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Why your emotional intelligence will make or break your business success

Why your emotional intelligence will make or break your business success

The entrepreneur stereotype has permanently changed. 

The old school business archetype is all about smooth talking, pinstripe-suited, cigar smoking, deal brokering, power tycoons.

These captains of industry weren’t afraid to scream at subordinates, drown their sorrows in mid-afternoon whiskey or mortally wound their opponents at the negotiating table. They won huge success, fighting bitterly against all the odds.

It was always hard, never fun and once they “arrived” at success they promptly rode the gravy train all the way to the last stop: Divorce, Diabetes and eventually… Death.

It’s a dying breed. The good news? Even as these assholes fade into legend, a new paradigm of entrepreneurship has emerged. 

Want to know the big difference between the new school of entrepreneurs and the old? It’s Emotional Intelligence.

The new, smart(er) entrepreneur knows that his (or her) emotional state dictates the success he creates. His mindful understanding of emotional psychology elevates him to the next level of brilliant business success and impact.

Here’s why…

Emotion drives decision 

Antonio Damasio, a professor of neurology at the University of Iowa, is a leading researcher in the neuroscience of emotion and decision making. His research shows that part of the human brain, called the amygdala, assigns emotional meaning to situations we encounter.

Damasio found startling phenomena in patients whose amygdala had been removed during brain cancer surgeries. Otherwise recovered patients would rapidly drive their business and personal lives into the ground by a series of rapidly made, terrible decisions. 

One famous patient in Damasio’s studies, whose identity was protected with the pseudonym “Elliot”, showed the full impact of losing the neurological hardware responsible for emotional intelligence.

In a few short months, Elliot went from being a recognized and successful business person – with a stable and happy personal life – to divorced, re-married and divorced again. Meanwhile his financial performance declined so rapidly he lost his job.

It turns out the amygdala’s function is to make us act on our emotions – using “gut feeling” to make day to day behavioral choices. It forms rapid emotional associations with external stimulus – the stuff we experience as we’re walking around living life – taking a whole bunch of decision making and “behavior choosing” off the plate of our conscious mind.

Your number one decision making tool is an auto-pilot system powered by emotion

In healthy people (with functioning amygdalae) the idea is that your emotions – negative ones in particular – serve as a powerful early warning, radar detection system.

We feel twinges in our “gut” about upcoming situations as we anticipate them and the amygdala translates that feedback into tiny tweaks in our behavior. A classic entrepreneurial example is seen anytime you negotiate a deal: You’re constantly unconsciously assessing and tweaking your communication, based on what you observe… and what your gut tells you about that.

This isn’t just happening at the negotiating table – your emotional state is dramatically effecting all your behavior. In business and at home.

When you feel a certain way, you’re marinating your brain in a specific bath of neurological chemicals. That in turn dictates the focus of your cognitive powers – literally shutting down behavioral options and opening up ones that never previously existed in your perception.

Think of the last time you were angry. Or better, really furious.

Remember how, back then, when you were in the heat of the moment no other behavior seemed to make sense as an option besides continuing to let the fury flow?

Anger, as an emotion, has this weird habit of shutting down the doors of perception. It eliminates our choices and forces us to continue committing further to one treacherous course of action.

Or, think of the last time you were really sad. Depressingly so. Remember how you felt like everything was hopeless and you had nothing to be grateful for. Did you feel like you had an abundance of behavioral choices at the time?

Painful sadness and hurt does the same thing. It robs us of options and blinds us to find the (obviously still present) positive things in our lives. It destroys our perspective.

Emotion effects all of our decision making, even when we tell ourselves we’re being rational

People who allow themselves to dwell deep amongst their emotional baggage are constantly throwing off their emotional decision making ability. The neurological function that makes “gut” choices starts producing skewed results.

Which brings us back to the old school cigar toting tycoon. The classic Trump-esque power suit entrepreneur is constantly allowing their decision making to be swayed by a powerful neurological bath of chemical bias.

The enlightened entrepreneurs produce more success (and fulfillment) by using emotional intelligence to guide their decisions.

Using emotional intelligence means working rapidly to identify and work through any negative emotion as it presents itself.

Before the emotion gains a food hold as baggage, you’re using it – in real time – as highly tuned feedback to tweak the direction your behavior. You’re flexible, agile and adaptable. Meanwhile, the old school ignore their feelings until they’ve reached boiling point. Only then will they change something, and it’s often “too little, too late”.

Convinced you want to join the new school of emotionally intelligence entrepreneurs? Here’s how to get started…

Pay attention to the way that you feel, before the feeling becomes a problem

The first step is to identify emotions as they come up. There’s no real strategy around this beyond “mindfulness” but it’s not as hard as you might think.

Humans were actually designed to feel and act on their negative emotions. 

It’s only the hangover legacy of Greek philosophy – the separation of body and mind – that gives the western world it’s peculiar aversion to negative feelings.

Negative emotions were originally designed to be experienced as a very sophisticated form of radar – advanced warning that something is coming up that we need to act on. I often talk about fear keeping us safe in the jungle – from tigers and whatnot – but all the other negative emotions have powerful, helpful meaning too.

So get a little warm and fuzzy with yourself and don’t be afraid to check in and see how you’re feeling. Any exercise of the mind/body variety will help you get good at this – yoga and meditation are king, but a moment of reflection or casual journalling will do the trick in a pinch.

This is just the first step in a series of emotional intelligence exercises I train almost all my clients in. I may write a follow up to this article, breaking down the rest in detail… but in the meantime, let me know how you access your emotional intelligence.

There are countless tactics humans can use to get in touch with (and use!) their feelings – so let’s get smarter together by sharing in the comment section. And if you want to know more about my process, drop  a quick comment to let me know that I should write about it next week!


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  1. I have tried mindfulness mediation and it worked wonders. I’ve since gotten lazy and don’t observe my emotions as well as I should . Just last evening I had a bout of depression followed by anger. Looking back it’s almost shocking how I felt and acted.

    I would enjoy learning more about your process for dealing with emotions.

    1. Hey Tony,

      That’s why it’s called a “Practice” – it’s something you’re never going to master necessarily, but will always have to work at. It’s important work to do!

      (Also, thanks for the vote!)

  2. If I feel really “full” of thoughts, I like to go for a run. It’s weird, I can tell my thoughts are starting to clear out and make more sense when my breathing and pace starts to even out.

    Other times I like to go for a walk in this park near my house that has trails running through the woods that butt up near a river bed. It’s very peaceful…I get a lot of good ideas out there.

    (Would love to know more about your process.)

    1. Heh, Missy, one of the techniques I really encourage is to use “state change techniques” – like exercise – to help digest and process emotional feedback! You’re totally rocking it! Moving your body is a surefire strategy to mix up your brain chemistry for the better.

      1. Hi Peter, fairly new to your site and I am really enjoying your articles…thank you.

        This article is of great interest to me and I was going to ask a question about it as it relates to another area I think I need some guidance or help with. I think your previous answer where you call it ‘state change techniques’ is what I am looking for.

        When I am about to make a ‘cold call’ to a prospect for example all the usual negative thoughts start to enter my head and I think of every reason under the sun that this call is going to be a disaster. More accurately I think about other people listening in and ‘laughing’ at me even though I know this will not happen. More often than not I don’t make the call, and I feel bad.

        I am sure you have heard all this before, and from my own research I keep coming across tips on changing my ‘state’ before the thoughts even get that far. Do you have any guidance, advice or another article on this topic which may help Peter?

        Thank you in advance. Robert

        1. Hey Robert,

          Cold calling is one of my favorite scenarios to apply state change techniques. I used to do a ton of corporate training, particularly of B2B sales people – you can boost a outbound call centers closing ratio by about 10% just by getting rid of their desk chairs. Standing up and moving your body as you talk (wireless headsets are a must) is enough to “change state” – physiology is a powerful tool.

          Stand like a confident person, breath like one, walk around like one. And you’ll eventually feel like one.

          Add some pump up tunes to the mix and you’ve got yourself a hell of a neuro-chemical cocktail!

  3. This is something I’ve come to understand myself. This is such a great article and an invaluable message for aspiring and struggling entrepreneurs alike.

    Thanks for sharing, Peter.

  4. Great points and on target! As a licensed social worker, I know the emotional pull for people and how much they want to fight it and just be logical. So much help is needed in showing and teaching people how to mange and blend the two aspects of our being.

  5. Very interesting article, particularly the section on how the mind is affected by damage to, or removal of, the amygdala. The behavior resulting from a lack of connection to the emotions is very similar to that of a person with Asperger’s syndrome. I’m wondering if there’s any correlation between the two conditions. The biggest challenge of an Asperger’s patient is the inability to recognize emotions in others, and perhaps themselves as well. For those involved with such a person, being able to understand and accept their lack of empathy is probably even more difficult. Knowing it may be related to the functioning of the amygdala might make it easier, maybe because there’s a physical component that is detectable and tangible. It would for me anyway.

    1. Hey Carole,

      My (limited) understanding of Asperger syndrome is that it’s centered around limitation in linguistic development that result in the symptoms you described. Emotion and language are intimately intertwined, but the only thing I can say for sure is that anything that effects both is going to be so complicated that the world’s foremost neuroscientists still have a lot to learn!

      The research I cite in this article doesn’t mention that subjects with their amygdala removed also develop Asperger or asperger-ish symptoms.

  6. Hi Peter
    Thanks for another stimulating read.
    I practice yoga and meditation as a way of being connected to my feelings. I can highly recommend signing up to for anyone interested in some excellent help developing those practises. It’s a brilliant website with a huge variety of video programmes for all levels and interests.

    A technique I have often employed to help me make more discerning decisions at times of fear reaction involves taking time to identify and write down all the thoughts cropping up in the moment of fear. These are usually negative expectations about what will happen, judgements about me/others and demands about what I must do in order to avoid disaster. Then I verify each thought, asking myself if its fundamentally true (TRUE), fundamentally false (FALSE) or a future prediction/guess at what someone else will do or think (DON’T KNOW). Invariably most of the thoughts are FALSE or DON’T KNOW. While this process takes a bit of time, it’s often been a very useful investment, helping me to effectively get to the truth of a situation and make a choiceful decision from that solid ground. This technique is from

  7. Hi Peter,

    Wow, that’s quite a paradigm buster. I often think about how to take the emotions/feelings out of my decisions. In the end, the fact is you can’t. And the fact is, if you had that piece of your brain removed — that piece that keeps us from thinking like Vulcans — you’re really be screwed.

    That’s valuable information! Thanks for sharing.


    1. Hey Mike, you put your finger on a great point here. I know a bunch of entrepreneurs who actually look at Spock as a role model – they value being dispassionate “robots” who make all their decisions based on “the facts”… but yeah, turns out the neurological realty of the metaphor such people aspire to… is a clusterf*ck!

      1. The thing I can’t wrap my mind around is this: isn’t mindfulness and mindful meditation is all about looking at things objectively, within their own context. To at least some extent, no?

        So if the mindfulness thing helps people make better decisions, as it does for me, then maybe the benefit isn’t so much in being objective. Maybe it has more to do with calm, even emotions.


        1. I wouldn’t presume to define “Mindfulness” in it’s entirety. That said, I think that the practices we’re talking about increase emotional awareness which accelerates development of resilience. So a mindful person is still going to have shit hit the proverbial fan, with negative emotions to boot… but they’re going to recover faster and make better decisions as a result of it.

          Imagine we’re all balancing on swiss balls. The point of perfect balance is being “in the zone”. Negative emotional episodes knock us off the ball. Those with mindfulness can anticipate the negative emotions coming and get better and better at balancing despite the disturbance. And when they do fall off, they get back up again quicker.

          Does that make sense? It’s a little early in the morning here – I’m either spinning metaphor gold or total bullshit 😉

          1. That makes sense, although I don’t know what the Danish would say about that.

            One of the interesting things I learned when I studied meditation is how to observe emotions as opposed to feeling them. “They’re like visitors to your house. You see them come and go.” I remember that line… something like that.

            Not that one could perfect that technique. For that matter they wouldn’t want to, within the scope of your article.

            I don’t think that making decisions based on negative emotions is necessarily a bad thing. Spiteful decisions are bad — I imagine those would drive someone out of business right quick.

          2. That’s exactly it. Getting perspective on emotions. Negative emotions ARE for making decisions with… it’s just that you have to have distance on them (perspective) before you make a good decision.

  8. I’ve used to be one of those people who’d quiet down the negative emotions and tell myself to put on my big girl pants and get on with the program. I wanted to be rational & objective, and it brought me to the brink of a breakdown. I found this article to be very informative & useful, & reassuring, knowing it’s a concept that is actually backed by science. Would love to read more on what you have to say about EQ & how it affects our decision making skills. Details please! Thanks for your insights.

    1. Hey Vanessa!

      Great to hear that you connected with this. I think the drive to be emotionless is prevalent in the entrepreneurial community, but it doesn’t really stand up to ideological extremes.

  9. It is in the moments of our decisions that our destiny is shaped. Rightly says tony robbins.

    And what affects most our decision making from moment to moment is our emotional state.

    Would love to read about the techniques you use to manage your emotional state.

    Thanks for the great post =)

  10. Hi Peter,

    Great article. I totally agree with what Vanessa is saying. I find myself taking responsibility for my whole department then to get thrown under the bus when someone else won’t take responsibility for their action. I don’t say anything because I live by the “don’t make excuses” motto and set my focus on trying to fix the situation instead of blaming others. Especially being a woman, I’m cautious of being a complainer or crybaby. But I feel a lot of resentment now because I think others, outside my department, are getting the idea that I’m the one making all the bad decisions.
    How do I stick up for myself in a professional way?

    Thank you!

    1. Hey Ashley,

      Thanks for swinging by to comment. I think that you may be having a communication problem, not so much a decision making issue. All decision making involves emotions, but it sounds like you’re simply not establishing and enforcing boundaries with your colleagues.

      It’s hard to do this in a toxic environment where others are more interested in playing the blame game, but you have to be ruthless about not tolerating precisely that. It’s okay if others don’t pro-actively solve problems as much as you do, but you MUST stop people from blaming you for failures they contribute to.

  11. I liked the article as in this changing scenario its not about High IQ but its more about correct EQ and aptitude that makes one success.Also,now people with strong social interaction & Networking climb ladder of Success much rapidly as its also important “Whom you know?” along with “Who you are”.But I have always feeled some sort of introvertness while starting a communication with someone Unknown(may be even if I liked him).
    I am now feeling much more confident after reading your articles.

  12. Ha! I’ve written/talked tons about Damasio and his research. I’m a huge fan.

    The best way to hack into my feeling-guidance system for me is to pay attention to physical reactions. I think about a choice I have to make and notice if my breathing gets tight and restricted and shoulders hunch up or if I feel a whoosh of relief and relaxation.

    If it’s the former, I dig deeper. What about that causes the tension? Fear of how it will be received? Fear of what my friends and family will think? Or something more concrete, like an intuition that there will be some nightmarish logistical tangle down the road? That gives me much more of a firm foundation upon which to base my decisions.

    1. Body awareness! I love it – I learned some of it from you 😀

      I think practicing this type of awareness is one of the fastest paths to mindfulness. It’s ironic – maybe it should be called “body-ness” haha

  13. Hey Peter,

    thanks mate.

    I am very good at tapping into emotions of ‘feeling good’ or accessing vibes that makes me feel good, joyful and goosebumps. I am skilled practitioner in directing attention that has been developed through meditation.

    Now how I can use these good feeling states to effectively to bring home the bacon with finances, business success and wealth.. by utilizing ‘the tip of iceburg’ wealth in the subconscious processes?

    Kindly pls advise.

    I have been very successful with my meditation and the internal wealth that is been continuously created due to this wonderful practice. But yet I cannot vouch the same when it comes to the finances and business I have been involved with so far to the extent that i would call ‘a success’.

    I believe there is a lot of potential in the subconscious to be utilized towards ‘this success’ through the use of the ‘good feeling states’.

    I am good at working at a level ‘higher’… than at the level of working with thoughts. I mean I am good at working with the feelings. Now from this state how do achieve my intention?

    Can you pls help me to arrive at this ‘success’ ?

    with appreciation

    1. Hey Ted,

      This may not be the right forum to address such questions (feel free to email me directly) … but I will say that your question presupposes that the skill of “tapping into emotions” and channeling attention can somehow be diverted into commercial success. It’s an interesting idea – and not without it’s merits – but I suspect other ingredients are required for business success to happen. So to properly answer your question, I may end up giving you some advice you don’t particularly want to hear.

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