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“Why emotional intelligence is so important.” with Edoardo Binda Zane

y to focus more on your feelings and see if you can trace your current mood to a specific trigger, like a specific event. To manage our behaviours, we need to know precisely the emotion that drives them, and to know what that emotion is precisely we need to know what sparked it — here, […]

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y to focus more on your feelings and see if you can trace your current mood to a specific trigger, like a specific event. To manage our behaviours, we need to know precisely the emotion that drives them, and to know what that emotion is precisely we need to know what sparked it — here, some simple self-reflection on what you are feeling and why can do absolute wonders.

As a part of our series about “Emotional Intelligence, I had the pleasure of interviewingEdoardo Binda Zane.

Edoardo is a Leadership Coach and Communication Trainer based in Berlin and working internationally. His focus is providing teams and leaders with the right teamwork and leadership skills to generate more value and thrive in dynamic markets, all while having to face frequent and disruptive changes.

Throughout his career Edoardo been working in and heading 7-figure business and policy projects, and he now combine that experience with other areas of work and research to develop skills in teams and individuals.

He works with individuals, large startups, corporations, incubators and NGOs, both one-to-one and in groups.

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?

Sure thing, I was born and raised in Milan, Italy, and I’ve lived there until I was 24. Despite what people that meet me now would think, I was never a popular or cool kid — quite far from it! I’ve always been fairly nerdy and a dreamer as a kid, which hasn’t always played in my favour. I think

I matured quite late, the big turn for me happened when I was 16. I spent a year of high school in the US, away from my family, friends and culture — which forced me to mature really, really fast. Wasn’t always easy but that experience did teach me a lot.

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

Two things happened along the way — give or take 5 years ago… suddenly I realized that:

  • I wasn’t happy with what I was doing (being a consultant), although I was good at it and successful,
  • All that I was as a child — artistic, musical, expressive — had died out, I had not kept any of it

As a consequence I wasn’t happy with what I had become. The first thing was to join an improv group, solely for the aim of doing something that I liked and having something else apart from work. What I didn’t expect was that I would gain so much from it. I’d become better at what I was doing: interacting with others, speaking, discussing, negotiating… all via skills that I had learned elsewhere. Fast forward two years and I quit my job and became a trainer! I still bring parts of improv in what I do, even though I’ve added a whole lot more to it.

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?

One of the most honest statements I’ve heard a successful person make was “never underestimate the role of luck”, and I stay true to that. I was lucky enough to be able to count on my parents and my girlfriend at the time (now wife) listening to me and to my doubts and self-imposed resistance when I was thinking of leaving my job and giving me the right push. I had always wanted to stay safe workwise, and this was like jumping in cold water… had they not been there I’d probably still be a successful and miserable consultant!

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?

Being met with full resistance at one of my workshops… like, full opposition from all the participants just 20 minutes in a 3-hour workshop! Everyone in the room basically rejected everything I had to say, didn’t want to engage or play along or accept anything I was suggesting. The only reason we all carried on was that the CEO was in the group and he made the decision to keep on going regardless. It turned out to be the most awkward workshop I’ve ever run… since then I’ve learned to spend a lot more time speaking to clients and understanding their goals and needs, and separating what the CEO says from what the teams in the trenches say, it’s not always the same….

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?

2 pieces of advice: discover your purpose, and remember that nobody cares about you.

For the first part, ask yourself: why do you do what you do? What gets you going? Find it, and keep checking it as you go along. As long as your endgame is clear, your focus and drive will be there, regardless of what happens around you.

And for the second part: you could have the best training method, product, story, references, website… none of that matters, it’s interesting to you and you alone (at least in the beginning). What people want to hear is what you can do for them, for their specific and unique case, so start by talking about that.

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?

One speech by John Cleese, one of my personal heroes. It’s called “Creativity in Management” and it can be found online. It’s a 45-minute achingly funny and insightful take on what creativity is, how to be creative and why it is important in management. Listening to it has been one of my biggest life lessons, both for the depth of the content and for the delivery. All my life I’ve hated being forcefully formal or “serious” at work, and this speech simply obliterates that idea of formality. I’ve always asked myself why we can’t work and have fun at the same time, and Cleese not only showed that it’s possible, but that is so much better and useful to bring humor and play in a team. To this day I keep that as my clearest A-HA moment!

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

“He who laughs more, learns best” — still by John Cleese. It summarizes everything I stand for.

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

I’m fully focusing on emotional intelligence for leaders now. I’ve published a book and an online course about it. In the world of work we’ve been talking about EI for a while, but never took it fully serious.

Now Covid-19 showed us how much we really need it, and how much work we still have to do to make it a part of our normality. We need empathy, emotional connections, personal connections in our life, and at work we need them with our peers and leaders. Until now it’s mostly been kept as a nice “add-on” to a performing team, now we’ve finally realised how much of a keystone it is, and I hope that with my work I can enable leaders to quickly get better at it — for themselves and for their team.

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 think I’ve just answered in the question above!

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

Emotional intelligence is the ability to control and manage our emotions, and to positively influence our own emotional state and the one of the people around us. Most of our emotional life is passive: when we feel a certain way we let that feeling drive our perspective on life and our behaviours, often without questioning it. Being emotionally intelligent means taking an active role: shaping how we are feeling or how we relate to what we feel, and controlling if and to what extent our emotions drive our behaviours and actions at any moment.

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

It’s apples and oranges. Simply put: intelligence has to do with our rational part, our thoughts, logic, deductions… emotional intelligence relates to feelings, it enables us to have the same grasp on our emotions as intelligence allows us to have on our thoughts.

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

Well… When you look at material about emotional intelligence you immediately stumble upon theory and books and research, so you tend to forget the basics! Look at it this way:

  • We all have thoughts and emotions, it’s a given
  • We spend most of our life developing our rational part, our thoughts, and learning how to understand them and manage them — basically working on our intellect
  • We spend little to no time ever learning how to understand, manage and influence our emotions, and as a result we lack the skills to do so.

So if it’s unacceptable for us to not spend any time working on developing our intellect, why should it be acceptable to neglect emotional intelligence as much as we do?

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.

In arguments, at work and in my private life. In general conflicts imply anger, and the harsher the conflict, the more anger is involved. It’s fine, it’s how conflicts work!

What is not fine is how I usually reacted to that anger. I, like many others I’m sure, had the tendency to take whatever was being said to me at face value, i.e. focus on the immediate circumstances, on the anger being thrown at me, and react solely and specifically to that.

Thing is, I later realized how that anger, or disappointment, or sadness, was only a symptom. The real, deeper problem that was driving all that anger was hidden away somewhere. That’s the problem I needed to address, not the behaviour or whatever made the conflict spark.

Learning how to empathize, to listen, to read emotions and body language, and to respond emotionally, has helped me insanely to understand that deeper motive and address it. As a result I’ve become more constructive, more positive, and more helpful in conflicts — which is admittedly more work, but is also much more effective than just taking conflicts at face value.

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

Emotional intelligence improves our ability to inspire, motivate and drive performance. It builds trust, respect and resilience, and it lowers the risk of conflicts and burnouts — and it has to do with the effect it has on how we can manage our emotions.

Here is what I mean.

I mentioned how our approach to our emotional life is for the most part passive — i.e. when we feel down, for example, we don’t question it or try to influence how we feel, we accept it and act accordingly.

This, in business, is a killer — especially in teamwork and leadership. If you can’t manage the impact your emotions have on your behaviours, you will see negative emotions turn to negative behaviours: irritability, rudeness, negativity, lack of energy…

Emotional intelligence can help with all of that… being emotionally intelligent means being aware of how your behaviours may take a negative turn before they do, and acting upon it to redirect your attention and energy, and improving the way you interact with others and your overall performance. And at a deeper level it means being able to do it for others: ethically and positively influencing the way they feel and helping them feel more energized, focused and productive.

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

When we interact with others, our default communication channel is the verbal one: we rely on what we say and hear the most and take it at face value.

If that’s our default channel then, you can look at emotional intelligence as a whole new channel: you don’t focus just on what you or others say, you focus on how they say it, on their emotional vibe, on what you can read from their body language.

Adding that whole channel and using it in parallel to verbal communication enables us to interact at a much deeper level with others, in a more subtle but more essential way — and if you develop this skill you’ll be able to bond more at a personal level, build trust and a closer rapport, and see the other person want to reciprocate. Who wouldn’t want to have a closer relationship with someone that understands him or her so well?

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

We said that emotional intelligence means taking an active role in how emotions manage your behaviours. Flip it around, say you lack that capability… how would you think you’d react?

My favourite example is personal: the end of my first serious relationship. I was not prepared for that and I did not have the skills or the emotional stability to cope with it, and as a consequence I remained anchored to that negative point in my life for about two years… Two long years in which I kept reminding myself of how much worse my life had become and during and constantly coming back to that event, incapable of snapping out of it, and as a consequence feeling like my energy was being drained, having a hard time establishing other healthy relationships, being angry at myself for not snapping out of it and so on in a cycle…

I’m not saying of course that I would have rather wanted to ignore the whole thing and move on (you need to process your feelings at some point!), but all I wanted was to have the ability to say “enough” and move on after I had processed it. That’s where emotional intelligence would have made the difference.

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.

Sure thing, here we go:

First, take my free emotional intelligence test. This is a science-based self-assessment that will let you know:

  1. What your overall level of emotional intelligence is
  2. What your level in each one of the 4 components of emotional intelligence is.

To get better at something, you need to know what your starting point is, otherwise you’ll be at a loss. This test can let you know that starting point for emotional intelligence in 5–10 minutes, so give it a go!

Second, try to focus more on your feelings and see if you can trace your current mood to a specific trigger, like a specific event. To manage our behaviours, we need to know precisely the emotion that drives them, and to know what that emotion is precisely we need to know what sparked it — here, some simple self-reflection on what you are feeling and why can do absolute wonders.

Third, spend some time reading others. You don’t need to be an expert in body language (though it helps) to understand what someone is feeling or going through just by looking at him or her. Whenever you have the chance, observe how others behave with you, or even better be a third party in a conversation and observe what that interaction is like. You can learn a lot just by focusing on it a bit more. Just don’t be creepy about it…

Fourth, reflect on your actions. Ever done something that took you by surprise? Ever caught yourself saying something you yourself did not see coming? Spend some time thinking about what you have done and why you have done it, positive or negative. Can you trace it back to an emotion? And can you trace your emotion back to a trigger? If so, well done, that’s a sign of an emotionally intelligent person!

Fifth, after a conflict, think about what happened and try to find the deeper motive of the other person. A good way to do it is to ask “why” 5 times in a row. It’s not foolproof, but at least it forces your thinking to look for that deeper motive, and by doing to it starts training your emotional intelligence muscles for when they’ll have to do the heavy lifting later on.

There is more of course, but these 5 are a good start for anyone!

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?

Yes, the educational system can and needs to improve. I don’t think it’s anything institutional though. It’s up to the teachers, to teach emotional intelligence and most importantly to lead by example. We need to have some theory behind it but in the end it boils down to practice, to what we do and how we behave with others in our daily life — and that’s where I think teachers can make a real difference, they have a lot of interactions to look at as examples, might as well help pupils to use them to learn something!

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.

A network of new managers and experienced ones that share the same vision of leadership (performance-driven, human, modern) where new managers can gain key insights from people that already field-tested them. A system of mentoring if you wish. Too many new managers come into their job unprepared for the shift: they have been used to manage tasks their whole life and all of a sudden they need to manage people, it’s a different ball game, and going in blind is not a smart thing to do for anyone.

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 🙂

John Cleese, one can dream, right? I have the utmost respect and admiration for him and for everything he has done, in the world of entertainment and outside of it.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Best way would be via my website, and if emotional intelligence is yout key focus, I suggest taking a look at my Emotional Intelligence for Leaders course.

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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