Episode 254: What is Emotional Intelligence and Why Does it Matter?: Clay Kirkland

In this fast-paced world, managing our emotions and understanding those of others is more crucial than ever.. Emotional intelligence (EQ) is about recognizing and managing your emotions effectively to reduce stress, communicate, empathize, overcome challenges, and defuse conflict. With high EQ, you can improve relationships, excel at work, and achieve your career and personal goals. 

Today, Jonathan Youssef is joined by Clay Kirkland, a returning guest with over two decades of coaching experience and a rich background in staff development at the University of Georgia Wesley Foundation. Clay is certified in emotional intelligence and includes EQ as a vital coaching component. 

Clay breaks down the concept of EQ into four crucial quadrants: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management. This episode isn't just theoretical; it is filled with practical advice, from managing personal emotions to enhancing interpersonal relations in various spheres of life, such as parenting, the workplace, and within the church community.

Listeners will gain insights into how emotional intelligence intersects with spiritual maturity, the practical applications of EQ in everyday scenarios, and strategies for developing emotional resilience. Clay’s explanations bridge scientific understanding with theological perspectives, making this a must-listen for anyone seeking to enhance their emotional skills and lead a more fulfilling, empathetic life. Join us as we explore how mastering emotional intelligence can lead to profound personal growth and significantly better interactions in all areas of life. 

This episode is for you, whether you're a leader, a parent, or simply someone looking to understand the emotional dynamics of the human mind.

After you listen to this episode, you may have your own questions. We would love to hear from you! To ask Jonathan a question or connect with the Candid community, visit https://LTW.org/Candid

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This transcript recounts Candid Conversations with Jonathan Youssef Episode 254: What is Emotional Intelligence and Why Does it Matter?: Clay Kirkland

[00:01] JONATHAN: Well, today we have a repeat guest. We like having repeat guests. We like to build up some relational collateral with our audience and so we’ve brought back Clay Kirkland. Clay has spoken on a number of topics, including calling, with us onCandid Conversations, and today we are talking about emotional intelligence. Clay is a life coach with twenty-plus years of experience. He served for eighteen years as the director of staff development at the Wesley Foundation at the University of Georgia in Athens. He has a Master of Divinity from Asbury Theological Seminary and he is a Gallup-Certified Strengths Coach. And so I will say, “Welcome back, Clay.”


[00:51] CLAY: Thank you. I appreciate it. Glad to be here. 


[00:55] JONATHAN: Well, this is a topic that has always been of great interest to me, and obviously to my team as we were having this conversation and your name came up pretty much immediately, and it’s this issue of emotional intelligence, EQ, right? That's our abbreviation. So this is not IQ, a measure of general intelligence. This is EQ, emotional intelligence, and so maybe help us define emotional intelligence. Why is it important? What is it? Kind of step us through a little bit of that process.


[01:37] CLAY: Sure. Yeah. So it’s a great topic. I’m very excited to be here to talk about it. And it’s gone through a lot of iterations in terms of its understanding. Probably in the last forty years, really, it’s been around and I’d say probably the last fifteen or twenty it’s become a major player in conversations both in the business sector and also just in general. If we wanted to really boil it down to probably its simplest form, you would want to think about emotional intelligence in four different parts. Do you know yourself? Can you manage or read yourself? Do you know others? Can you manage and influence others? And that's about as easy as we can get it. We’re leaving some things out, but across the bow, that's what we’re looking for those four quadrants. There’s a self-understanding, there’s a social understanding, then there’s a self-leadership or management, and there’s a social leadership management and understanding.


[02:55] JONATHAN: Even in just giving the categories I feel like I’m picking up on the necessity of being able to understand yourself and know yourself, being able to manage yourself, right, self-control—it’s a fruit of the Spirit. And then on the relational spectrum, being able to relate to others, are … How do you lead? How do you interpret people’s body language and cues and things that are being given off? So let’s talk about the importance of just those four categories that you’ve given us.


[03:45] CLAY: Sure. Well, you can, if we start with knowing yourself, right, and then think about that, as it relates to knowing others, we say things in life to our family or things are said about us that lead us back to what we’re really talking about when it comes to emotions. So you’ll hear people say things like, “He doesn’t have a clue what's going on.” Or “Do you realize how angry you sounded when you said that?” And that immediate defensive posture. So in interpersonal relationships, it’s pretty much there on a consistent basis, that idea of do you know what's on the other side of you? And that's the self-awareness, right? And then do you know what’s happening with the people that are around you? 


So that's the first part, right; it’s just this knowledge. And the great thing—I didn’t mention this earlier, but the great thing of this kind of understanding emotional intelligence that plays into a lot of the definitions that people are putting out these days are that these are a set of skills that can be learned. This is not a—


[05:09] JONATHAN: You’re not born with it.


[05:10] CLAY: —personality trait that, you’ve gotten and you’re just stuck there. This is dynamic in a good way, but also in a sobering way in the sense that you can be really good at these and then stop being good at these, or you can be not good at these and then 


[05:31] CLAY: —they slide. But then outside of that awareness and knowledge, it’s what do you do with it? Do you know how to manage yourself? And again, it’s an interplay. It’s always going to blend with the knowledge. Do you know what’s appropriate for the moment either for yourself, coming out of you, with others, and then, can you apply this? So when we think about the brain, we’re thinking about this process of your limbic system where the seat of your emotions are, and your prefrontal cortex, where you’re making your rational decisions. So do you have understanding of both of those? Do you have control over both of those? And can you manage that—when you’re alone—or can you do that also when you’re with other people?


[06:34] JONATHAN: This is very scientific but also very practical. Let’s bring in the world of theology. How do you differentiate between spiritual maturity—or do you differentiate between spiritual maturity and emotional intelligence? Are they one in the same?


[06:56] CLAY: I think you have to differentiate between the two, simply because someone who has no spiritual/religious anything—

[07:09] JONATHAN: They’re capable of growing.


[07:13] CLAY: And being very emotionally intelligent. So you’re not automatically emotionally intelligent because you have some type of spiritual maturity in the sense of you have a relationship with God or you do certain religious disciplines that make you, in the eyes of other people, highly religious or devout.


There has to be a difference there. But when we look at the practical applications of emotional intelligence and you look at them and the practical applications of spiritual maturity—so probably the easiest one to go to is in the New Testament, to look at the fruits of the Spirit. You start talking about love, joy, patience, kindness, goodness. You get all the way down to self-control. And then you pull those back into the outcomes that emotional intelligence is supposed to create, there’s a lot of similarities, right? Obviously, self-control is one. Optimism is a massive one, which we can really link to joy and hope. The kindness piece would clearly cover those kind of interpersonal relationships. So it’s not a perfect overlay, but that's where you see it.


[08:32] JONATHAN: Yeah, lots of connectivity there for sure.


[08:34] CLAY: Yes, a lot. 


[08:38] JONATHAN:You mentioned the limbic system, the prefrontal cortex. Talk me through a little bit of that to give some clarity here.


[08:52] CLAY: Sure. And again, let’s make it real simple.


[08:56] JONATHAN: Thanks.


[08:58] CLAY: Yeah, for all of us. You’re going to have your reptilian part of your brain. That's your fight, your flight when you’re in danger. That's just kind of that aspect. If we get past that, we’re typically going to put our neural functions into two other categories. That's going to be your limbic system, and that's the “I feel” place. And then your neocortex, that prefrontal cortex, where you’re going to think rationally and you’re going to make decisions, you’re going to process them.


So what we’re trying to say is, because you get this a lot when I go around and talk to people about emotional intelligence, you’ll typically hear someone or a group of people identify and say, “I don’t have a lot of feelings. I’m not very emotional, so I don’t know if this is going to help.”


[09:59] JONATHAN: “I’m a thinker, not a feeler,” right?


[10:01] CLAY: That's correct, which just means that they’re leaning much more heavily into one area of their brain than the others. That doesn’t mean that they don’t feel. It doesn’t mean that that limbic system is depressed or deformed or anything else; it just means that they are not as aware that that part of their brain is functioning and can function for them in positive, neutral or negative ways.

Again, if you were to describe me and say, “Hey Clay, on a scale of 1 to 10, how emotional are you,” most people then link that to when’s the last time you cried? Do you get chill bumps when you watch a video, or a commercial at Christmas, or whatever? And I would say, no, that's not the type of person I am. But that still doesn’t mean that that limbic system within my brain isn’t an active part of the brain. Because it is. For all of us it is, we’re just not leaning into it.


[11:14] JONATHAN: So is there a way—I'm sure we’re all thinking of a person that perhaps is not leaning into their limbic system, and we’re thinking, How do you exercise that? And I’m assuming that your goal with clients and that sort of things is to try and help find balance. I assume you want a balance between being in touch with emotions, right, because emotions can be good indicators. They can also mislead, but they can be good indicators. And then you need a rational side to help navigate that. So how do you sort of exercise—and we can do both sides of that—how do you, for those who are very much a feelings-generated person, how do they exercise their thinking and vice-versa?


[12:10] CLAY: All right. So let’s start with the person who typically is not necessarily a feeling-type person. I’ll give you an example. I had a client several years ago, and he was a CEO of a company and I got brought in to work with him. We were meeting in the lobby of the hotel, like in the restaurant, and I asked him, I said, “Tell me a recent story about something that went wrong at work.”

So he tells me the story. And after he finishes, I said, “How do you feel about that?” 


And he said, “Bad.” 


I said, “Try something a little bit more deep, descriptive.” And he just stared at me and said, “I don’t know, it just made me feel bad.” 


So I said, “Have you ever heard of the ‘emotions wheel’? It’s a very common graphic, you can google it.”


So he pulled out his phone and said, “Siri, Google,” and here comes the emotions wheel. It pops up on it and he stares at it. He stares at it for probably seven minutes. I was like, “Wow, I don’t know if he’s going to be able to do it.”


And he finally said, “Angry.”


And I said, “All right! Great! This is good. This is good.” So we spent several months with that wheel, using exercises that would help him start to recognize that he has feelings that are coursing in and out of his brain that he just wasn’t giving airtime to. So again, people who aren’t touchy-feely or aren’t kind of the emotional types, they typically won’t feel anger. They’re aware of that frustration, but what they typically do, they’re guarding themselves. And this is where we’re going to get off on a rabbit trail, so I’m going to pause myself, but they are typically guarding themselves from certain emotions they don’t like or they don’t believe are good or not the type of person they would be. Or pain, or whatever, again, can’t go there. But that's typically what you see. 

So we just started to do exercises that caused him to become very aware of the emotions that were coursing through his brain and body and it became helpful. Again, it’s not necessarily the end product, but we just needed to at least give some recognition.


On the flip side, someone who’s highly emotional, again, the way they would describe themselves, and they would say, “Well, I don’t really think that much,” they do think a lot; they are just thinking primarily through their emotions. And you said it earlier: they can be great indicators, but they can also be misleading. So that’s where we kind of do some exercises for people in that kind of space to really pause and start to learn where they’re making their decisions from. 


Why are you doing this? “Because I feel like it.” What do you feel? “Well, I feel …” and they can just tell you.


And so that's when you have to do some exercises where you pause and put them in situations where you say something like, “If your friend was about to do this, how would you tell him or her what to do? What kind of advice would you give them?” That gives them a pause to consider. Or it’s a common kind of way that we would do it, but we would debate our emotions. 


So your classic, classic example for this is—and this just happened recently, so this is a true story, here in this office—I got here early because the fire company told me they needed to come and do a test on the fire system. So 6:30 in the morning I walk through here, only saw one other person in the office and said, “Hey, there’s a fire alarm test.” He said, “Okay, great.”


So what I didn’t notice was that someone was parking and then they were coming into the front doors about ninety seconds after I warned the one person that the fire alarm would go off. And this woman came running down the hallway in panic and scared, because she and I both heard the same fire alarm, but because I had certain knowledge, I had zero panic and fear, and had no emotion towards the fire alarm whatsoever. And she had incredible emotions towards it, and therefore, she was running, she was trying to save people. She was looking for people to save because she thought that we were going up in flames, and she just couldn’t believe it.


So the point of that is to say when you have something that triggers emotion, you can debate it. If you know that you need to learn something about your emotions, you can debate it, again, to say, “Is there a reason for me to feel any other way? Is there a trigger or consequence that I’m concerned about? Is there any context that I could give myself that could perhaps change the way that I feel currently?”


And again, they are all methods. Those are all different ways—and we can get into those exercises if you want to—but the point of those exercises is to pause yourself before you push whenever that limbic system is pushing into your vision, near the forefront of your mind, to make that the only way that you can make a decision. We’re just trying to pause you enough to give you an option to have your other parts of your brain work.


[18:31] JONATHAN: This sort of happened recently—I should be careful; I should use third-party examples. But my wife and I were at the beach, and our son was playing near and we were talking with friends. And we were keeping an eye on him, and then all of a sudden he was gone. And so we went into full panic mode. And we’re looking in the water and it’s just like it was emotion-driven. There’s very little rational thought process and the panic mode strikes. He’s not where he was; something terrible must have happened.


And I remember after panicking for a while I finally just stopped. I did the pause, kind of what you’re talking about, and I thought, “Okay, we’ve been here before. He knows this place.” So I told my wife, I said, “Go back up to where we’re staying and check for him there.” And then I thought, “There’s a little statue that I know he likes. Let me go see maybe if he’s gone over there.” Because we hadn’t thought, “Well, he ran past us,” because we would have seen him. But I thought, “Well, we might have been engaged in conversation and missed him.”


And sure enough, as I’m running to the statue, there he is, playing in the sand. And he had run past us, chasing a seagull or something. And it was like, okay, if I just took a minute to think, all right, what are the logical things that could have happened here? But at the same time, God has given us those panic senses to where if something terrible had happened, your body is in that sort of fight, hopefully not flight, but fight mode of I need to do … I need to, as the example of the lady in the office, she’s trying to save people. That's a good thing if the fire alarm is going off. 

But I see what you’re saying in terms of just taking a minute to think, “What information do I have? What am I …?” 


Because I think your mind probably shuts down, you get into tunnel vision and that sort of thing.


Let’s talk a little bit about IQ versus EQ. And in terms of the way that we look at people, the way we consider talent, children, workplace environment, hiring, all that sort of thing. How do you see the consequences of prioritizing one over the other kind of play out? 


[21:04] CLAY: I’d say in the last twenty years or so there’s been a push to raise the importance of EQ. Not to diminish IQ, because it’s important to learn, become smart, develop that part of your brain. But this isn’t a choose one over the other. Now, right, is to say we probably missed it when we were only pushing get smarter, get this score on a test, get this acceptance, then you’ll be successful. 

Harvard Business Review came out and said that there is … the differences between good leaders and great leaders, that gap. If you were to look in that gap and see what's in there, they would say 80 percent of the contents in that gap are in the emotional intelligence sector. So that's what they would say. Daniel Goleman, who’s one of the most popular voices on emotional intelligence, wrotePrimal Leadership and several other books about it over the course of the past thirty years, he would say that if you’re looking to define success and what's going to make you successful in this day and age, he would say 80 percent of the contents of that recipe would also be in emotional intelligence.


And I think what they’re saying—this is me trying to interpret a little bit—again, it’s not to say, “Well, that means only 20 percent is IQ.” That's not what it’s saying. It’s saying we pushed, “Be smart, be smart, be smart, be smart” so hard, that's almost like a get it. Like when you look at people who work hard in high school, go to college, get really good grades, get a competitive job, I’ll bring Google up in a second, but that's that pattern. We said, “IQ, IQ, IQ, IQ.” And here’s how you’re going to be measured on that, you’re going to get rewarded. You’re going to get awards, you’re going to get plaques, you’re going to get acceptance letters, you’re going to get scholarships, and you’re going to get a job.” That’s the way we measure IQ. We pushed that so much, it’s almost like you have to do this. But if you also add extra, what is that extra? Well, 80 percent of that extra, I would say, would be emotional intelligence. So that's where I think that those figures are coming from. 


You can google these things if you want to, but they did two what they would call projects where they studied their employees, one almost around 2000, and then twelve to thirteen years later. And they were very surprised, as was everyone else, because they had kind of the best of the best, the brightest people, the Ivy League schools and so on and so forth. And they were trying to differentiate why some teams were doing better than others and why some individuals were doing better than others. 


And that's when they started to find out that their term was “soft skills” were trumping hard skills. And they were trumping them in the sense that everyone came almost with the same hard skills—the STEM degrees that they all came with—but then why were some doing really well and why were some not? And that's when they started to see qualities like coachability, curiosity, emotional intelligence, empathy, listening. Those things were what they saw in both individuals and teams to see where people really are being successful.


So as a parent and vocationally and all those kind of things, it’s not that we should depress one in order to elevate the other as much as you’re both working on our ability to become smarter but also your ability to be more emotional.


[25:18] JONATHAN: We see this in Scripture, apart from just fruit of the spirit. What are some of the areas? Certainly there’s a high level of EQ that we would see, for instance, in the Psalms, which maybe explains why David was a good king and others probably were maybe lacking in those areas. I’m trying to think it as it relates to us in the Christian life specifically and it’s interesting that you bring up Google. I would think coding or something in the technology field, I wouldn’t think there’s as much relationality in business versus like sales or pastoral ministry or something where you really need those muscles exercised. 


But at the same time, it’s interesting that what they’re finding is that even in the technology field, your success has a balanced element to those who have the soft skills, who have elements of emotional intelligence and empathy and all those sorts of things are actually helping in that plus area, as you described it. Help us detangle some of that and just thinking like from a scriptural perspective. How does something like emotional intelligence equip you for being better in all those different areas?


[27:21] CLAY: Sure. Let me stab that one real quick and then come back to some of those biblical things. You know it’s interesting. If you look at statistics back when Millennials were in the limelight, I’d say about ten years ago, they would say at that point that 80 percent of them wanted to work in a place of collaboration; that is what they were desiring in a workplace. Those statistics have only gotten higher as Gen Z’s are infiltrating now the workplace.


So you see that push for now over half of the workforce, so regardless of what industry you’re going to find, you’re seeing that desire for camaraderie, teamwork, connections. So even post-COVID where a lot of things have gone hybrid, work models, it’s still you’re on a Teams meeting, you’re on a Zoom meeting, you’re still interacting. 


And so I have several clients, current and former, in that tech space, really smart people, and they do have to code a lot by themselves, but it’s when they have to talk to the customer, when they have to talk to the teammate, when they have to interact with the boss that that's where the skills either put them into a place of advantage or [unintelligible]. So it’s going to be very difficult for almost any job to be a job where you’re not going to need some type of emotional intelligence skills in order to make yourself successful. Can you find it out there? Sure, there’s just not that many. So most of us are going to find ourselves in positions where if we have emotional intelligence, we will succeed, stand out, excel.


[29:18] JONATHAN: And we’re relational beings. I mean, even by our very creation.


[29:23] CLAY: Yes, absolutely. So that's that little vignette there. So I would say—you mentioned the Psalms. I mean, the Psalms are great. I love the rhythm of Psalms. I had to take a class in the Psalms when I was in seminary, I chose to, and it was fantastic. But there’s almost like this general rhythm of David in the Psalms because most of them from what we understand, or at least at the onset, privately written. And obviously, some of them were more for the tribe, the songs, but typically they were private.


So there’s this process of raw, honest emotion about the good, the bad, and the ugly of life (I mean, not all of them are sad) and then some possible outcomes that either were happening or could happen. And then there’s typically, almost in every psalm, this point to which David or the other psalmists get to where they then recognize who they are and who God is, what God might do compared to what they might do, and then there’s a surrender of those things that they’ve felt and seen and wanted and they let go. And so that in and of itself, you could study that for a long time.


Psalm 139, right, it’s almost like a classic for emotional intelligence, especially the end, “Search me and know me,” right? So there’s self-awareness, I want to be known. “See if there is any hurtful way in me.” That's I want to get better. But this is my favorite part is that at the very end he says, “And then lead me in the way everlasting.” The reason that's my favorite part is because of how it’s saying the self-help movement gets it wrong when it puts navel-gazing and self-awareness as the end. Just become aware and the longer you can stay aware and the more that you can stay aware, you’re good. It doesn’t mean you’re good.


[31:47] JONATHAN: There’s no way forward.


[31:50] CLAY: That's correct. Right. So David there it’s like, “Hey, I want to be aware of myself. I need to be aware of myself.” The whole psalm is basically saying, “You’re absolutely aware of me. I’m pretty much under the spotlight.” I want that awareness and I want you to continue to have that awareness, not so that I can be aware; so that I can then go the ways you want me to go.

When I was at Wesley, we had this phrase we would do first-year time, second-year time, third-year time [unintelligible] our second-year term. And this was the phrase that I took there. It said, “We’re going to focus on you so that then we can get you out of the way.” So we wanted to have some quote/unquote navel-gazing time. We did strengths finder for them, we had emotional intelligence for them. Again, where there’s a lot of awareness. But it’s not just so that they can know themselves; it’s so that they can know where they need help, where they need to get better, where they are doing well so that we can get all that out of the way so that we don’t have to be in the limelight. We can actually then serve others [overlapping voices] and give ourselves over to the things that God wants us to do.


And that's why I [unintelligible] 


[33:21] JONATHAN: That's right. No, you’re right on, and that's a helpful sort of thought process through that. I mean, even through that lens of emotional intelligence. We live in a day and age where everything is volatile, people are triggered by anything and everything. And then you add in a layer of social media or anonymity through the computer, which sort of exacerbates our problem. How do we develop greater emotional resilience and self-control? How do we as believers navigate that terrain.


[34:11] CLAY: Huge thought there for sure. I’ll just take one swing at it, because that's—


[34:20] JONATHAN: We’ll do a five-part episode.


[34:23] CLAY: Yeah, that's a big one. I’ll go real technical in terms of emotional intelligence [unintelligible]. In the assessment that I’m trained in and I like to administer to people, it’s got subsets. So it’s got fifteen of them. Two of them, I think, speak to some of this. One of them is flexibility. And flexibility and that subset is when things change, like you’ve decided something is going one way but now something out of your control has changed it, how do you respond?


On the other side of that coin, the next thing we administer is stress tolerance. Stress tolerance is you want things to change desperately and they’re not. They’re stuck. [unintelligible] And so in those two, when I look at volatility of our current culture and social media, it’s you see a plan so easily in those two regards. Someone has an opinion, someone has the other one, you can’t change their opinion, so what are you going to do about it? Nowadays, we just trash the other person.


[35:52] JONATHAN: Ad hominem, yeah. 


[35:54] CLAY: That's our response. On the other side, when we had a plan and now everything has changed and we didn’t get to choose that, how do we respond? We blame everybody. We have to find someone to blame because we think that that's going to make it better. Right now we look for someone to blame instead of moving into that place of resilience and grit and realizing that not everything is going to go our way. So part of that emotional intelligence, when you look at how you become flexible, become better at stress tolerance.


A huge part of it is just accepting the fact that things are not always going to be good; things are not always going to go your way; and that is everybody’s life. You want to take it to a biblical place, then you go back to the words of Jesus where He said, “In this world you’ll have trouble.” He’s already told you. And everybody’s response to it. He gives you the clue, if you’re doing it from a Christian perspective, He says, “But I have overcome the world,” meaning that your perspective is going to change how you respond to those situations. If the weight of the world is on that moment, you know, it’ll crush you. But if you realize that that's not the weight of the world, regardless of the situation, even if it’s going to hurt, those kind of things are going to take a bite out of you, it gives you the ability to realize that you can recover, you can make it through it.


And that's a key part, I think, in all of that. I’ll give you an example, a real practical example. I use this with my kids, but I also use this with adults for sure. I use it with myself. Ask myself this all the time. I can’t remember where I came up with this, but so this is the question when you’re faced with a situation that's hard, heavy, frustrating, whatever it is, and you have the option of choosing an emotional, unintelligent response, is this. This is the question I ask. Is this going to be in your book?


I can say that to my kids, and they know exactly what I’m talking about. If they don’t know what I’m talking about, then I give them this context. At the end of your life, you get two hundred pages to write your autobiography. This situation right now, is this a chapter? Is this a page? Is this a paragraph? Is this a sentence? Or is it on the editing floor? And almost always this will be on the editing floor. And so if it’s on the editing floor, then why are we treating it like it’s a chapter? And that's the context. So that's the question I ask myself, and I give it to my kids as well and that's what I tell my people at my office. 


Again, it gives you pause. That's the whole point of this is to pause. But the whole idea of emotional intelligence is this, and how they came up with this, I don’t know. People smarter than me. I would say this: that you have six seconds to choose your emotional intelligence response, meaning that your brain likes to default to habits, and so you’ll habitually just respond. You think about traffic. Any time I see traffic, I get angry, so shoulders go up, eyebrows go down, my tone changes, whatever, it’s just your habit. You’re choosing it, you just didn’t realize that your brain is in default into the choice. You’re really not giving yourself that option.


But the six seconds comes into play in the sense of you can actually choose to go a different path. We’re talking about neural paths. You can choose a different neural pathway. Your brain would prefer to go the habitual route because then it doesn’t have to work that hard. So in all of these things, what we’re trying to do is to give ourselves pause enough to alert ourselves that we’re probably about to choose a default that is not the best choice, and can we train ourselves to a point where we say, ah, not to do this, probably should do this. 


It's the train tracks, shifting from one track to another. That's really what we’re trying to do in any exercise that we do in emotional intelligence is to pause and then give that new skill an opportunity to get some [unintelligible] and get some legs [unintelligible] 


[41:18] JONATHAN: And it’s funny, because in order to get to that position, you have to have self-awareness. You have to be aware that what's going on is—and I’m just even putting myself in situations where I’m like, oh, that is absolutely my mental state goes to a default position. Oh, this happened and I know that this is my reaction. And you’re right; sometimes it’s like I don’t even think about it. It’s just this is just what I do.


It makes me think of sort of the enneagram thing, well, that's just who I am. I’m a fill-in-the-number, but there’s no, okay, so is that your paradigm? Is that who you are and that defines you? Or are you at a position to where you can challenge yourself, and to your point, take a pause and consider, okay, do I have other options here? I absolutely do. Which is really, if you think about it from a gospel perspective, it’s like do I have to keep choosing law over injustice for people over whatever situation? Or at what point do I choose to show grace and mercy, which by definition are undeserved for those people? 


And that's really where the gospel message comes in, because if God operated under our own default paradigm, if He was created in our image, then it would be law-justice, law-justice all day every day. But grace and mercy are so alien to us, and that's the beauty of Christ’s work and what He has done.


You’ve shared a lot of really great and helpful stories, but could you give us some examples of applied EQ principles in—and I’m going to give you three different things, and then I’ll remind you of them if you can’t remember. So one for parenting, two, the workplace, and three, the church. So we’ll start with parenting. 


[43:32] CLAY: I’ll be as practical and as vulnerable as I can. What we’re trying to teach—we’ve got six kids, a major focus for us right now is just empathy, how to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. A funny but revealing story is several years ago my wife was crying about a certain matter. One of my sons—


[44:02] JONATHAN: Name redacted.


[44:05] CLAY: We’ll keep it redacted. One of my sons came in and saw her and immediately started crying. And then another one of my sons came in and looked at his brother and said, “Why are you crying?” And he said, “I’m crying because she’s crying.” And then that brother who was not crying was like, “That's the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen.”


[44:28] JONATHAN: That doesn’t make sense to me. Yeah, yeah, yeah.


CLAY: In general, we all have starting points, and those starting points have been formed and fashioned by our personality, our family systems, I mean all of these things. So that's why I love taking these type of assessments, because they show you where you’re starting from. Then you get to know where you need to go. So again, take Son A in that story. Empathy is already off the charts. I mean, just his starting point is he’s probably at an A-. There’s one little uptick and he’s perfect.


The other son probably at a D or F in that area. He really needs to work on it. And that was me when I took my first assessment of emotional intelligence ten years ago, very low empathy. I’ve spent several months, almost half a year, keeping an empathy log so I can start to train my brain to think about someone else’s emotions. And it got much better, but it’s something I really had to learn. 

In parenting, we’re saying regardless of your starting point, this is something that matters. It matters biblical standpoint, it’s truly what Jesus did and still does. It, from an interpersonal standpoint, if you can’t put yourself in someone else’s shoes, that's going to be very difficult for you to have compassion on someone and serve someone to even care when they’re not in alignment of what you want.

So we have just said this matters. So we are consistently asking our kids when they say something about one of their siblings, “How do you think so-and-so feels about this? Where are they in this story?” So that's our skill right now, so it’s above any other skills that we’re trying to get. One, as a family of eight, we’re hoping to do that well. If we can, have empathy, so we’re working on that. When I think about our kids being released into the wild, and if they carry that skill with them, it will carry them a long way, regardless of what they do. And I don’t need them to get recognized for it in the long way in the sense that they will do well if they do right by people.


[47:29] JONATHAN: They’ll be a good friend.


[47:31] CLAY: Absolutely. So huge piece in that one, and that's what we’ve worked with there. In terms of business, I would say the really big piece of business is if you can listen, understand, and then reinterpret what you’ve heard to other people, you can’t help but be successful, because people will flock to you because of your ability to do that. I call it the meeting after the meeting in business. And that's someone, we have a meeting and then something is lost in translation and something’s then misinterpreted and then that person is, “That's not what is said. That's not what I meant at all.” And then now they have to go have a meeting about that meeting.


[48:29] JONATHAN: I’ve been in those.


[48:30] CLAY: You’ve been in those. We’ve all been in those. So now you’re having a meeting about a meeting and then you’re going to have to leave that meeting and have another meeting in order to let everybody else know what happened in that meeting after the meeting that should have happened in the meeting. And so that differentiator of active listening, being able to communicate empathetically, being able to communicate clearly. You know in emotional intelligence we would talk about emotional self-expression, to be able to clearly say what you’re feeling, right? You can see that every day almost in practical experiences in yourself where you’ve got your typical passive-aggressive, bless you heart type who’s lying through their teeth. They don’t have any blessings for you, but that's what they say. So that type of differentiator in the business sector is massive, it’s just huge, huge.


Tell me the third category.


[49:40] JONATHAN: The church.


[49:42] CLAY: The church, yes. The church, the church, the church. Oh man, this one and a lot of different other places for this one. I’ll pick one, and maybe it’s probably not the most popular one, I was in ministry for, well, ran it for eighteen years and was in almost twenty years, for nineteen years. Had a lot of friends in ministry. And to see where they are now, I would say that ability to handle emotions, not just their own but other people’s, burden-bearing perhaps the more specific term, and then to be able to handle the stress of that, to have mechanisms to keep that at bay. The primary term you’re hearing these days is burnout. 


Burnout to me is when someone and they have had a moral failure, they’ve stolen money from the church, they’ve ripped their kids’ lives apart, that's not good. But typically what you see before burnout—when we say burnout, like “Hey, I just can’t do this anymore,” now they’re completely unhealthy and that's going into sexual improprieties, that's going into financial improprieties, that's going into the idea of power and where you're getting your validity and things from. So that's what you typically see before the engine hits failure and we get to see it.


And so from that emotional intelligence standpoint, you’re thinking about really self-control. In emotional intelligence it’s called “impulse control.” Can you have a desire, and understand it, and then make the right decision? That's one of the fifteen subsets that we look at. And if you look at people in ministry, it’s so easy to get away with so many things for too long of a time, and it really comes back to [unintelligible] Scripture because [unintelligible] until it’s too late. So I think impulse control is real big, again in EQ, for the church to say, “Hey, you can spend time alone with this person, you could charge this to the credit card, you could do a lot of things [unintelligible] and they’re going to believe what you say.” [Overlapping voices]


[52:43] JONATHAN: So even in thinking about each of those ones you’ve just given us for children (or parenting, rather), workplace, church, it’s interesting because all of those, I’m just thinking on the side of this in terms of protecting yourself—not protecting yourself in terms of I want to get away with this, but I want to prevent not having empathy. I want to be able to listen to someone and interpret and relay it back correctly to them. I want to be able to have impulse control. Those all involve, I mean, they are skills of the individual, but at the same time, it requires the assistance of others, I think. It’s a very communal—which, of course, emotional intelligence is about relating with others and self. And so it’s interesting in thinking about the way you’ve described or given those examples how much, if you’re setting up safeguards or even beyond safeguards you’re actually wanting to grow and develop in those skills, it requires community, it requires other around you who are committed to the same goals, so to speak. So in your work, do you—sorry, this is like bucketing rain our here. A hurricane is coming to Athens. Are you—do you encourage people to work these things out, to develop these skills, within a communal setting, accountability levels? And my power’s just gone off. We’re still connected, so we’ll just keep going.


[54:42] CLAY: Absolutely. I think the—I would encourage every person to have a communal component to every phase of emotional intelligence [unintelligible]. The assessment piece, you can take one by yourself on your computer and get a score and never share it with anyone what you scored and it would never be as effective as if you shared it.

[55:05] JONATHAN: It’s the navel-gazing example you gave earlier, self-help.


[55:09] CLAY: We’re trying to gauge our self-awareness and we’re our only judges, and what have we done? So that's why when I do these assessments, my favorite one to do is the 360, because then you’ve got different people from all different parts of your life that are assessing you. So the assessment piece has to be in community, right? The understanding the good and the bad has to be verified in community.


One of the things that we do when I take people through this coaching, especially when they come in for the 360, is to look at what we call the gap analysis. And the cool thing about the gap analysis is you’ll see it on both sides of the coin. So when people say they have blind spots, what they typically means is let’s say I’m a person with a blind spot. I almost always say that person thinks that they’re here and they’re actually here. They think they’re better—which could be a blind spot. 


On the slip side, a blind spot is that this person thinks that he or she is here and actually they’re much higher, they’re here. So they have a lower self-awareness or self-image of themselves in this area than actually what's coming out of them. So you get to see both sides of the gaps. Where are you doing better than you’re actually aware of and where you actually do worse? So that has to be in community.


And then as you work them out and work on the skills, you’re going to have to have people to work them out with and then people to let you know how you’re doing. Every phase has to be in community.

[56:56] JONATHAN: I’m sure people are listening to this and thinking, “I know someone who needs help with this.” Is it a subject where it’s like, “Hey, I sent you a little questionnaire you can fill out to see all your blind spots”? How do you broach the subject with—is it like, “Hey, I’m working on some self-improvement stuff. Would you want to do this with me?” How do you find that others engage their colleagues, friends, family members, whatever, to see this, to have some self-awareness and bring it to the forefront without crushing them or coming across judgmental, etc.?


[57:42] CLAY: Yeah, it’s if you’re trying to inspire—I’ll use that term—someone else to do it, yeah, that's … There’s not just one way, because you can have a relationship where you can say—

[57:56] JONATHAN: And it depends on the person.


[57:58] CLAY: Depends on the person. I will get called in to work with people who their bosses are saying, “You have to do this.” They have no choice. And then there’s other people who would say, “Hey, I want to bring this up to my husband. How should I do that?” And they have to do it in a much more nuanced way. So I would definitely encourage people to get to that point where they can be honest. If you can be honest with that person, and this isn’t to say, You’re wrong, you’re broken, you’re damaged,” as much as to say, “These are skills that both of us or all of us should learn, can we do this together?” Because it’s not, again, I’m certified in emotional intelligence and I teach it and coach it, but I still have to live it or I won’t be emotionally intelligent. So no one arrives. You learn it, but you still have to do it. So everyone can join in. And that's what I would say the best approach to other people is to say, “Hey, let’s do this together.” Because no one can say, “Hey, I hope you get to this point.”


[59:13] JONATHAN: When you're like me, then you’ve arrived. Well, Clay, this has been such a big help for me just even in understanding the neurological things, the neurological pathways and thinking about my own mental habits that have come in play, thinking about self-awareness, other awareness. I think these are just such important factors. We see them through Scripture. We know the heart of God. We see the sovereignty of God over all things. We can have hope in Him. And just having an awareness of this, I think, helps us to serve the body, to serve the lost in such helpful ways. And so I’m grateful for your training and your expertise in this area, and I’m just grateful that you were able to take the time to join us onCandid Conversations.


[01:00:13] CLAY: Glad to have done it. Thank you so much for the opportunity.


[01:00:15] JONATHAN: Of course. God bless.

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