Emotional Intelligence and Leadership

Writers and researchers on emotional intelligence and leadership sometimes use the phrase primal leadership to describe their view on the place of emotion in a leader’s role. This seems like a weird word to use. Primal has (at least) two meaning that help us understand why they use it. Something is primal if it is:

  • original, early, first in time
  • primary, basic, of first importance

They believe that emotions are primal to leadership in both senses. Humanity’s primordial leaders where chieftains or shamans who compelled by emotional leadership. And modern business leaders have the task of both driving collective emotions in a positive direction and clearing away toxic emotions. But how?

Resonant Leadership vs Dissonant Leadership

Resonant leaders drive emotions positively, by pulling others through their vision and example. Dissonant leaders undermine the emotional foundations that let people shine. Daniel Goleman has detected six leadership styles, or different methods of showing leadership in different contexts and to different people. It is possible to move between them, and a good leader will do that, even using the dissonant styles when necessary.

The four resonant leadership styles are:

  1. visionary – moves people towards shared dreams
  2. coaching – connects what people want with company goals
  3. affiliative – creates harmony by connecting people
  4. democratic – encourages people’s input and participation

Dissonant leadership styles are:

  1. pace-setting – meets challenging and exciting goals
  2. commanding – gives clear directions in an emergency

Attunement vs Alignment

Some leaders speak of their task in terms of aligning their people with their strategy or goal. This leaves a mechanical impression of the role of leaders: people are objects to be arranged in straight lines, like so many cogs. But support requires the emotional as well as the rational parts of the brain. The concept of attuning more fully describes a leader’s role, with its suggestion of the harmony of the instruments in an orchestra. Attunement requires a direct connection with people’s emotional centres. It achieves this through involving people deeply in the process and allowing them to make decisions about their place in it.

Threshold Abilities vs Distinguishing Abilities

Many leaders find themselves in a position of leadership simply because they tick several of the correct boxes. The have the basic skills that everyone has to have to do the job. This usually amounts to standard mix of IQ, technical skills and personality traits. They are average rather than outstanding in terms of their performance. Leadership experts suggest it is better to disregard the standard criteria if you want star results. Instead, start with high performers, compare them to average performers, and find out what makes leaders in the field. These are the real leadership abilities, or, as Goleman calls them, the eight ‘distinguishing competencies’.

Process vs Program

Once you realise the need for emotionally intelligent leadership at all levels of an organisation, the questions become a matter of how exactly to roll it out. Traditionally, organisations have answered this question by means of one-time training and educational programs. These are necessary but not sufficient. What is required is an entire process that not only fills minds with information, but permeates every level of the organisation.

Such a process not only educated individuals, but also works with teams and the company culture too. Through coaching, it will apply lessons learned and provide feedback on progress. It will take the form of an emotional as well as intellectual journey. Without all these aspects in place, the leadership produces will simple take the form of theory and certificates.

We believe that you can learn emotional intelligence like any other set of skills. The same goes for leadership. We’ve taught and coached EI for over a decade, at universities and for businesses. Contact us to find out what we can do for your organisation.

Photo by Quino Al on Unsplash

Can You Learn Emotional Intelligence?

Either you ‘re smart or you ‘re not.

That ‘s how most people think. You are born with a certain brain and, like your height or the colour of your eyes, there isn ‘t much that you can do about it. You can study, read, and practice. But your potential peak is already set by your DNA, and you can’t alter that, outside of science-fiction anyway.

Well, actually, you can. There is a great deal you can do. Especially in the realm of emotional intelligence, or those capacities you have to understand and manager our own emotions, and those of others. This is important for two reasons. After a score of 120, IQ ceases to be a factor in success, especially in leadership. And success in the workplace is about 20% dependent on IQ; EQ is the largest other (but not only other) factor.

Intelligence is Multiple

Psychologist Robert Sternberg found that there were three types of intelligence: analytic, creative and practical. Only the first is linked to academic prowess. Educationalist Howard Gardener proposed eight intelligences, two of which are intrapersonal and interpersonal intelligence, the essence of EI. Everyone has gifts; everyone can become gifted.

Intelligence is Mastery

Some models of EI view it as a set of traits, located at the lower levels of personality. But the most experts understand EI as a set of abilities. These abilities show themselves in our behaviour, as we adapt to different situations and solve various problems. Motivation and empathy, and especially the social and communication skills, are habits we can master with training and practice, lots of practice, approximately 10.000 hours of it!

Intelligence is Mindset

Carol Dweck has popularised the idea that there are two mindsets fixed and growth and that these two mindsets determine success in different areas, including learning. Someone with a fixed mindset want to be told they ‘re smart, that smartness is an ability, and they they either have it or don ‘t. A growth mindset person believes that smartness depends on effort and attitude, and that they can learn whatever they want.

Intelligence is Malleable

Science is providing evidence that the brain isn ‘t static but rather malleable, that is, able to continually changing in response to new information and experiences. This concept is called neuroplasticity, and applies also to intelligence. Even capabilities normally associated with IQ such as reasoning and memory can shift over time and with training.

Ah yes, “with training.” That’s where we come in. The Sensei team train and coach on all these areas, and have done so since our start. We’ve helped people in workplaces, universities, and schools learn emotional intelligence. And we love to work with you too. In the mean time, if you want your brain expanded a little, try juggling or comedy, maybe at the same time!

Fear, Obligation and Guilt

Often our lives are characterised by FOG: fear, obligation and guilt. In many cases, this involves other people. That is what this blog post deals with. It concerns how to limit fear to the unavoidable, remove obligation when it is incorrectly placed and replace guilt when it is unjustified.


Who are you afraid of? Are family, friends or co-workers controlling you with your own fear? Does their behaviour, words, silent treatment, lies, or manipulation make you fearful? If you are aware of it, you can do something about it.

If the other person is aware of it, and continues to threaten (whether silently, or in words), this is called bullying or emotional abuse. Sufferers say often more damaging, long-term, than physical violence. And, in the realm of those who help men and women with domestic abuse, emotional abuse is subsumed under the heading of domestic violence. It is often likely to lead to it, and when emotional abuse is present, violence is likely to be too. A note of caution. If you have been physically threatened and are afraid of someone, or have already suffered at their hands, this is entirely different. Organisations such as Women’s Aid and, recommend removing yourself from that situation. Don’t live in fear of your life, or physical safety, or that of your children or other dependants. There are many organisations who will help you escape from this precarious situation.

Take advice from professionals who are practised at dealing with victims.

Never forget that the more you fear someone, the more power it gives them.

Violence aside, that ought to make you angry enough to actively and consistently change that emotion when it surfaces, from fear to pity or, better, indifference.

Techniques for Limiting Your Fear of People

  1. Attend an Assertiveness course, and learn how to communicate assertively, avoiding both aggression and passivity. Assertiveness and Workplace Confidence is one of our most popular workshops. Learn how to deal with those who would aggressively demand your obedience. You are an adult, you are entitled to your rights, you have responsibilities. Learn this and never be successfully bullied again. Yes, people won’t like you. However, being liked is not the goal. (In Northern Ireland, we are taught from a very young age not to flaunt our passion, opinion, emotions, or knowledge. Expect that when you begin to practice assertive communication, many will interpret your directness as aggression.) The point of assertive communication is to get your point across clearly, and succinctly. It does not involve shouting, bullying or manipulation. We recommend this: The Assertiveness Pocketbook.
  2. Limit the amount of time you spend in that person’s company. In many cases, this is achievable. If you cannot avoid them when you want to, for example in the workplace, then devise ways of limiting the contact. This may mean shorter meetings, moving desks, changing shifts, restructuring the team, or applying for a transfer. The less you see that person, the less damage they can do. The more astute will realise why you are spending less time allowing them opportunities in which they can attempt to manipulate you. This is especially effective if combined with assertive communication when you are forced to spend time with them. They will see less of you, and what they do see, is positively different.
    This is one example of setting boundaries around your time. We highly recommend Cloud and Townsend’s Boundaries, which deals with protecting you and yours using boundaries.
  3. If your fear is one where you are paralysed in the company of more than a few colleagues, take it one step at a time. One of the best ways of overcoming debilitating shyness is to begin practising on strangers. Chat to the guy in the paper shop, or have a longer conversation than is necessary with a random stranger at the bus stop. This helps build up your repertoire of things to talk about, and makes you realise that you can participate in an interesting conversation after all. Learn to use body language, clothing, smiles, handshakes to create an air of confidence, and fearlessness. The feelings will come later, but the appearance of confidence is achievable. With success, comes the positive emotion of confidence, which in turn fuels the next encounter. We recommend The Confidence Booster Workout.


Who “makes” you feel obliged? A demanding boss? A lazy co-worker who will show up the team, if you fail to step in and cover up for her? An immature parent? A whinging child?

Are you the person who sorts things out? Gets things done? Fixes whatever, and whoever, is broken? Takes care of things no-one else will?

If your life is taken up with rescuing other people, then you’re heading for depression.

How do I know? Because I sometimes work with those who deal with depression sufferers. Besides, I’m the Rescuer personality type and I know what it feels like to be consumed with wanting to help fragile victims, taking on the heavy, emotional baggage they inevitably carry around. And, because I see the Rescuer type every day.
They’re physically exhausted. And, mentally?

Far from feeling benevolent toward the person they’re rescuing from their own problem, inadequacy or laziness, they most often resent them!

Techniques for Limiting Obligation to Your Genuine Responsibilities Only

You have the right to judge your own behavior, thoughts, and emotions, and to take the responsibility for their initiation and consequences upon yourself.

You have the right to offer no reasons or excuses for justifying your behavior.

You have the right to be independent of the goodwill of others before coping with them.

You have the right to say, “I don’t care”.

  • Now, go back and read the rights again. Ponder what each one would look like in your life.

From now on, take care of those things you know are your real responsibilities, and ignore those that others place unfairly upon you. This is not a licence to drop your responsibilities. On the contrary, it is a license to take up those responsibilities and carry them out, unfettered by the illegitimate obligations placed on us by others.


What if you don’t do something for someone? Are you taken over by guilt? Do you groan at the consequences?

If I don’t do this for her, then she’ll suffer! If I don’t help out, then no-one else will!

Did you ever stop to think that it is not within your circle of concern what the consequences are? And, sometimes it is not even within your circle of influence! It only appears so, because you have allowed someone else to determine it for you.

Techniques for Not Feeling Guilty

  • Ask yourself if you have done something wrong. If not, then you need not feel guilty. That nagging voice in your head probably speaks very like your parent/child/boss/friend/neighbour. It is false. Ignore it. You will train yourself gradually to mute the volume.
  • Are you the type that can’t enjoy a success? You feel guilt instead? Think of success as a logical, intended culmination of years of planning, or months of study, or days of labour. It would be a huge surprise if anything other than success was the result. That is what you are working toward, isn’t it? Then, enjoy it!

You Are The Only Person Who Can Break The FOG Cycle

I’m very fortunate, I know, to have a husband who cares for my mental well-being. But, I was horrified, though not surprised, recently, to listen to a woman whose husband never asked her how she was feeling. The thing is, if you never say how you’re feeling, people can sometimes be forgiven for assuming that you feel OK. That leads to a situation where your feelings are unimportant.

Never underestimate the immense lack of interest of others, even those closest to you, in your contentment, mental wellbeing, physical health or fulfilment in life.

Fear – speak out, be heard in a positive way. Don’t fall into the trap of becoming aggressive towards those who scare you.

Obligation – take responsibilities seriously, but only those that you decide on.

Guilt – much of it is misplaced. Decide if the emotion is warranted, and act accordingly.

All of this takes a little practice, I know! But, it is achievable.

Image credit: mikecolvin82.

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Radical Listening Skills

I was momentarily speechless this week, as I listened to 14-17 year olds tell me how I could tell if they were listening to me. We then applied this to listening to others, specifically those who were telling you something very personal, such as their feelings and what they were thinking about themselves. Here are the phrases they called out, as we thought what might be important to think about when we were trying to demonstrate attentiveness.

Eye Contact

The old rule is that when you’re talking, you look at the person 60-70% of the time, but this increases to 70-80% of the time, when they are talking to you. Solidly maintained eye-contact is threatening, as in The Godfather. Absent eye-contact is disconcerting and irritating, as in People Who Love Schmoozing at Parties. You must consistently present an interested demeanor, otherwise someone will lose interest in you, or become anxious and/or aggressive.

Of course, you can use eye contact to your advantage, if you want to escape someone or discourage them from speaking. This works best with aggressive types, who will often become sullen, and eventually silent, following a period of decreasing eye-contact.

Body Language

Face the speaker. Make sure your feet, chest and head are pointing toward them. Lean forward into the conversation. If you are there in body, it conveys the notion that you are also there in mind.

Those who seem to lean toward the speaker, but face elsewhere, or vice-versa are most often to be found at parties, where someone of more interest has entered the room. For such people, it’s kinder to release them and find someone with more manners.


It’s one of the easiest things to do. It can make even the most socially awkward person seem more engaged with the speaker. It takes a minimal of effort. It encourages people to keep going.

It’s something to avoid if you’ve tired of listening, though. In my experience, it’s best avoided at networking meetings. Otherwise, you will become trapped with an entrepreneurial bore.


Nothing is more discouraging for a speaker than someone who does not respond. This is something I encounter occasionally when I’m speaking to a larger group. It takes time to establish rapport. And, if you’re in the process of revealing something very personal, then a lack of response will soon cause your openness to dissipate.

Responding to a speaker is the greatest way of eliciting more information. It’s best done via open-ended questions. Tell me more… So, how did that feel? Have you any other thoughts about that?

Alternativelt, if you fail to respond, it sends a clear signal to the speaker of your lack of interest.

Asking Questions

If you aren’t listening and hearing what is being said, then you will be entirely unable to formulate intelligent and probing questions. If the question you ask is vague, it gives the speaker the impression you were only listening at the start or at the end, as they drew their speaking to a close. Asking precise questions shows engagement and interest in the person and their topic.

You could of course avoid asking questions at all, to not-so-subtly indicate you are not interested in hearing about it any further. People who are uncomfortable with a certain topic often do this unconsciously, giving the wrong impression, but nevertheless ending any further discourse.


The best encouragement, which will elicit an aura of openness and honesty, is a genuine and recurrent smile. It promotes feelings of empathy, friendliness and trustworthiness. What better foundations for a good, honest conversation?

What are your thoughts? Do you have any tips for adding to our list of Listening Skills? Feel free to add them in a comment below.

Image credit: el Buho n ∫30.

One is Not Born, But Rather Becomes, Gifted!

The whole ‘nature versus nurture’ debate is increasingly fought out in the field of education. In an interesting article called Nature, nurture and exam results, Mike Baker looks at the current state of play. Which is, that a child’s family background largely dictates their potential for academic success.

According to Professor Chris Woodhead – former controversial Chief Inspector of Schools in England – genetic inheritance plays the decisive factor. He has a swathe of anecdotal evidence on his side.

Yet others, coming at matters form a more policy-making agenda, want to play up the part of social class as a determinant.

However kids start off, “subsequent educational success is more likely to go to those with affluent, middle-class parents” says the article. Those nefarious suburbanites are at it again!

I have only a few points to make.

Intelligence is Not the Same as Academic Skill

The article, and most of those in the education sector, seem to equate the two. One would think that they had never heard of Multiple Intelligence Theory, probably the best theory in the world (in a Carlsbergian sense). Traditional academic skill in words and numbers is one way of expressing intelligence. There are others – bodily movement, personal interactions, attunement with nature, capacity for self-reflection, spatial awareness, and musical appreciation.

So the question is not whether you are intelligent, but in what way you express it. The education system in the UK has still not faced up to this liberating truth.

In my opinion, monkeys can be taught to pass exams. It’s not the big deal we were told it was.

Motivation is More Important than Raw Ability When it Comes to Life Success

The world seems increasingly full of academically smart people (i.e. university graduates) who aren’t making much of their lives. They don’t know what they want, they aren’t interested in self-improvement, they work for money and nothing more. The averagely bright person with enthusiasm will always ace the smart person who can’t be bothered trying or who fades out at the first setback.

And the twist is, this very ability to motivate yourself is in itself a form of intelligence! (Emotional intelligence writers call motivation “the master aptitude” for a good reason.) So perhaps that supposedly ‘average but optimistic’ kid isn’t so average after all.

The great thing is that you can learn this optimism. You can grow your own self-motivation skills. You can teach yourself to be resilient when the chips seem down.

You can become gifted.

Image credit: Werwin15.

A Dangerous Happiness

For believe me: the secret for harvesting from existence the greatest fruitfulness and the greatest enjoyment is to live dangerously! Build your cities on the slopes of Vesuvius! Send your ships into uncharted seas!

Friedrich Nietzsche, The Joyous Knowledge, 238

According to Martin Seligman, Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, there are three levels of happiness in life.

  1. The Pleasant Life in which we seek happiness by maximising the quantity and quality of pleasurable sensations
  2. The Good Life in which we attain happiness by achieving commitment and competence in work, play and love
  3. The Meaningful Life in which happiness flows from a deep sense of fulfillment by living for a purpose greater than oneself

I want to suggest a forth level, or better, a forth perspective on happiness.

  1. The Dangerous Life in which we strive for happiness by opening ourselves up to the excitement and opportunities of risk

Positive Psychology lists twenty-four character strengths the discovery and development of which leads to personal happiness. Three of them are: curiosity/interest in the world, leadership, and hope/optimism.

Pandora’s Box

Curiosity is dangerous. Nietzsche ‘s quote mentions exploration of the unknown. The drive to experience new places, new people, and new ideas is usually considered positive and healthy. Such an inquisitive spirit is the basic motivation behind all learning and information gathering.

Of course, exploration can be physically dangerous. But recent research has shown that the emotion of curiosity itself can lead humans to expose themselves to aversive stimulifor no apparent benefits. The human need to resolve uncertainty, regardless of the consequences, sometimes leads to trouble, as Pandora found out.

Believing in yourself is dangerous. Another study showed that believing in ourselves increases risk taking subjects who are led to believe they are very competent at decision making see more opportunities in a risky choice and take more risks. Part of this belief was due to positive feedback, and part due to strong self-belief, or, as psychologists call it, self-efficacy .

Risky Business

Optimism is dangerous. Optimists show considerably less risk-aversion than pessimists, both in relation to risk perception and actual risk taking. An uncertain environment can contain a situation of either pure chance or imprecise probability. In both counts, optimists are willing to plunge in where pessimists fear to tread.

So, even in Positive Psychology, here is no positive without the possibility of a negative. There is no happiness without the danger of pain. There is no reward without risk. If you want to grasp at more happiness, then you must relish embracing the dangerous too.


Christopher K. Hsee and Bowen Ruan. “The Pandora Effect: The Power and Peril of Curiosity.” Psychological Science 27, no. 5 (2016): pp. 659 666.

Krueger, Norris, and Peter R. Dickson. “How believing in ourselves increases risk taking: perceived self-efficacy and opportunity recognition.” Decision Sciences 25, no. 3 (1994): 385-400.

Tadeusz Tyszka (Kozminski University) and Jaideep Roy (Murdoch University). “Optimism and Attitude Towards Risk.” Kozminski Business School Working Paper Series No. 06 (2008).


Since working with Aware Defeat Depression on the Mood Matters programme, I’ve been looking for another opportunity to get involved with a mental health organisation. Recently an opportunity arose for a Sessional Trainer with CAUSE. I’m delighted to announce that I’ll be working with CAUSE on two of their programmes.

Resilience for Carers

This one day course examines our ability to bounce back from setbacks and the impact that resilience and emotional intelligence can have on your role as a carer. Using real life examples, it helps us realise the skills we are currently using and motivates us to build on those to support our caring role.

Carers Course PREP

“The CAUSE Carers course consists of six short lively modular workshops with interactive discussions, guest speakers and information on the fundamentals you need as a carer of someone with a serious mental illness.”

Read more about training for carers at CAUSE.

Resilience Authors

The one of particular interest to me is the Resilience topic, since Sensei already delivers the topic to organisations across Ireland. For me, resilience is best defined using some of the most inspiring thinkers I’ve read:

  • Langer, On Becoming An Artist in which she talks about enjoying the now, without stressing about the outcome
  • Langer, Counterclockwise in which she talks about our society’s distasteful tendency to discard the old and remove all choice from their lives, and shows a better way that alleviates (and sometimes heals) the natural ageing process and fosters happiness at all stages in life
  • Goleman, Emotional Intelligence in which he posits EI as the source of success, contentment and progress in life, relationships, communication and work
  • Seligman, Learned Optimism in which he argues for a conscious route to a more productive, creative life through the discipline of optimistic approach to life

If you’d like to arrange a Resilience workshop for your workplace, contact us.

Depression: Snog, Marry or Avoid?

So before this week I thought there were two end-points when tacking depression. You could cure and defeat it ( ‘avoid ‘). Or admit that it would be with you always but try to set boundaries to it and manage it on a daily basis ( ‘marry ‘).

Now I think there might be a third option. You can embrace it and use it to your advantage ( ‘snog ‘).

I know that there have been books out there for a while now that have talked about ‘the depression advantage ‘ but I remained mildly cynical, mostly because of the pain I experience in my own depression, partly due to the unscientific nature of the arguments used to justify such an outlook.

Is depression a mental state that flows from personality?

A few insights have conspired to open my mind a little. The first is a growing sense that depression is a mental state that flows from my personality rather than environment or lifestyle. If this is so, not only would it be wrong to try and cure it, it would lack strategic value. My philosophy is that you use what you have to your advantage rather than waste time regretting it.

Are depressives wiser?

Also, I read an article about Winston Churchill which argued that his depressive moods where a reason why he was able to see the dangers of Hitler ‘s Germany more clearly than any other politician of his time. I have since learned that there is a perspective on depression called ‘depressive realism ‘ that argues this very point. It seems that depressives may be in the words of one academic article ‘sadder but wiser ‘.

BTW please don ‘t watch the TV show that inspired the title of this blog. It will really depress you! 😉

Image credit: dm-set.

Controlling Personalities Always Lose

This blog is all about communication. We blog about internal communication within organisations and relationships, external communication with customers, partners, suppliers and fellow SMEs.

This blog is about personal communication. This blog is about you. This blog is not for the faint-hearted, or weak. It is not for those who habitually practice dishonesty and cultivate a closed mindset. If you consider yourself brave, strong, honest and willing to learn, read on.

Are you controlling the communication around you? See how many yeses you can answer to the following questions. Be careful of drawing misleading conclusions. Do not take one Yes and interpret this as indicating you have a controlling personality. Take clusters of Yeses. And, take them in context.

Do people have to tiptoe around you?

  • You may notice that not many people want to spend time with you. And, that those who do are exercising their right to limit that time.
  • And, when they do spend time with you, do you notice that they are quieter? Or hold back? That may be a sign of fear.
  • Do they avoid subjects altogether, or quickly change the topic in a group when it’s likely to set you off?
  • Do people not seem to have a personality, or opinions, or plans of their own, when you’re around? They’re avoiding telling you anything, incase you react badly, or forcefully and disrespectfully try to change their mind. Restricting the flow of information is a tactic used by assertive people, in an attempt to protect themselves from controlling personalities.

You feel left out? That is correct, you are being left out of the loop because people need to protect themselves from you. They’d be delighted to hear, if only once, “oh, that’s interesting”, “well done you”, or “wow, you’ve really thought about and planned for this, haven’t you?”. Anything that validates their right as an individual to have a different life, plans, opinions, morals, and thoughts to you.

You think you’re winning, but you’re losing out on intimacy.

Are you moody?

This is not Depression. I’m talking about unpredictability and unease and anxiety that others feel around you, as they have no idea how, when or what you will react badly to.

  • Do you explode with anger when plans are changed, even slightly?
  • Do you sneer at the plans of others, even when they don’t involve, or affect you?
  • Do you make (non too subtle hints) that things would be less expensive or smarter if done another, specified way?

Their good news and plans make you feel threatened, useless, like a spare part.

  • Do you have a reputation for spoiling every good piece of news that is shared with a cutting word, or sneering face?
  • Do you tell one person one thing and one person another, causing complete confusion over what you really think, or (attempting to) spoil friendships or relationships?

Unsaid and unresolved hurts surface at the unlikeliest of times, leaving those around you wondering: “Where did that come from?”.

Even when there may be a genuine, or at least understandable, reason for you to react badly to something, your reactions seem particularly over the top. Are people afraid of you physically? Do they wonder when you will take that piece of furniture and hit them with it, instead of just pounding on it? Does your menace take the form of hidden manipulation of others in your circle, to the detriment of the one you want to hurt?

  • Do you swear revenge, for the smallest of reasons? Do you see people as trying to making a fool of you? Is your ego so fragile?

Your nice, friendly, good days are likely to be wiped out by one bad, or extreme, episode of moodiness. If you frighten or threaten someone, or threaten to hurt yourself, or swear never or always to [insert dramatic statement], the good is forgotten – instantly. People are afraid. And, further good, welcoming, friendly, or supportive comments are likely to be seen through that veil. People will be suspicious, in order to protect themselves.

You think you’re winning, but you’re losing out on honesty.

Do you have a temper?

  • It’s so easy to physically threaten to harm a child, isn’t it? You just raise your voice, maybe thump the breakfast bar, and threaten all manner of specified or unspecified things. Instant control. Instant compliance (or, so you believe). But, also, the end of respect. The end of love. The end of relationship.
  • This, and its ilk, is emotional abuse. It is very often accompanied by physical abuse of some type.
You think you’re winning, but you’re losing control. Oh, the irony!

Can you accept “No”?

Do you permit other people the right to disagree with you, or say “no”?

  • When someone says “no” to you, how do you respond?
  • Have you ever accepted anyone’s “no”?
  • What about that spouse who is on the receiving end of your proclamations all day, every day? As a percentage, how many nos have you accepted from them, without it turning into another opportunity to abuse them?
If you can’t accept someone’s “no”, you’re a bully. This is not the same as having a discussion, even a heated one, about an issue. What I’m talking about is manipulating that person’s “no”, by constant whining, criticism, berating, laughing, sneering… until it becomes a “yes”. For, everything must be just as you please.
Your victim may eventually succumb to only making decisions they know you’ll approve of, or not making any decisions at all. Then, you have them exactly where you want them.
You think you’re winning, having everything your way? In fact, you’re losing grip of reality.

How do you react in mundane conversations?

Do you expect people to read your mind? They must already know how you feel, what you want, where to go, what to decide. After all, everything is about you, isn’t it?

  • Your child’s decision about what to do with their car when it’s travelled its last journey is all about you, yeh? That’s why you feel so threatened and have to offer your (always contrary) proclamation on what should be done with it.
  • Your co-worker’s decision about how to handle the office move is directly designed to cause you maximum pain, isn’t it? It’s not about efficiency, or cost, or anything else. The entire company has conspired against you, and your co-worker just happens to be a convenient whipping post.
  • Infact, when it comes to questions, you’d rather be in what you see as the driving seat, asking the questions, interpreting the answers (to your pleasing) and making the decisions.
  • Do you ever go insane with anger when someone does something in a way in which you’ve told them not to?

You think you’re in control of the motivations and decisions of others? You’re not; you’re losing respect.

What happens when someone wants to do their own thing?

  • Does this threaten you? That’d they’d want go out for an evening or on holidays alone or with other people, not including you?
  • Do you attempt to make them guilty for “leaving you alone”, including infantile behaviour such as not eating or taking care of yourself physically, because they’re not there to do it for you? Most eight-year old kids would be capable of making themselves at least a sandwich!
  • Do you make pretend you care for them and tell them that you’d miss them? So that they feel their right to their own life and independent pursuits is invalid?
  • Do you manipulate them to change their plans to suit you? Or, in desperation at your lack of control, do you delay their departure? For example, do you ask them to complete some mundane task for you (such as make a cup of tea, or find an invoice), that a chimp could do, just as they are leaving the house for their day out?
  • Do you constantly ring them while they’re away from your company to ask when they’ll be back, despite already knowing their estimated return time? While on the phone, do you regale them with how dull and uneventful your day or week has been?
Maybe you need to go and get your own life. That way, you’d have less time for the grinding self-pity, and spoiling of others’ enjoyment. Who knows, maybe you’d even meet new friends with whom to enjoy your new interests?
You’re losing the opportunity to share your life with others. Because you can’t share them.

Really, you want to reshape them, like a potter and his clay

  • They don’t exist outside of you do they?
  • How would they ever cope without you?
  • They’ll be sorry when you’re gone, won’t they?
  • They’d never be able to afford to survive, if you weren’t there to provide, or organise the accounts.
  • Nothing is ever your fault is it? It’s always someone else’s.

Let me light a fire under your ass. You’re the common denominator in all your failed relationships.

  • “If only you wouldn’t… then I wouldn’t…” You should get this tattooed across your chest, so you don’t have to say it 50 times a day.

Not only are you losing. You’re a loser.

Do you ever give compliments?

No, is the correct answer.

That would be to agree with someone, to praise someone’s effort, decision, character, appearance or achievement. Instead, your criticise and pick faults. They may even return a piece of clothing or pair of shoes (a very personal choice for many of us) because you don’t like it. They may choose not to share a recent purchase with those whose opinion matters to them, because you berate their enthusiasm. And, all evidence of personality or enthusiasm must be quashed, yeh? You must break them…

Perhaps you do compliment people, but offer it up back-handed, through someone else, or with a barb attached. So, it’s not really a compliment at all. You wouldn’t want that person to feel good about themselves, now, would you?

After all, your goal is to keep them down, mould their personality, siphon off their self-esteem, so you can grow larger as you become their master. Is the ultimate aim that they become your clone? Talk like you? Criticise like you? Rage like you?

But, all is not lost yet.


  • You must stop blaming those around you for your pitiable life, disappointing family, shattered career or self-inflicted loneliness.
  • You must realise that change is alone down to you.
  • And, then you must take the first step toward dealing with it. This may be therapy, counselling, reading a book, learning new communication skills, or all of the above.

You are the common denominator, and it is you who must change. If you need help in this area, if you seem to be losing all the time, get in touch. We will be able to point you in the direction of some agencies who offer therapy and counselling.

Image credit: moggsoceanlane.

Develop Your Inner Psychopath

My fascination with what makes a psychopath was yanked again recently. Psychopaths are usually characterised as those who possess no empathy, marking them out from the rest of us as cold and emotionless. Empathy is a central plank of our Emotional Intelligence and is understood as the ability of recognising emotions in others and attuning to subtle social signals given out by others. It is the fundamental people skill, according to Daniel Goleman.

What is empathy?

Empathising can be thought of as the drive to identify another person ‘s emotions and thoughts, and to respond to these with an appropriate emotion. The empathiser intuitively figures out how people are feeling, and how to treat people with care and sensitivity. Sometimes it is called ’emotional attunement ‘.

Empathy is built on self-awareness. The more you are open to your own emotions, the more skilled you will be in reading feelings. But in practical terms, the key to intuiting other people ‘s emotions lies in the ability to read non-verbal cues voice tone, gesture, facial expressions, posture, silence (how not what we say). It is not about merely ‘being nice ‘.

This EI understanding of empathy definitely describes it as a skill rather than a personal trait. If so, then it can be learned and taught. But many experts seem to believe that psychopaths are born as such, and that there is little we can do but manage them and clear up after their mess.

The Wisdom of Psychopaths

Now, however, the latest research suggest that psychopathic criminals have an empathy switch that can turn on given the right instructions. The difference between them and the rest of us is that our empathy switch has a default setting of ON while theirs is OFF.

My slightly radical view is that the optimal ability is to have the power of self-switching, or turning on or off your empathy as the situation demands.

Should we all be a bit psychopathic at work? This was the provocative title of an article that got me thinking. It was written by BBC Business reporter Tim Bowler in response to the work of Professor Kevin Dutton. Dutton has written a book called The Wisdom of Psychopaths: Lessons in Life from Saints, Spies and Serial Killers. It ‘s a terrific book. I gave it five stars in an extensive Amazon review.

Those of us who care too much about what others think or are overwhelmed by the moods of others need to develop our own inner psychopath.

We could all benefit from sometimes being more ruthless, fearless, self-confident, focused, mentally tough, charming or charismatic – all of which are traits of a psychopath.

The problem isn ‘t with these traits per se, only when they are turned up to dysfunction levels.

Psychopaths Inc

Successful entrepreneurs in particular share many of the traits of psychopaths. That why some studies claim that bad boys make good entrepreneurs. Risk taking behaviour combined with intelligence is the secret to making millions, according to this view. They have greater self-esteem, more aggression, more flexibility, impulsiveness and independence. Sound familiar?

Psychologists traditionally viewed risk-taking as an abnormal behaviour, associated with disorders such as drug abuse and manic depression. But the Cambridge research said that entrepreneurs showed an adapted type of impulsive risk-taking that allows them to seize opportunities under stress.

This is a challenge to traditional EI models that mark high empathy levels with high success. Maybe this is true to an extent, but it doesn ‘t really account for the Henry Fords or Steve Jobs of this world. It seems that the highest levels of success belong to those who can show flexible empathy, even anti-empathy, as the context demands.

Are you a psychopath? How do you use your skills to advantage in business?

Image credit: cameronstear.

What is the Opposite of Depression? (Part 1)

One way to gain insight into the nature of something is to examine its opposite. I was struck recently by reading the words of different people who claimed that the opposite of fear, for example, is not courage, but love. Instead of forever debating an exact definition of depression, one way forward might be to imagine its opposite and then work towards achieving that opposite state in depressed people.

So what is the opposite of depression? I present you with three candidates.

Depression is a form of mental ill health. The opposite of ill health is, well, health. This is true but it doesn ‘t take us very far. There are many varieties of mental illness of which depression is one. Mental health is a general term; depression is a specific. Also, someone can lack depression or other forms of mental illness and yet we could not classify them as mentally healthy. Health is a positive appraisal. It shouldn ‘t merely mean that an illness is lacking.

Depression is a state of low mood, whatever else is may be. Therefore, the opposite of depression is a state of high mood. The clinical name for this elevates state is mania, which is mostly associated with bipolar disorder. There is a type of mania called hypomania that is a functioning disorder in which people feel highly energised, confident and assertive. However, as it is a disorder, it may lead to risk-taking behaviours and progress into full-blown bipolar. It is not a healthy alternative to depression.

I wish to suggest a third alternative that is wholly positive and within our power. It struck me after rethinking a well-known quotation from Brian Sutton-Smith. The opposite of play is not work, its depression. The application of this quote is usually directed towards the world of work: play and work are not dichotomies, and there should be play element in the workplace. But could the quote ‘s focus not equally be the sphere of depression?

I suggest that the true opposite of depression is play. I’ll unpack this radical idea a bit more in my next blog.

What is the Opposite of Depression? (Part 2)

In What is the Opposite of Depression? (Part 1) I suggested that the true opposite of depression is play.

Play, like depression, is essentially a mood or mental state rather than a set of behaviours. Scholars have called it a lusory attitude. That simply means the psychological attitude a players has when they entre into a game. “To adopt a lusory attitude is to accept the arbitrary rules of a game in order to facilitate the resulting experience of play.”

The development of a lusory attitude strongly suggests that depression can be cured. Many treatments today aim merely at management of depression rather than its cure. Depression is kept under control by drugs or wrestled unto temproary submission by therapy. Neither of them end it forever.

Play provides a way to achieve this positive mental state, namely, in the activity of play itself. Play as an activity takes many forms, such as games, humour and joyfulness. Each of these has a variety of forms. Depressed people can with help experiment to find those play forms that suit them best and that prove most effective against depression.

Although achieving a play mindset is the goal, engaging in different types and levels of play activity is the means of cure. This is healthier, cheaper and more fun than medication or talking cures.

Developing a lusory attitude in depressive people provides a positive, alternative mindset to their current state. Its aim is not to take away the depression and leave them with blank state to which the illness can easily return. Play provides a positive alternative with which to replace depression.

How this play mindset might be achieved is still open to discussion. There are many different types of play to suit different personality types and situations. The goal is not escape from the harsh realities of life but the construction of an attitude that allows for a healthy engagement with them. Play gives people the opportunity design their experience and dispense their energy in positive ways. Depressive people could be encouraged to experience play, to apply play and to live a playful life.