I’ve been learning, practicing, and speaking about emotional intelligence for over 12 years. But it wasn’t until 2017 that I finally discovered how best to describe the concept, and the feedback I received only reinforced that discovery.

At Junto, we’ve always used Daniel Goleman’s framework for emotional intelligence that is based on scientific research and consists of four domains: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management. Furthermore, each of the four domains has specific competencies within them, which have evolved over the years based on Goleman’s research and thinking. And finally, the domains are presented as simply four parts of a whole: I’ve rarely seen or read Goleman discussing the relationships among them.

Therefore, with multiple domains and competencies, and little emphasis on how they’re all related to one another, the mere task of describing and learning emotional intelligence can be quite challenging. And that doesn’t begin to address the complexity of actually trying to practice it.

So my discovery in 2017 was that, based on personal experience and observations, the four domains are actually building blocks that are dependent on one another. In other words, the foundation of emotional intelligence is self-awareness, and until there is improvement there, one cannot make much improvement with self-management, and so on.

And once I had that epiphany, I visualized a set of building blocks to show the relationships among the domains (left side in the graphic below), as well as the various competencies (each of the blocks). I tested that visualization in a couple speaking engagements, and the feedback was unlike anything I had experienced before: people actually “got it,” and they got it right away.

The Junto Institute_Building Blocks of Emotional Intelligence.jpg

While the complexity is still there (I can’t simplify the domains or reduce the number of competencies!), there is simplicity in the concept and visual of “building blocks.” The concept communicates the idea that the four domains build upon one another. And the visual illustrates how the different competencies relate to their domains. The fact that people also connote building blocks with play is an added bonus.

As you can see, self-awareness is the foundation of it all; without a sense of what we’re feeling and how we see ourselves, it’s very hard to work on the remaining domains. Furthermore, it’s easier to see that the competencies in relationship management are directly related to leadership, making the connection between emotional intelligence and our work far simpler to understand.

The building blocks of emotional intelligence. Like most things in life, sometimes all it takes is revisiting the simplicity of childhood to make sense of the complexity of adulthood.