was frozen. I had always been bad at anything mathematical and Statistics seemed worst than maths. I amended the program but became so anxious at exams that the senior lecturer advised me to seek help at the Uni counseling centre. The result was that not only did I overcome my fears of statistics, it gave me a personal understanding of anxiety and mood disorders and how to treat them. This experience has been an invaluable asset in helping people, including to achieve their best in whatever field they are in.

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?

Develop an insatiable curiosity, read voraciously, learn to think critically and strive to keep stretching yourself personally and professionally. This will apply to whatever it is you choose to do in life. Its also important to learn to be emotionally well-regulated, flexible and adaptable.

The Japanese have a philosophy called IKIGAI, it is about life’s purpose and finding it. Ikigai: LIfe’s Purpose

Tim Tamashiro gave a TED talk where he says “This word (ikigai) is really like a treasure map. And, this treasure map can help you find your way to finding wonderful things about yourself that you can share with the world, and the world will say ‘thank you’ for it.”

Practice Ikigai.

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?

This can change week to week, but probably the first book instrumental in my personal journey beyond religion and into spirituality was The Way of Zen, by Alan Watts. Nothing has resonated to such a degree as Zen in my life. It is about simplicity, harmony, form and depth that is like a well-tuned instrument. To me, it is my spirit surfing. In my life the experience of Zen and surfing have been intrinsically entwined.

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

“Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.” Although this piece of Zen appears simple, it is deceptive. Like all things Zen, the depth of insight that comes from meditating on this regularly is deeply meaningful.

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

There are a number of things my wife and I are working on at the present time. First and foremost it is my project on promoting a movement for men about men called Making Good Men Great. The fundamental of the project is for men to realize that there is no such thing as ‘toxic masculinity’ but rather that we have been indoctrinated into a toxic ideology called patriarchy. The program helps to catch and mentor men to become more of what they can be and feel secure and safe in themselves with other men and women, free of status anxiety and the shackles of stereotypes. The project also helps men to step into relationships with other men that are solid and emotionally based rather than tribal, ideological and material.

A really exciting part of the Making Good Men Great project is my globally syndicated podcast Inspire Change, weekly wisdom, insight and reflection theme to promote fuller living.

I am also creating a new documentary series for a major streamer called Crisis of Man which ties to my entree film Masculinity that inspires change.

As I am a great believer in the power of storytelling. I wrote a book based on a young man finding himself in a strange culture and having to learn to adapt. Mountains of the Sea is a fish out water story that is all about personal growth and the importance of Emotional Intelligence. It will be released in the New Year by Winterwolf Publishers.

My wife and I are also working on a supernatural Detective trilogy that explores the idea of magic and science and the resilience of the human spirit.

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?

As a psychologist and psychotherapist, coach and speaker I have worked all my life with the idea that there is more to Intelligence than the narrow band of cognitive facilities with traditionally worked with. In the early 1990’s I read Daniel Goleman’s book on EQ and was very impressed with his insights into the issue. His perspectives rounded out my thinking and approach to therapy and coaching on a big way. I see it as one of the cornerstones of what eventually became Positive Psychology. As to being an authority on it? Well, my education, life experience and longevity. I’ve probably been working with it longer than many people. One of the benefits of getting older, a privilege that not everyone gets to enjoy.

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

So, fundamentally EQ is the ability to understand oneself and others emotionally in a constructive way that builds self-awareness, flexibility and resilience in all walks of life. That includes greater empathy, better boundaries, and an understanding of mine and others reactions to situations and systems.

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

Basically, IQ, Intelligence Quotient, is derived from a set of standardized scores that measure cognitive processing like verbal, computational skills and so on.

EQ on the other hand consists of four categories. Self Awareness, Self Management, Social Awareness and Relationship Management.

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

Without developing the four characteristics of EQ (see above) humans do not function very well. Imagine being puzzled by your own emotions and the emotions of others. It would be like being colorblind and lacking depth perception. We can still see but do not have the nuances of vision that gives us a greater understanding of the complicity of the emotional world we are participating in. For example, you come home from work and your partner is upset. Noticing that he/she is upset is already exercising some emotional intelligence (EQ), now if you check in with her/him that is exercising your EQ further. More EQ and you will try to understand the issue, and then explore the other person’s need(s).

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.

This is a bit like asking me how do I surf a surfboard. I do it. As a therapist, coach and writer, EQ is woven into the very fiber of my being. EQ allows me to live more fully, experience my relationships in more dimensions and keeps me in tune with my values, attitudes and beliefs. It helps me to make difficult decisions and take necessary actions in the face of opposition. This has been the mainstay in my 40-year relationship with my wife, raising my children and being a grandfather.

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

Business is about people. If you understand the needs of people then you can as a mentor once said to me sell ice to Eskimos. In order for that not to be abusive and exploitive, it requires that you appreciate the other person’s world and then act ethically and morally. Good long-term business should be sustainable. The best business recognizes this and work accordingly to develop a sound relationship with their customers, clients or patients. It is the relationship that is key. The next step is to be able to communicate this clearly and powerfully. Not aggressively.

Select people with a high EQ over those with technical skills. Technical skills can be taught relatively quickly. EQ requires self-reflection, a willingness to adapt and change and to be interested in the wellbeing of self and others.

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

Firstly, the greater my EQ the more self-aware I’m going to be and the more I can be empathic. Empathy is the glue that keeps us in a healthy relationship. It also means that I’m going to be less defensive towards my partner.

Can you share a few examples of how Emotional Intelligence can help people have more optimal mental health?

So let me start with Self-awareness. In Gestalt Therapy self-awareness is seen as a “hallmark of the healthy person and a goal of treatment” (Seligman, 2006). When individuals are “aware”, they are able to self-regulate in their environment. This means they are able tone more flexible a and adaptable to the changes in themselves and their environment. For example, managing pain, either emotional and/or physical pain they are more able to adapt and therefore be more resilient.

In being able to self-manage I can regulate my emotions far better through reason. I know that there are some that argue against this position of rationalism but the arguments are generally poorly constructed with a great deal of ideological and pseudoscientific thinking.

Social Awareness allows me to develop the recognition of patterns in my behavior in relationship to others and be aware of patterns in the relationships of others. This is a fundamental skill that therapists apply in therapy. If they don’t they are not that useful.

Finally, Relationship Management allows me to understand my partner more intimately than if I lacked EQ. He/she would quickly leave me either through sheer frustration or because I may be so self-centered that any recognition of his/her needs is lacking. .

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.

  1. Go to therapy. Fritz Perls, the founder of gestalt therapy once said we live in a house of mirrors and think we are looking out the window. Therapy is not there to fix you, its is there for you to sort yourself out through the lens of someone else. If I am unaware of my rage, the chance is I will experience others as being angry when in fact they are not. I will then live a life wherein I am depriving myself of intimacy.
  2. Practice Empathy. You will learn more about yourself when you can step into someone else’s shoes. When I worked with kids with Down’s Syndrome I initially struggled with appreciating their view on the world. Once I suspended my judgment about what is ‘normal’ and learned that they were more open to themselves emotionally than I had thought. Their experience of themselves was less defended than mine and most of the time more authentic. They expressed themselves more spontaneously than I would. It was for me a great lesson.
  3. Read. Yes, we can become more emotionally intelligent through reading. I was around eight years old when I got my library card. Within a short time I had devoured a bunch of books. The librarian took pity on my sudden dearth of reading material and gave me supervised access to some of the classic sci-fi writers, like Jules Verne, Asimov and Robert Heinlein. It inflamed a sense of unfailing curiosity in me. The lesson EQ needs curiosity.
  4. Be in a relationship with others. If I stop judging, criticizing and truly listen to my partner, I learn more. I am not the oracle of the Universe. Being open and vulnerable allows me to be humble enough to learn from others, especially my partner.
  5. Be disciplined. One of my biggest lessons was when I started I started University. My main passion was surfing so when I enrolled in classes I organized them to suit my surfing. Now getting good surf is fickle. It’s weather dependent. I was also interested in making sure I was surfing the best wave I could find in my area. I somehow missed the idea that Uni was mission-critical and not surfing. Subsequently, my grades dropped. At that stage my partner and I had been living together and she announced one morning that she feels I am failing the program. I reassured her that it’s fine. After receiving a not so good mark on an assessment, I had to agree with her. If I didn’t change my approach my potential career as a psychologist was over. I ended up making University mission-critical; everything revolved around my courses and then if I had time, I’d go for a surf.

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?

Firstly, the education system needs to recognize that it stifles creativity. It’s primary emphasis on cognitive/academic development in a competitive context without the primacy of emotional development and social conduct is misguided.

In primary we should foster emotional development as well as social conduct. That is being of good character and behaving in a socially appropriate way. Embedded is learning through experimentation and understanding that failures are steps towards success rather than something that should be avoided.

Core values to be emphasized are respect, cooperation, inclusion, sharing and persistence.

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.

At this stage I would continue with my project of Making Good Men Great. It is imperative that we deconstruct patriarchal socialization. It perpetuates cultural and individual toxicity. Through it we can teach and help boys and men to pursue a fuller life away from the crazy hyper-masculine ideas that have led to rights abuses, wars and corporate and political disasters.

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 🙂

Pete Buttigieg. I followed this man in his bid to be President of the USA and what I heard was an experienced man who has been literally tested on the battlefield. He espoused the right stuff in my book. It would be an honor to have a breakfast or lunch with him.

What is the right stuff? He is a man of great character, who brings with him the right intention, is moral and is educated. One of the key leaders of the next generation.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

The website of my global movement is: www.GoodMenGreat.com, my website as an author/speaker/producer is: www.GunterSwoboda.com and you can follow the movement on Facebook at facebook.com/GoodMenGreat

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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