If you hear that a new team member or manager is "emotionally intelligent," you’ll probably nod gratefully. You'll understand that he or she will likely listen to you, try to see things from your point of view, and resist jumping to conclusions.
Before 1995, though, you may have wondered what on earth that phrase meant. That's when psychologist and science journalist Daniel Goleman published his groundbreaking book, "Emotional Intelligence."
At the time, he wasn’t at all sure the idea would catch on.
"In fact, I'd already put out a proposal for my next book, because I didn't think this book would do much of anything in particular. So I was astonished," he tells me in our Expert Interview podcast.
"I remember having the thought, before it came out, that if one day I heard two strangers using the phrase ‘emotional intelligence,' and they both knew what it meant, it had become a meme and I would have succeeded in the goal. So it's been a success far beyond my expectations."
More bestselling books followed, most of them related to emotional intelligence or some aspect of it. Goleman’s latest book is a prequel of sorts.
Meditation and Mindfulness
The new book is called "Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body." In it, Goleman shares how he first embraced meditation when he spent two years in India as a Harvard graduate student.
While he was there, he began practicing mindfulness, which he calls "a subcategory of meditation." For him, it's "very interwoven" with emotional intelligence because it helps people to focus – a thread that runs through all four parts of the emotional intelligence model.
"Mindfulness practice, or meditation generally, are essentially practices of self-awareness. That's the first part of emotional intelligence," he says.
"The payoff is not only in being able to monitor what's going on inside you and handle it better, but also in self-management, which is the second part of emotional intelligence. You are better able to manage your upsets, and to stay focused on your goals and marshal a positive attitude," he says.
The Science Behind Mindfulness
"And then there's presence to other people. That's the third part of emotional intelligence. Those three parts are what we combine in our relationship skills [the fourth part]. So I would say that it's a booster across every part of emotional intelligence."
In "Altered Traits" – a play on the phrase "altered states" – Goleman and co-author Richard J. Davidson, PhD, present the scientific argument for meditation and mindfulness, citing dozens of experiments that provide evidence of their benefits.
Goleman welcomes the growth in such studies, and the peer-reviewed articles that endorse them. After all, mainstream recognition of the transformative effects of meditation has been a long time coming.
Early Skepticism Replaced by Acceptance
"When I proposed studying meditation at Harvard, my professors were mostly against it. They thought it was crazy, a waste of time," he recalls.
"That was many decades ago. Now, it makes a lot of sense, because the data clearly shows there are changes in the brain. There are changes at very basic levels of mind, brain and body, and this, of course, means there might be some very practical applications that come out of this research."
As an example, Goleman says that we can see positive results from as little as 10 minutes of mindfulness practice a day.
"We know from the research that your attention becomes stronger. You're able to focus even in the midst of multitasking, which is a very useful skill these days, for sure. You can remember better, you can learn better. Students who do mindfulness actually score better on exams," he reports.
Mindfulness as a Stress Buster
"There's also a real benefit for how you handle stress. You become less reactive, triggered less often, and if you do have an emotional hijack, you recover more quickly. These are results that show up pretty much from the start, but the more you practice, say you have a daily session of mindfulness, the stronger the benefits become."
Because of this, Goleman believes there's a powerful business case for bringing mindfulness into the workplace.
In this audio clip, from our Expert Interview podcast, he reflects on how it might be introduced.