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The Four Pillars of Emotional Intelligence

Updated: Nov 14, 2023

If you read last week’s blog, you might remember that we touched on social-emotional learning, which is closely tied to emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence is a core idea in the trauma-informed model. In fact, it is one of the 7 Commitments identified in Sandra Bloom’s Sanctuary model.

If we want to make understanding, healing, and growth possible (and build trauma-informed communities), then we must embrace the importance of emotional intelligence.

But how can we pin down what emotional intelligence is exactly? Luckily, an existing model can help guide us.

Daniel Goleman’s Emotional and Social Competency Inventory (ESCI)

Emotional intelligence can be defined as the capacity to recognize and manage our emotions. It encompasses how we relate to and engage with others, and it is an essential characteristic of successful leaders.

Emotional and social intelligence (which we learn through social-emotional learning or SEL) serves as a successful predictor of outcomes.

The Emotional and Social Competency Inventory (ESCI) was developed by Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and the Korn Ferry Hay Group. It builds on Goleman’s model for emotional intelligence, which includes four key pillars: self-awareness, social awareness, self-management, and relationship management.

The ESCI is like a personality test, but it’s most effective when data is not self-reported (when someone other than you completes the test about you), especially when it is used to assess organizational emotional intelligence.

This test helps assess social-emotional skills that are key to creating a trauma-informed workplace, including conflict management, empathy, awareness, adaptability, and teamwork. All of these traits are categorized into the four “pillars” of emotional intelligence.

What are the four pillars of emotional intelligence?

The four pillars of emotional intelligence are:

  1. Self-awareness

  2. Social awareness

  3. Self-management

  4. Relationship management

These four pillars represent the intersection of your awareness and actions towards yourself and others.

When you look at the diagram, it becomes clear that self-awareness relates to an awareness of yourself, while social awareness relates to your awareness of others. Your actions toward yourself constitute self-management, while your actions toward others influence your relationship management.

Ultimately, emotional intelligence compromises a level of awareness and how you translate that awareness into action.

When all factors of emotional intelligence are considered, they influence your behavior, language, patterns, and performance.

When we look at this model from a trauma-informed lens, it’s important to acknowledge that a high score on the ESCI does not mean someone is “better” than a person with a low score on the ESCI. A low score on the ESCI could indicate a history of trauma and difficulty accessing executive functioning skills.

When we think about emotional intelligence from this angle, we can also see how healing from our trauma enables us to access our social and emotional intelligence and improve outcomes for ourselves and others.

1 - Self-Awareness

When we do trauma-informed work, self-awareness is a word that we often say and hear. It’s essential for the work we do. Self-awareness refers to understanding our own emotions and how they impact our thoughts, behaviors, and performance.

Self-awareness is a skill that we build through repetitive reflection and curiosity about our inner experience. Those who are self-aware tend to ask themselves questions and ponder the answer without assuming they know everything about themselves.

Rarely do we truly know ourselves. A self-aware person acknowledges that learning is always possible, even in regard to the self.

2 - Self-Management

Self-management refers to how we manage our emotions or self-regulate. Knowing a lot about ourselves is the first step. Self-management is the second step which asks, “What are we going to do about it?”

This can refer to our ability to:

  • remain calm and/or emotionally recover from upsetting experiences

  • set and achieve goals, including evaluating and improving performance

  • maintain a positive outlook despite challenges

  • adapt to change, shift ideas, and alter approaches

  • make decisions to change our behavior or thought patterns

3 - Social Awareness

Social awareness involves recognizing and understanding others’ emotional states. Someone who is socially aware is able to read a room, empathize, and predict behavior.

Social awareness can also encompass an understanding of the complex social dynamics within a group, including:

  • emotional currents and patterns

  • power dynamics and influencers

  • existing social networks

Social awareness is a powerful leadership skill that can help trauma-informed leaders implement change. But with great power comes great responsibility because social awareness can also be used to manipulate groups.

4 - Relationship Management

Relationship management refers to the actions we take in response to our social awareness. Nestled under relationship management are skills that we use to influence others. In regard to the ESCI, these are the various ways that we can have a positive impact on other people, including:

  • coaching and mentoring

  • managing conflict

  • leading or guiding groups

  • collaborating with a team

Conclusion: Emotional intelligence involves skills trauma-informed leaders need

Ultimately, the various models we use in trauma-informed work are meant to help give us direction when self-reflecting and learning new skills.

There’s no single “right” or “best” model. We can adjust our understanding of the models, combine them, or separate them in ways that serve us on our trauma-informed journeys.

And remember, just because someone mastered emotional intelligence doesn’t mean that they are trauma-informed. Emotional intelligence and social-emotional learning must be combined with other trauma-informed methods and values to create a truly trauma-informed organization.

Learn more about trauma-informed systems on The Art of Trauma-Informed, where we release new content every week.

Are you interested in joining a community of trauma-informed leaders to ask questions, discover expert insights, and meet new people?

Consider stopping by Intentional Conversations, a free hour-long virtual space where everyone is welcome. This week, we’ll talk about the content in this blog and any other trauma-informed concepts you bring to the table!

Save your seat and get the Zoom link here.

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