How deep is your Emotional Intelligence?

Caroline Benson | 31 January 2018

‘People will forget what you said, forget what you told them, but they will never forget how you made them feel’ Maya Angelou

Over the last few years I have been privileged to spend time with groups of patients, listening to them discuss the severe diseases that they all had in common. I wanted to find out what lay beyond the diagnosis, the treatment, the burden of the disease. I wanted to find out what was beyond the obvious, to demystify their condition, so that we as an agency, may better equip our clients to help support them and people like them in the future.

One occasion stands out in my mind, the men in front of me were all at different stages of a journey with a particular type of cancer. Each story was sadly unique, but one really affected me.

Mark*, who had undergone chemotherapy and radiotherapy for his condition, recounted the toll it had taken on him.

‘It took away my role in the family. I couldn’t work, so my wife had to become the breadwinner, which I still feel guilty about. I couldn’t join in family dinner time conversations as I had been stuck at home all day either sleeping or watching awful daytime TV, and I began to feel like I was nothing. I had nothing to contribute. I became self-conscious and was embarrassed about how I looked, so I didn’t go out’.

Mark became so depressed, he tried to take his own life. It was the thought of never seeing his wife or children again that fortunately stopped him.

I know I am extremely privileged to hear these very personal stories, and these insights are helping shape an awareness and support program – not just patient centric, but other-centric – considering the needs of the network that surrounds the patient – not just the patient themselves.

We founded our agency Cuttsy + Cuttsy almost seven years ago, on a purpose that today still forms the foundation for everything we do. That people matter. People, and making meaningful connections between them, has always been at the heart of what we do.

Today, we are all communicating with one another more than ever before – and yet in one way, these interactions are becoming less personal than ever before. So how can we help facilitate real, honest conversations between people? Conversations that can lead to meaningful changes in health and wellbeing?

Enter the power of Emotional Intelligence (EI).

You’ve probably got a grasp on what EI means already. Perhaps you already consider yourself as a leader who demonstrates EI competencies – authenticity, empathy and self-awareness to name a few. One popular definition of Emotional Intelligence is: the ability to monitor one's own and other people's emotions, and to use emotional information to guide thinking and behaviour. Further to this, is the utilisation of empathy and emotions to enhance our thought and our understanding of interpersonal dynamics and how to affect them.

The guru of EI, Daniel Goleman, describes EI as a wide array of competencies and skills, and puts forward a model which outlines five main EI constructs, these are1:

  1. Empathy – the ability to engage with and consider other people’s emotions and feelings
  2. Self-awareness – the ability to know your own emotions, strengths, weaknesses, and values and recognize their impact on others
  3. Social skill – managing relationships to move people in the desired direction
  4. Self-regulation – involves controlling or redirecting one's emotions and impulses and adapting to changing circumstances
  5. Motivation – possessing a drive to achieve results

EI is not something that is considered innate – but more so learned capabilities that can be worked on and can be developed to achieve improved performance and outputs. Our agency is the only health communications agency that uses the principles of Emotional Intelligence (EI) for the very basis and foundation of how we work – and these principles drive everything we do.

It is much more than the application of EI competencies in our leadership style, or in our ability to empathise with our audiences. We ensure the people that work for us all possess aspects of the model that Goleman presents, be they account handlers, designers or writers. There is a direct link between nurturing our talent and delivering excellent communication strategies and ideas.

Our utilisation of these competencies as leaders has been key to us achieving and maintaining IPA CPD2 Gold, centred around the growth and development of our people. In addition, we have recently won the Top Employer Award for SMEs for the second year running.

We also utilise the principles of EI in our relationships with our clients, to the point where we team match in terms of best fit in addition to the usual experience factors, and obtaining feedback more frequently, rather than relying on a six-monthly review process.

Most importantly, it drives how we do what we do. We have developed a range of techniques that allow us to be immersive to better understand our audiences, and collaborative when thinking up ideas. The power of emotion in communication is something that has been understood for a while, and some of the best-known campaigns trigger these responses; whether it is joy, from the Gorilla Cadburys ad or disgust at the BHF’s anti-smoking ad. But we like to go beyond the creativity and think about how we can meaningfully connect with our audiences at the most relevant points of their experience.

Co-creation is central to this, which is why I met with Mark and other cancer sufferers that day. I’m happy to say that Mark is currently fit and well.

He understands, as we do, that in a world of big data and the measurement of behaviour, it’s important we don’t lose the ability to connect on a real, authentic level. The future for me, and our agency, is about fostering these connections, as we believe people matter.

*Name changed


  1. Goleman, Daniel (1998), What Makes a Leader? Harvard Business Review
  2. IPA [link]