Mindfulness: A Building Block of Emotional Intelligence

December 11, 2014

Here at Playbook, we have previously discussed the merits of emotional intelligence. How do you achieve a high level of EI? Paul Kimmerling offers his insights on mindfulness—a building block of emotional intelligence—and what it means to be self-aware.

Imagine these scenarios:

  • Your boss’s feedback ruffles your feathers. In a meeting later that day, you take it out on a colleague, leaving him feeling sideswiped and confused.
  • Your client upbraids you for a late deliverable— and you go toe-to-toe with her. She’s now planning to bring this to your CEO’s attention.
  • Your team complains about a new organizational mandate. You voice your impatience with them. They disperse, grudgingly agreeing to comply.

Emotions—when unacknowledged and unchecked—undermine the interpersonal aspect of our business relationships, bringing undesirable or unintended consequences. They affect our ability to negotiate, motivate, and empathize—key skills in the domain of emotional intelligence.  Such skills can be fortified, or derailed, based on our degree of self-awareness.

Self-awareness makes the difference between reacting in a knee-jerk fashion—at the mercy of our emotional states—or responding more cogently and consistently. We can build self-awareness through mindfulness. As described by Bessel van der Kolk, MD, in The Body Keeps the Score, mindfulness is the ability to “hover calmly and objectively over our thoughts, feelings, and emotions…”

Other EI thought leaders have discussed the utility of mindfulness as well. Daniel Goleman, a renowned expert on emotional intelligence, advocated self-awareness as an integral component of success. When asked how to develop greater self-awareness, he answered: “Self-awareness means the ability to monitor our inner world—our thoughts and feelings. Mindfulness is one method for enhancing this essential capacity…to see thoughts as they arise rather than just being swept away by them.”

In the opening scenarios, unfortunate consequences flowed from “being swept away.” We cannot manage what we’re unaware of. If we want to communicate, collaborate, influence, or lead effectively, our ability to monitor and manage inner states is central to our success.

Many experts suggest the first step to building awareness involves simply noticing what’s happening. Often one starts by focusing on breathing to ground attention. Next, acknowledge interior states—thoughts, emotions, and sensations—as they arise. The trick is not to attach to them (and lose focus on the breathing) or allow them to sweep us away, but to allow them to pass. You can learn more about how to use these practices for your own benefit.

Goleman refers us to the work of Mirabai Bush, a founder of the Google course on Mindfulness. She says, “Negative emotions can be very destructive in the workplace.”  Her recipe for dealing with anger can be interpreted as yet another testament to the necessity of emotional intelligence.

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Emotional Intelligence is one of many skills you can use to influence your business. Learn more skills with these AMA resources and seminars.

About The Author

Paul Kimmerling helps organizations and individuals gain fresh insights, employ practical solutions, and deepen their capacity to thrive through customized training programs, facilitated events, experiential workshops, and coaching. His corporate program design and delivery includes On-Boarding; Talent Engagement, Development and Retention; Communication, Collaboration and Creative Problem Solving; Resiliency During Change; and, Mindfulness practices. Paul is a certified MBTI practitioner. Paul is a co-founder of the Holistic Performance Group, a women-owned provider of training and coaching services that build organizational capacity and performance. Paul does coaching for personal growth and development. He leads workshops in Contemplative Photography, and a yearly retreat in Assisi, Italy.


  1. avatar

    Thank you for this great article. It is amazing how important self-awareness and emotional intelligence is for success. Thanks for remind us to “Building self-awareness through mindfulness”

  2. avatar

    I’ve seen what damage a mindless, vindictive boss can do. Bosses who slandered and outright vilified and denigrated a subordinate that they thought or imagined was some sort threat, or “got out of line.” Wonderful, talented people would leave rather than put up with this behavior to the detriment of the company.

  3. avatar

    Great article; we can’t have enough emphasis placed on developing emotional intelligence at any level of development. One thing I would add to this piece so that readers have a fuller picture of all the moving parts of “emotional iq” is that ALL emotional dysfunctions, or maybe more appropriately “repressions”, are rooted in limited ranges of motion. This is why practices that focus on flexibility or opening up the body to move more freely have been popular for millennia, and why people who turn to these practices end up developing many of the tools for creating detachment and perspective, as well as deconstructing hidden blocks they didn’t eve know about. Cheers!

  4. avatar

    Thanks for your excellent thoughts on How to use EI to not let our emotions drive our interactions and decision making
    One has practice this in all aspects of life till it becomes second nature

  5. avatar

    Very interesting! I want to learn about EI.

  6. avatar

    Paul Kimmerling, Hi,

    I first want to thank you for writing this piece and also for choosing to discuss how the benefits of mindfulness can in fact help your readers. It may be helpful, even beneficial for readers to know that the term mindfulness was first introduced to the west (North America) by a Vietnamese buddhist monk named Thich Nhat Hanh. Nhat Hanh is not only one of the worlds leading motivational speakers but also a poet and peace activist who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. KIng was so moved by Nhat Hanh’s proposals for peace that he offered these words: “I know of no one more worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize than this gentle monk from Vietnam. Thich Nhat Hanh is a holy man, for he is humble and devout. He is a scholar of immense intellectual capacity. His ideas for peace, if applied, would build a monument to ecumenism, to world brotherhood, and to humanity.” People appreciate and admire those who acknowledge the original roots of certain critical thinking skills which in turn become ideas that millions have benefited from.

    Thank you again for being thoughtful enough to discuss the wonderful benefits of mindfulness.

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