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Home » The Power of Emotional Intelligence: Travis Bradberry at TEDxUCIrvine (Transcript)

The Power of Emotional Intelligence: Travis Bradberry at TEDxUCIrvine (Transcript)

Travis Bradberry

Here is the full transcript of author Travis Bradberry’s TEDx Talk: The Power of Emotional Intelligence at TEDxUCIrvine conference.

Listen to the MP3 Audio: The Power of Emotional Intelligence by Travis Bradberry at TEDxUCIrvine



I’m really excited to be here today to introduce you to a skill that can change the way you see yourself. It can change the way you see the world around you and everyone around you and it can absolutely change the way you go about reaching your goals in life and pursuing your goals.

And emotional intelligence is an absolutely critical skill because we have more than 400 emotional experiences every single day. Whether you’re aware of these experiences or not they can really drive the bus if you let them do that. And emotional intelligence is your ability to understand your emotions and to respond to them effectively to produce the behavior that you want.

Now to help you understand how emotional intelligence operates in the brain, I need to introduce you to a guy by the name of Phineas Gage. There’s going to be a little bit of a challenge with this microphone. See what I can do.

Phineas was a guy who was building the Burlington railroad in Vermont in the 1840s and he was not just any railroad foreman; he was considered to be the most capable foreman in the business. Phineas was very intelligent. He knew how to cut through the rocky terrain to lay the tracks on time but he also possessed that extra something that made people want to work for him. He was polite; he was calm and cool under pressure; and he was great with people.

Well on this one day in particular, Phineas being the hands-on manager that he was, he was working with an item called a tamping iron, about the length of this cane that I’m holding here, made out of really dense metal like a crowbar. And what Phineas would do is — the way they’d used the tamping iron is they would cut a hole in the rock they would pour blasting powder in there, and then they would pour sand on top. They would take the tamping iron and they would tamp down the sand. What this did is it gave them a very precise blast.

So on this day in particular, Phineas was waiting for his assistant to pour sand in the hole and his men overloaded a train car behind him, just you know overloaded it with boulders you can imagine the noise that it made and it distracted Phineas. It also distracted his assistant who didn’t pour sand in the hole.

So when Phineas went and he rammed the rod into the hole it ignited the gunpowder and launch the rod through his head like a rocket. It actually landed a hundred feet behind him in the bushes and it entered right below his left eye here. This is his skull which is on display at the medical library at the Harvard Medical School, let’s say goodbye to the cane. Now I can handle this microphone.

So the area of the brain that it removed is called your left orbital frontal cortex. And now this wouldn’t be much of a story to tell you except Phineas survived this accident without his left orbit — his left orbital frontal cortex was probably in the bushes back there with the rod.

And he was sitting up under his own power within five minutes of the rod traveling through his head. He logged his exit from the job site in the logbook and he told the town doctor what had happened to him. Took about six months for his physical wounds to heal and once they healed Phineas was ready to go back to work he was still every bit as intelligent as he had been before. He was still interested in building the railroad. His personality was the same.

But there was something very very key missing and it was how he responded to his emotions. What happened is every emotion that Phineas had exploded unfettered into action. So he was angry; he was impulsive; he was unreliable. Suddenly he was showing up late.

So here was this guy who so much of him was the same, yet something else was fundamentally different. Let me show you how that works in the brain.

Everything you experience in the world around you must enter at the base of your brain. So if you’re listening to me speak, the signal travels through your ear to the base of the brain. If someone bumps into you and the seat next to you, you feel that sensation, it goes to the base of your brain. Then it travels across your brain. And once it does so it travels through the limbic system. This is where emotions are generated.

In Phineas case, this part of the brain was still intact. His brain was producing emotions like normal but he lost his rational brain. He lost the area of the brain where he’s able to read and respond to these emotions.

Emotional intelligence combines the two. It’s your ability to understand these emotions that you’re happening — we’re a hardwired to be emotional creatures. So these emotions happen in a split second, you know before we’re able to think rationally about that.

What we do in response to our emotions dictates that’s really what emotional intelligence is about. Now if you’re like me, you’re probably saying well why do — if this is hardwired in our brain and we’ve known them, had the ideas about this since the 1850s of Phineas Gage, why is this a TED idea, why am I learning about this now?

Well we live in a world that doesn’t necessarily teach us what’s good for us. And this cola ad here from the 50s is a great example. It says, “For a better start in life start Cola earlier. How soon is too soon, not soon enough. Laboratory tests over the last few years have proven that babies who start drinking soda during that early formative period have a much higher chance of fitting in and gaining acceptance during those awkward preteen and teen years. So do yourself a favor. Do your child a favor. Start them on a strict regimen of sodas and other sugary carbonated beverages right now for a lifetime of guaranteed happiness.”

Now this is actually a satire, this ad, but let me show you a couple that aren’t. These are real ads right here and they send the same kind of message. Here’s one that’s saying that sugar is a great way to diet and curb food cravings. Here we have doctors who are telling us how healthy it is to smoke and then my favorite DDT is good for me. These are real ads of random publications. It’s a sign of the world we grow up and you know we’re taught the 3R’s in school but we’re not taught how to lead. We’re not taught all the capacities that we possess that we can utilize to make the most in life and emotional intelligence is absolutely one of these.

Now here’s what most people don’t know as a result of this. Emotional intelligence is absolutely distinct from your IQ. You can be high in emotional intelligence and have also a really high IQ. You can be low in one and not the other, low in both; they don’t occur together in any meaningful way, despite the stereotype that people with high IQs have low EQs right, that’s a stereotype because those folks stick out like a sore thumb.

Another thing that people confuse with emotional intelligence is personality. Personality is a stable set of preferences and tendencies through which you approach the world. It’s fixed at an early age just like your IQ. So if you’re a hopeless extrovert at age 17 you can’t expect that to change at age 40. And personality – it occurs in a part of the brain that’s what neurologists call crystallized, it’s fixed, it’s not responsive to change just like IQ.

Emotional intelligence, on the other hand, is an area of the brain this pathway between your emotional and rational brains is highly plastic. What that means is it’s flexible and responsive to change and when you work on your emotional intelligence your neurons will actually branch out to each other and increase the flow of information between your rational and emotional brains. This is the essence of emotional intelligence.

There’s four emotional intelligence skills but the thing you need to know is that statistically it really comes down to what you see is personal competence and social competence. Personal competence is about you; awareness of your own emotions and how you manage them; and social competence is about you with other people. It’s what you read — how you’re reading and responding to other people and what you do with that.

And the reason statistically there aren’t really four skills and it’s just kind of two is because once you become aware of your emotions, once you take the blinders off, it’s really hard not to do something productive with them. And there’s a lot of things that operate beneath our awareness. I’d like to show you one example.

This is from a study that was conducted at the University of the Netherlands and in this study they took people who had cortical lesions. So these folks — their eyes worked perfectly, the optic nerves worked perfectly, they sent the signals back to the base of the brain where everything needs to be processed and there’s a problem there. They had cortical lesions so the brain didn’t know what he was seeing even though their eyes were physically seeing it. So they’re blind.

What they did is they put these people in front of computer screens and they flashed images of people expressing strong emotions. When you do that with people with sight, there’s something called mirror neurons in your brain that mirror the emotional state of other people and you can’t help but have a very small emotional reaction.

So if I put an image of someone smiling really big you’ll crack a smile and if it’s someone really angry you’ll furrow your brow a little bit; you can’t control it. The thing that really freaked these researchers out is that these blind people were having the same reaction as people with sight. The exact same reaction. And it just really left them scratching their heads how can this be: the brain cannot process what their eyes are seeing and they went back and they further analyzed the MRIs.

And what they found is that there’s an alternate pathway in the brain. They found that — as the signals traveled down the optic nerve they were actually branching out and sending signals to the limbic system so these people didn’t even know what they were seeing. They said to them why did you just react — why did you crack a smile? I don’t know, it’s a hunch. Why did you furrow your brow? I don’t know. Did you see something? No, dude I’m blind. I didn’t see anything.

How many of you have walked into a room full of people and you can just feel a mood in the room even though you can’t put your finger on it? These are the kind of emotional signals that are driving your brain and people who are highly emotionally intelligent are very tuned into them. And once you’re tuned into them they tend to produce the behavior that you want.

Now I’m going to show you some stats around emotional intelligence and why it’s so important is to success. And I want you to understand why these statistics are so powerful. It’s because emotional intelligence is a foundational skill. Emotions are the primary driver of our behavior. Think about that picture of the limbic system I showed you. It’s at the base of the brain, everything is traveling through the limbic system. It’s emotions first, emotions first.

So when you master your emotions, when you become aware of them and when you’re able to manage them effectively, it trickles into everything you do. It trickles into how you manage stress, it affects how you give presentations, how you work in a team, how you make decisions. It’s a foundational skill.

Here’s another bit of research now. We found that emotional intelligence when it comes to work explains about 60 percent of how you do. If you look at the percentage of top performers what percentage of them are high in EQ it’s 90 percent. And again the skeptics in the room I happen to be one, I’d say well what percentage of low performers are high in EQ? Well you can have a high EQ and be a bottom performer; there’s other factors at play but emotional intelligence is a very very direct route to producing the behavior that you want because of how your brain is wired.

Here’s a bit of research we published in the Harvard Business Review and this is looking at emotional intelligence scores by job title. So you have your individual contributor first. These are people who don’t supervise anyone. Then you have your supervisor, you know first time managers and then you have middle management. This is where emotional intelligence scores peak because above middle management it is a ski slope all the way down to CEOs who have the lowest emotional intelligence scores in the workplace.

Now I just told you that 90% of top performers have high EQs, so shouldn’t the CEOs be the top performers? Well the trick is for each of these job categories emotional intelligence is a big predictor of performance. Those with the highest EQs also tend to be the top performers.

But what organizations do if you think back to these wonderful ads that send us the wrong messages or society that sends us the wrong messages, organizations perpetuate this and they promote people above — okay why do you get promoted to be a manager because you’re good with people.

But how do you move above management? How do you become a director or senior exact CEO? It’s increasingly focused on tenure, on short-term financial gains, on industry knowledge. These things matter but it’s the really well-rounded people so people who are able to achieve that and also have a high degree of emotional intelligence that really really flourish. And that’s the challenge for our organizations to buck this trend and it’s for individuals to become that well-rounded person that’s really going to achieve the highest level of success whatever job you’re in.

Okay. Now people always want to know how you can go about increasing your emotional intelligence and I absolutely recommend that you test yourself and you find for you what your low areas are. For one person it may be social awareness; for another person it may be self awareness. And that’s a really great starting point.

But I do have three silver bullets for increasing your EQ that I can share with you today and these apply to a lot of people. I guarantee you the majority the people in this room.

The first thing is to get your stress under control. We all know that stress is bad news, right? It compromises your immune system; it’s linked to heart disease, depression, obesity. The trick is intermittent mild stress, that is stress you keep under control actually entices the brain to produce cells that are responsible for improved memory. So good things happen when you start to feel some stress and you actually climb up this performance curve.

But what they found at UC Berkeley is that when the stress becomes severe or it becomes prolonged you move down the backside of the curve and it actually causes degeneration in the areas of the brain responsible for self-control. So when you keep your stress under control, good things are happening in your brain. And when the stress starts to take you to far you actually are diminishing your capacity to control your behavior including control your ability to control your stress. So it’s kind of this vicious cycle.

The key here is like I said it’s keeping that stress intermittent and having intervention strategies that you can employ to give yourself a break from stress. There’s a great study conducted at UC Davis where they taught people a simple strategy and that was to cultivate an attitude of gratitude. So every time these people felt stressed the experimental group was instructed to stop and think about something that they were grateful for. That’s it. It sounds a little hokey but in these individuals that did this it actually lowered the stress hormone cortisol by 23%. So cultivating an attitude of gratitude physically lowered their — physiologically lowered their body’s response to stress.

So getting your stress under control, doing all the stuff that you know you should be doing, taking a walk, reading a book, exercising — all these things that give you breaks, that’s key to getting your stress under control.

The next thing — the silver bullet number two for increasing your EQ is to clean up your sleep hygiene. More sleep would be great but for a lot of people that isn’t going to happen and cleaning up your sleep hygiene is the next best route.

Now the reason is because when you’re awake, toxic proteins build up in the neurons in your brain. This is a byproduct of normal neuronal activity. It’s just a part of being awake. And when you sleep if you get the right amount of sleep your neurons actually clean themselves up and they remove these toxic proteins. When that doesn’t happen you actually — they hinder your capacity to think. They make you groggy, they diminish your self-control and that’s why you feel like crud when you get three hours of sleep when you know you really need seven.

So for most of us the trick here though is you need to clean up your sleep hygiene because your body moves through a very elaborate series of stages when you sleep. And if you’re not getting sleep of sufficient quality, you won’t remove these toxic proteins from your brain.

So what do a lot of us do to diminish the quality of our sleep? Well, the worst thing is — the number one offender is taking things that “help you sleep”, anything that helps you sleep — a Benadryl, three glasses of wine, an ambien, a Nyquil, melatonin if it helps you sleep, it is impairing your body’s ability to go through the necessary sleep stages to remove these toxic proteins. And that’s why you feel groggy the next day when you take a sleep aid.

So the number one way to clean up your sleep hygiene is to not take something that makes you sleep. And actually there’s kind of a CO title for poor sleep hygiene because the other thing that a lot of us do is we expose ourselves to blue light in the evening. And here’s how this works. In the morning sunlight is very high in blue wavelength light. Blue wavelength light halts melatonin production and it tells your body be awake it’s morning time. Afternoon sunlight is increasingly orange and red in wavelength that allows your body to start producing melatonin which prepares you for sleep; all well and good.

But what do we do after dinner? We sit in front of our massive Mac monitor and just bathe ourselves in blue light or read on our iPad, you know these — when you bathe yourself in blue light you’re confusing the heck out of your brain and you’re halting melatonin production and it will often keep you from going to sleep but even if you can go to sleep when you do this your body doesn’t get the quality of sleep that it needs to remove these toxic proteins.

So silver bullet number two for increasing your EQ is to clean up your sleep hygiene. No blue light; don’t take anything that helps you sleep; wake up at the same time in the morning — these are all things that can help you to get your self-control under control.

Now the third one is the one that people really hate me for. Let’s get your caffeine intake under control. And caffeine really links back to this same cycle because caffeine has a very long half-life at six hours .So when you’re feeling tired in the afternoon because you took in a seven Benadryl the night before to go to sleep and you have a triple espresso, by 9:00 10:00 p.m. half of that is still metabolically active in your body. It’s still there doing its thing. So it makes it hard to go to sleep and even if you can go to sleep, again you’re not getting the quality of sleep that you need to remove these toxic proteins from your brain.

So my recommendation here is just to not drink any caffeine afternoon and know how it affects your body. You know some people can tolerate more caffeine than others but if you really pay attention to it, you can see how it’s affecting your sleep.

So those three silver bullets will help you get where you need to be on the road to improving your emotional intelligence, and I hope that some of the things I’ve taught you today proved useful as you pursue your goals in life.

Thanks so much.

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