Dr. Marc Brackett is the founder and director of the Yale Centre for emotional intelligence. He is the lead developer of RULER, an evidence based approach for teaching emotional intelligence that has been adopted by nearly 5,000 schools across the globe. He has published over 175 scholarly articles and has received numerous awards and accolades for his work. He consults regularly with corporations such as Facebook, Microsoft, and Google, and is the author of the book “Permission to Feel,” now translated into 22 languages. 

What is an emotion? 

An emotion is an experience based on something that happens in our heads or environment. For instance, when you perceive a threat, you may feel fear and respond accordingly. Similarly, if it’s raining outside and you live in London, you might not feel like going to work. A more formal definition is that an emotion is an automatic response to a stimulus that can be internal or external, affecting our thoughts, bodily sensations, expressions, and behavior. 

Define emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence is about using our emotions wisely. Emotions can either enhance or hinder our learning and performance. Emotional intelligence involves recognizing and labeling our feelings, understanding if they will be helpful in the moment, and managing them to achieve our goals. There are five skills we teach: recognizing emotions, understanding causes and consequences, labeling, expressing, and regulating. 

Why is it important to develop emotional intelligence?

Recognizing emotions involves interpreting our own and others’ emotions based on our bodies and minds. This can be done by looking at facial expressions, body language, and listening to someone’s voice. Recognizing emotions is a tricky skill because we often rely on caricatures to understand how people feel. However, people’s expressions can be very subtle, and emotions can have specific causes and expressions that vary from person to person. It is important to have empathy for each other and understand that emotions influence the way we see the world, make decisions, and behave. Labeling emotions precisely and expressing them with different people are also important aspects of building and maintaining healthy relationships. 

How can we distinguish between common emotions that often get confused, such as stress and anxiety?

Understanding emotions is crucial. Anxiety is caused by uncertainty, stress by too many demands and no resources, and being overwhelmed from a feeling of being saturated. It’s important to understand which emotion we’re experiencing because it affects how we regulate ourselves. Breathing exercises, yoga, and meditation can help with being overwhelmed and stressed, but anxiety might require restructuring our thoughts. For example, worrying about getting the Coronavirus is anxiety, not stress. 

Do you have any practical advice for how to develop this understanding?

It’s important to understand the link between our emotions and what we can do about them, especially when feeling stressed or anxious. Themes are important for people in coaching (life, business, and clinical) to understand accurately. Without this understanding, it can be difficult to provide support for someone’s feelings. At my university, many people turn to yoga to solve problems like envy, but this is not enough. Envy is a common issue due to social comparisons. To decrease envy, we need to help people shift their perspective of themselves in relation to others. 

It’s important to listen to what you’re hearing and acknowledge that your emotions and experiences provide valuable information. Distinguishing between jealousy and envy is also important. Avoiding negative emotions is not the solution; instead, we should recognize them as signals and use them as valuable data to act upon. 

We should not judge our emotions or experiences. Feeling anxious about the pandemic is not a weakness. There is a lot of uncertainty, especially for those who run organizations like mine. It makes me nervous and worried, but it also pushes me to do more complex problem-solving and relationship building. There is no such thing as a good or bad emotion; they are just life’s experiences. 

Do you have any strategies for approaching conflict in the workplace?

As a leader, it’s important to deal with conflict because everyone has feelings and opinions. The first step is being emotionally self-aware, recognizing when you’re triggered and understanding that you’re in fight or flight mode. To deal with the situation, you need to deactivate and regulate your emotions. You can take a walk or leave the room before having a difficult conversation. This is important because assuming emotions can lead to misunderstandings and trigger both parties involved. So step one is self-awareness to regulate your nervous system and avoid cortisol-pumping situations. 

Is it always important to express our emotions at work? Is it an effective way to communicate?

Emotional intelligence requires discernment. Trust is important in a relationship because you need to feel comfortable sharing your emotions. Emotional intelligence is developed in networks, relationships, offices, homes, and school. It’s important for everyone to work on their emotion regulation skills. To express emotions, we can create an emotional intelligence charter. The charter should outline how we want to feel and what we need to do to achieve those feelings. Ground rules and norms must be established before being fully transparent about how you feel. 

Can you provide more information on effective conflict resolution?

It’s important to understand each other’s perspectives and find ways to move forward in relationships, even when we have different ways of thinking and regulating emotions. This can be challenging, as people have different needs that need to be met. We must come to a place of deeper understanding, respect, and compassion. Conflict resolution styles can vary depending on the situation, and accommodating or avoiding conflict can be situational. Overall, it’s important to preserve key ideas while simplifying the language to make the text shorter and more concise. Remember, no matter what, we can respond with kindness. 

Please share your findings of your study on how supervisors’ emotional intelligence affects those around them.

Studies have shown that an employee’s emotional well-being is tied to their supervisor’s emotional intelligence. When supervisors lack emotional intelligence, their employees feel frustrated, uninspired, and are more likely to burnout or leave their profession. On the other hand, when supervisors have higher emotional intelligence, their employees are more inspired and less likely to burnout. 

Companies that ignore emotional intelligence are ignoring the benefits it brings in terms of productivity and profit. It’s important to pay attention to research that shows the impact of emotional intelligence on burnout rates (30% lower) and inspiration levels (50% higher). 

How can we reward and consider emotional intelligence for our leadership competencies?

Creating accountability for managers and leaders as role models is important. In my experience, working for someone with low emotional intelligence is dreadful. It’s not fun when someone is dismissive, doesn’t care about you, and ignores your feelings. On the other hand, working for someone with high emotional intelligence makes me want to work harder and spend more time with them.

Do you feel emotional intelligence is now more valued at a leadership level?

Yes, but I also see that people aren’t putting in enough effort to apply what they learn from books or talks in their everyday lives. The book is just a starting point. The hard work lies in applying these concepts in real-life situations, especially during challenging times like the pandemic where people are easily triggered. It takes a lot of effort and self-control to handle such situations without getting activated. I don’t want people to underestimate the amount of work involved. 

What are your tips for getting started with the next steps?  

Becoming aware is the first step towards emotional health. Emotional health is not the same as charisma or personality. It involves being open to feelings, curious about how you feel, and labeling it precisely. A growth mindset can help with regulating emotions. Skill development is also important, such as enhancing vocabulary and learning evidence-based strategies to regulate. 

Having insights is interesting, but skill-building is crucial. Commitment to emotional health work is necessary for companies. Training, using apps, and coaching can help build a community of emotional learners. Emotional intelligence should also be baked into HR policies such as paternity/maternity leave and productivity. Attitudes and beliefs, skills, culture, climate, and policy are the four key ideas to remember. I co-founded a company called Oji Life Lab to support workplaces in developing emotional intelligence. 

Could you touch on meta emotion, the idea of having feelings about feelings? For example. feeling embarrassed about being anxious?

Meta emotion is the feeling you have about your feelings. For example, you may feel anxious but also embarrassed about feeling anxious. This may lead you to avoid sharing your anxiety with others, especially in a professional setting where you fear being perceived as weak. To manage your meta emotion, you need to regulate how you feel about your emotions, not just the emotions themselves. 

Societal norms and gender stereotypes often shape our meta emotions. As a leader, it’s important to be honest about your emotions, but also to consider the impact of sharing them on your team. Instead of simply expressing anxiety, try problem-solving and proposing creative ideas to manage those feelings. Encourage open communication with your team to better understand their perspectives and find solutions together. 

Brought to you by Walking on Earth. WONE is the precision health platform for the workplace. We’re here to help you care for your team, by reducing stress, improving health and elevating happiness at work.


  • Gabriella is Senior Programme Manager at Walking on Earth, a stress resilience platform combining ancient practices with modern science. She has a BSc in Business Management, an MSc in Psychology, and has worked across academic research, healthcare and technology companies. Gabriella is passionate about blending expertise across these domains to help maximise access to tools and practices that help people take more control of their health and happiness.