Emotional Intelligence and Coaching: the importance for effective practice

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Emotional Intelligence and Coaching: the importance for effective practice

How to Coach with Emotional Intelligence

by Raquel Silva

When it comes to coaching, Emotional Intelligence is essential. When both parties have a high degree of self-awareness and self-regulation, communication flows smoothly, allowing coaching to be facilitated successfully. On the other hand, low Emotional Intelligence can inhibit those receiving coaching if they lack self-awareness or are highly resistant and disruptive. High EI is the utmost important characteristic of any human being because it can deeply impact the quality of one’s relationships.  It is also quite essential in a coaching relationship on both sides. This article will explain what Emotional Intelligence is, how to develop it in our clients and how we can leverage it to improve our coaching practice.

What is Emotional Intelligence

The concept of Emotional Intelligence became popular thanks to Daniel Goleman, psychologist and journalist, who extensively talked about it in his best-seller, Emotional Intelligence

According to his definition, Emotional Intelligence is the ability to recognise, understand and manage emotions so they can be expressed appropriately and effectively. According to Goleman, Emotional Intelligence is the predictor of success in our relationships both in the workplace and in our private life. 

Lack of Emotional Intelligence can cause serious damage to our relationships: we are not fully aware of what is happening to us in any situation, we do not understand what we feel and what is causing it, and we cannot communicate our needs in a constructive and non-violent way. As a result, people with low Emotional Intelligence experience emotional outbursts, are argumentative, blame others, and do not listen. Generally speaking, they do not have effective coping mechanisms to deal with unforeseen setbacks and are unable to deal with emotionally charged situations.  

Several models describe Emotional Intelligence. In this article, we will refer to Goleman’s work and talk about its five key elements:

  • self-awareness
  • self-regulation
  • motivation
  • empathy
  • social skills

Here is an introductory video from Goleman himself.

Emotional Intelligence (EI): A Fundamental of Coaching

Emotional intelligence is the basis of coaching for both parties. If both the coach and the client are fully aware and in control of their emotions, their communication is smooth and effective.

I remember that Emotional Intelligence was one of the first skills I had to grow as a coach. Both what happened to me before the session and what I hear, see and sense during a coaching session have an impact on my emotional state. Being aware of my emotions is essential to bring the right coaching presence to the room and handle anything that can happen skillfully and effectively: for this reason evoking awareness in coaching is one of the most fundamental ICF core competencies.

During several years of coaching practice, I have also noticed that emotional intelligence is an essential skill for my clients because through coaching, we facilitate self-discovery, as we have explored in this blog when talking about the importance of reflective inquiry in coaching. We access (with permission) deep parts of our clients’ thoughts and feelings. A client with low Emotional Intelligence might resist that discovery or not fully acknowledge, recognise and understand what is happening to them. Therefore, part of the coaching process’s benefits is inhibited; as a consequence, the client does not experience the transformation they are looking after and achieving relationship goals becomes more difficult than expected.

Can you imagine now the impact of low Emotional Intelligence on leaders? Try to think of the best leader you had: what made it a great leader? How did it feel safe to open up with that person? How did s/he handle bad results, questions and concerns, and disagreement? Leaders with low Emotional Intelligence experience challenges on several fronts: their capability to set expectations, give feedback, take care of people’s development, and give directions is strongly diminished. It becomes impossible to be an inspiring leader that creates trust-based relationships. No matter how competent they are, they will seem self-oriented and not caring about people’s growth. Their capability to communicate, motivate, and drive is compromised, and their direct reports will feel undervalued and disrespected, and this will impact their motivation to achieve business goals. 

To expand on the importance of Emotional Intelligence in coaching, in the following paragraphs we will unpack Goleman’s “Emotional and Social Intelligence Leadership Competencies Model” and its theory. We will look at the key components of EI one by one to understand what they mean and how we can develop them in our clients. And the good news is, unlike IQ, Emotional Intelligence can be developed so this is a real chance to grow your clients into the leaders anyone would like to be.

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Self-awareness is the ability to recognise your emotions as they show up and understand your general tendencies in regards to responding to different people and situations. If you are self-aware you can answer the questions: 

  • What am I feeling now?
  • What caused this feeling?  

You basically have an understanding of what is going on for you and why: you can recognise your emotions, label them, trace back to the event that triggered them. 

If you are self-aware, you can use the awareness of your emotions to choose what you say and do to direct your behaviour positively and constructively. Therefore self-awareness is a prerequisite to self-regulation.

There are no predefined steps to help clients develop Emotional Intelligence, but building self-awareness is essential to coach individuals towards better self-regulation.


Once you have a good level of self-awareness and how your emotions work, you can get a handle on self-management. This means taking responsibility for your own behaviour and well-being and controlling emotional outbursts. It means making a conscious decision about whether and how you will manifest those emotions. It also means deciding at times to let them go. Both self-awareness and self-management are essential to nurture healthy relationships and communicate our needs and wants in a clear and effective way. 


Self-motivated people work consistently towards their goals and have extremely high standards for the quality of their work. Self-motivation involves our personal reasons for doing something you think is worthwhile; it’s about drive, commitment to yourself and others, determination and persistence to accomplish something. 

People who demonstrate other components of Emotional Intelligence, such as empathy and self-awareness, are not necessarily highly motivated. Therefore it is important to distinguish this component from the other ones. 


Empathy means sitting with the other person and feeling with them, so that they can sense that we know what they are going through. People who demonstrate empathy can put themselves in someone else’s situation, understand what the other person is experiencing, keep their neutrality and a non-judgemental attitude. Empathy is critical to interact successfully with any individual or a team and it is an essential ingredient to create a safe space, build trust and rapport with a client.  

Social Skills

Social skills are the emotional intelligence element related to managing one’s and others’ emotions, to connect, interact and work with others. Unlike empathy, whose focus is outward driven, social skills are inward driven and focus on how to interact with and leverage other people to reach our goals.

People who demonstrate social skills are great communicators. They’re just as open to hearing bad news as good news, they know how to get to support them and build excitement around a new mission or project.

As suggested by Daniel Goleman, an excellent way to improve your social skills is to isolate one skill you’d like to develop, observe how people with that skill act and then implement and apply that knowledge to yourself.

How EI is linked to self-confidence

Self-confidence is defined as an attitude about your skills and abilities: you know your strengths and weaknesses well, and have a positive view of yourself. Even though in Goleman’s model it is not listed as a component of Emotional Intelligence, research has shown the connection between the two. Working with leaders with self-confidence issues is quite common in competitive and fast-paced working environments.  

How to Use and Develop Emotional Intelligence in Your Coaching

This is a question worth asking. Some might believe that dysfunctional behaviours related to Emotional Intelligence are best left to therapists. Coaching with the goal to improve emotional intelligence is not therapy, as we have previously explained in our article on what is coaching and what it is not. Rather, it’s about keeping the focus of coaching conversations where they belong: on the person’s performance at work and the limiting impact certain behaviours may have on his or her ability to get work done and collaborate with other people. 

"The Importance of Emotional Intelligence in Coaching" - Coaching Outside the Box 2022

Our job as coaches is to help people perform. You may have people on your team who lack self-confidence, which makes them reluctant to speak up in meetings, especially when senior managers are present. Or you may be coaching people who display emotional outbursts, quite unproductive in any relationship. The components of Emotional Intelligence give you a frame to narrow the focus and work with your client to help them have more productive interactions at work and in their private lives. 

Improve Your Own Emotional Intelligence

As you work to improve your coaching skills, you will find out that it is important to work on yourself first before we can help others improve their Emotional Intelligence. This is one of the skills we teach you to develop in our ICF accredited class From Zero to Coach. Here are some tips you can leverage to start working on yourself!

To improve self-awareness:

  • learn to recognise and label your emotions 
  • accept them with no judgement
  • understand what caused them
  • discover your triggers. 

To improve self-management:

  • do not let overwhelming emotions decide how you behave
  • take time to cool down
  • create a space between stimulus and response
  • decide how to react to a situation when you are in the right emotional state.

To improve motivation:

  • discover your passions and drivers
  • practice gratitude
  • think positive and be optimistic
  • set realistic goals for yourself and reflect about the value of achieving them
  • practice stepping out of your comfort zone
  • ask for help if you need it.

To improve empathy:

  • practice active listening
  • practice perspective taking
  • be curious about what you do not know
  • imagine what you would feel in situations that other people experience.

To improve social skills:

  • find opportunities to grow your network 
  • practice, practice, practice
  • be authentic
  • make your ego smaller and show you care
  • ask for feedback to identify your blind spots.

Carry Out 360 Assessments

There are a variety of tools to evaluate Emotional Intelligence. The most popular seems to be the ESCI-360 (the Emotional and Social Competency Inventory), which  Richard Boyatzis and Daniel Goleman co-developed with Korn Ferry Hay Group, to evaluate the entire range of key EI leadership competencies. During the debrief, you can frame gaps between self and other ratings as “news to use,” guiding your client to identify their desired areas for growth. Ideally, you can help clients cultivate competencies that align with their goals. You can also facilitate employee feedback sessions, asking soft questions such as “Where do you feel I have an opportunity to engage more as a team mate?” and “What are some ways I can show up more collaboratively?” 

Help the Client Foster Self-Awareness

Emotional self-awareness is the foundation of Emotional Intelligence. As coaches, we can support our clients in learning to recognise their emotional drivers and limitations which, in turn, tune them to their values and vision. Helping clients discover their purpose and values is crucial to staying motivated for growth. Great coaches will not use a one-size-fits-all approach. These coaches develop a partnership of trust with their clients and help them align their goals with competencies that can be learned. Their clients are far more likely to be successful in their work to grow emotional intelligence by achieving their goals and becoming a better version of themselves. 

Use Spontaneous Coaching Conversations

Individuals need to know that you are fully present in the conversation, using active listening skills and practicing the three levels of listening. You can share what you appreciate about their performance and how they can improve. Coaching needs to become a routine part of your relationships rather than an occasional conversation when someone makes a mistake or an outstanding contribution that deserves recognition.

Other Tips and Suggestions

‘The emotions we create and how we manage them play a most significant role in determining how we perform internally and, then, externally’ (Sullivan & Parker 2016).

Feedback allows you to recognise gaps between your self-awareness and others’ perceptions of you. Understanding our strengths and limitations can motivate steps toward developing Emotional Intelligence. After all, Emotional Intelligence can be grown and it is not a fixed trait. 

What is an Emotional Intelligence Coach and How to Become One

A recommended first step to becoming an Emotional Intelligence Coach would be to join Emotional Intelligence training. A solid grasp of the elements of Emotional Intelligence can sharpen interpersonal and intrapersonal skills and help create empathy for future clients.

A coach’s ability to offer objective, yet highly tailored feedback and support can make a fundamental difference in creating lasting change. 


People with low Emotional Intelligence have more difficulties in achieving success in their lives. Low Emotional Intelligence makes it more difficult to achieve goals, and they will struggle to become leaders. 

For instance, people without emotional self-management are more likely to lose their temper, especially under stress. People with a low level of empathy have difficulty relating to others and struggle to form meaningful relationships. People with good social skills manage change and conflict resolution diplomatically. They’re rarely satisfied with leaving things as they are, but they don’t sit back and make everyone else do the work: they set an example with their behaviour.

Take the time to work on self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills. Working on these areas will help you excel in the future!

Wondering how to develop this further? We welcome you to join our next cohort of students!

  • Start Date: 25/09
  • End Date: 18/12

Emotional Intelligence Coaching: Books and References 

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