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How Coaches Define and Develop Emotional Intelligence: Evidence-Based Coaching Psychology and Positive Psychology Principles

October 11, 2023

Posted by BOLDLY


Emotional intelligence (EI) has become an essential skill and a hotly discussed (and researched!) topic in today's competitive and interconnected business world. Coaches play a crucial role in helping individuals at all career stages understand, define, and develop their emotional intelligence. Drawing from evidence-based coaching psychology and positive psychology principles, this blog will explore the multifaceted nature of emotional intelligence, its significance, and how coaches can foster its development.

Understanding Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence, often referred to as EQ or EI, is the ability to recognise, understand, manage, and effectively use one's own emotions and those of others. It encompasses various dimensions, including self-awareness, self-regulation, empathy, and social skills. A study published in the journal "Emotion" (Mayer et al., 2016) emphasised that EI is a crucial factor in personal and professional success, affecting relationships, leadership, and overall well-being.

Coaches and business leaders generally define emotional intelligence by breaking it down into several key components:

  1. Self-Awareness: This involves recognising and understanding one's own emotions, strengths, and weaknesses. A report by the Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations (Goleman et al., 2002) highlighted self-awareness as the foundation of EI.
  2. Self-Regulation: Coaches help individuals learn how to manage their emotions, control impulsive reactions, and adapt to changing situations. The Harvard Business Review's article "Leadership That Gets Results" (Goleman, 2000) found that self-regulation is a critical aspect of effective leadership.
  3. Empathy: Understanding and empathising with the emotions of others is another essential aspect of EI. Daniel Goleman's book, "Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ" (1995), underscores the importance of empathy in building strong relationships.
  4. Social Skills: Developing effective communication, conflict resolution, and teamwork skills is integral to EI. A study published in the "Annual Review of Psychology" (Matthews et al., 2004) recognised the role of social skills in emotional intelligence.
Evidence-based coaching using positive psychology

However, digging deeper into the academic research to review how EQ/EI is defined and assessed, we can see it’s a much more complex topic than what most business leaders give it credit for. So are we working effectively and appropriately with this concept in coaching if we’re not all ‘talking the same language’ about what EQ/EI actually is?

There are two primary theoretical approaches to understanding emotional intelligence: the mixed model and the theoretical ability model. Let's explore each of these models in more detail:

Mixed Model of Emotional Intelligence:

The mixed model, also known as the "trait-based" model, incorporates a broader perspective on emotional intelligence. This model suggests that EI comprises a combination of both cognitive abilities and personality traits. In other words, it includes aspects related to emotional abilities as well as how emotions are manifested in one's behaviour and personality. The most prominent mixed model of EI was developed by Daniel Goleman in his 1995 book, "Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ." According to the mixed model:

  • Emotional Competencies: This aspect of the mixed model emphasises the importance of skills and abilities related to emotions, such as recognising and managing one's emotions, understanding the emotions of others, and effective interpersonal communication.
  • Emotional Traits: The mixed model also considers personality traits related to emotional intelligence, such as empathy, self-awareness, adaptability, and motivation. These traits are seen as stable and enduring characteristics that influence how individuals handle emotional situations.
  • Emotional Skills: The mixed model often focuses on practical, observable behaviours and skills related to emotional intelligence, such as listening attentively, resolving conflicts, and providing constructive feedback.
  • Application in Leadership: Goleman's work popularised the idea that emotional intelligence is critical for effective leadership, as it influences how leaders manage relationships, inspire and motivate their teams, and navigate challenging situations.

Theoretical Ability Model of Emotional Intelligence:

The theoretical ability model of emotional intelligence takes a more focused and narrow approach. It posits that emotional intelligence primarily consists of cognitive abilities or mental processes related to emotions. This model is rooted in the idea that emotional intelligence can be measured and assessed through performance-based tests. Emotional intelligence tests, in some ways, are similar to how traditional intelligence (IQ) is measured. Key components of the theoretical ability model include:

  • Four-Branch Model: One of the most well-known theoretical ability models is the Four-Branch Model proposed by Mayer and Salovey in the early 1990s. It identifies four core abilities related to emotional intelligence:
    a. Perceiving Emotions: Recognizing and accurately perceiving emotions in oneself and others. b. Using Emotions: Effectively using emotions to facilitate thinking and problem-solving. c. Understanding Emotions: Comprehending complex emotional states and transitions. d. Managing Emotions: Regulating and managing emotions in oneself and others.
  • Emphasis on Cognitive Abilities: The theoretical ability model highlights that emotional intelligence is primarily a cognitive skill, similar to other intellectual abilities. It can be assessed through objective tests and measures.
  • Objective Assessment: In this model, emotional intelligence is often assessed through standardised tests and performance-based assessments that evaluate a person's ability to accurately perceive, use, understand, and manage emotions.
  • Less Focus on Personality Traits: Unlike the mixed model, the theoretical ability model places less emphasis on personality traits and more on cognitive processes related to emotions.

So, in summary, the mixed model of emotional intelligence incorporates a broader range of emotional competencies and personality traits, whereas the theoretical ability model focuses more narrowly on cognitive abilities related to emotions. Both models have contributed to our understanding of emotional intelligence and its importance in personal and professional contexts, and they have different implications for how EI is assessed and developed.

With this deeper understanding of the construct in mind, how should coaches work on developing and supporting coachees to enhance their EQ?

Employees enjoying the benefits of coaching using positive psychology

Developing Emotional Intelligence Through Coaching

Evidence-based coaching psychology and Positive psychology principles provide a solid foundation for developing emotional intelligence. Coaches employ various strategies and techniques to enhance EI in their clients:

  • Assessment: Coaches often begin by assessing their clients' emotional intelligence using validated tools like the Emotional Intelligence Appraisal (Travis Bradberry & Jean Greaves, 2009). This assessment provides a baseline and identifies areas for improvement. **More on this below!
  • Goal Setting: Coaches work with clients to set specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) goals for improving their emotional intelligence. These goals are tailored to individual needs and aspirations.
  • Feedback and Reflection: Continuous feedback and self-reflection help clients gain insights into their emotional responses and behaviours. This process enables them to make conscious changes over time.
  • Skill Building: Coaches use evidence-based techniques, such as cognitive-behavioural coaching and mindfulness, to help clients enhance their self-awareness, self-regulation, empathy, and social skills.
  • Practice and Reinforcement: Like any skill, emotional intelligence improves with practice. Coaches encourage clients to apply their newfound knowledge and skills in real-life situations.

Backing Up a Moment to Deep-dive on Assessment:

The measurement of emotional intelligence (EQ) can be approached in two different ways, reflecting the two primary theoretical models of EQ: the Ability model and the Mixed model. These two approaches involve different methods of assessment: Ability scales and Rating scales.

Ability Scales (Performance-based Measures):
The Ability model of EQ focuses on the cognitive aspects of emotional intelligence, considering it as a set of mental abilities related to emotions. Therefore, ability scales, also known as performance-based measures, are used to assess a person's actual skills and abilities in understanding and managing emotions. Here's how ability scales work:

  • Performance-Based Tasks: Individuals are presented with specific tasks or scenarios that require them to use their emotional intelligence skills. These tasks often involve recognising emotions in facial expressions, understanding emotional nuances in written or spoken language, and making decisions based on emotional information.
  • Objective Assessment: Ability scales aim to provide objective and standardised measures of emotional intelligence. This means that the assessment focuses on observable behaviours and responses, making it less subject to bias or self-reporting.
  • Example Assessment: Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT): The MSCEIT is a well-known ability-based test that assesses emotional intelligence through a series of tasks that measure the four branches of emotional intelligence: perceiving emotions, using emotions, understanding emotions, and managing emotions.
  • Scoring: In ability scales, scores are generated based on the individual's performance on the tasks, indicating their level of proficiency in various aspects of emotional intelligence.

Rating Scales (Self-report or Other-report Measures):
The Mixed model of EQ incorporates both cognitive abilities and personality traits, and it often uses rating scales, which are self-report or other-report measures. These scales assess how individuals perceive themselves or how others perceive them in terms of emotional intelligence. Here's how rating scales work:

  • Questionnaires or Surveys: Individuals are asked to complete questionnaires or surveys that contain a series of items or statements related to various aspects of emotional intelligence, such as self-awareness, empathy, interpersonal relationships, and emotional regulation.
  • Subjective Assessment: Rating scales rely on individuals' self-assessment (self-report) or the assessment of others (other-report) who know the individual well, such as supervisors, colleagues, or peers.
  • Example Assessment: Emotional Intelligence Appraisal (Travis Bradberry & Jean Greaves): This self-report questionnaire assesses emotional intelligence by asking individuals to rate themselves on a series of statements related to their emotional competencies and traits.
  • Scoring: In rating scales, scores are generated based on the individual's responses to the questionnaire items. These scores provide insights into the individual's perceived emotional intelligence.

How Do These Assessment Approaches Compare?

  • Objective vs. Subjective: Ability scales provide an objective assessment of emotional intelligence based on actual performance, while rating scales provide a subjective assessment based on self-perception or the perceptions of others.
  • Skills vs. Traits: Ability scales focus on assessing specific skills and abilities related to emotional intelligence, whereas rating scales capture a broader range of emotional competencies and personality traits associated with emotional intelligence.
  • Bias and Validity: Ability scales are often considered less prone to bias because they are based on observable behaviour, while rating scales may be influenced by self-presentation biases or the perceptions of others. However, rating scales can provide valuable insights into how individuals perceive themselves and how they are perceived by others.

Emotional intelligence is a vital skill that can significantly impact personal and professional success. Whether you have a deep and evidence-based understanding of the constructs, or you’re working with the layman's version of EQ, you’ll know it’s important to define and assess effectively before you can ensure a coach is set up for success. Coaches play a pivotal role in helping individuals define, develop, and harness their emotional intelligence. By incorporating evidence-based coaching psychology and positive psychology principles, coaches can guide their clients towards greater self-awareness, better self-regulation, increased empathy, and improved social skills. As research and reports consistently emphasise the importance of EI, it's clear that investing in its development through coaching can lead to more fulfilling and prosperous lives.

In today's ever-evolving professional landscape, harnessing the power of emotional intelligence is paramount. BOLDLY, as a leading career coaching platform, is dedicated to equipping your employees with the tools and guidance needed to refine their EI. Our seasoned coaches, whom we personally vouch for because of their tried-and-true methodologies, are committed to ushering in transformative growth. If you're looking to elevate your team’s emotional intelligence and unlock their true potential, look no further. Reach out to us at, and let's elevate your team’s EQ and step confidently into a brighter future.


Mayer, J. D., Caruso, D. R., & Salovey, P. (2016). The ability model of emotional intelligence: Principles and updates. Emotion, 16(8), 1-16.

Goleman, D. (2000). Leadership That Gets Results. Harvard Business Review.

Goleman, D. (1995). Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. Bantam.

Goleman, D., Boyatzis, R., & McKee, A. (2002). Primal leadership: Realizing the power of emotional intelligence. Harvard Business Review.

Matthews, G., Zeidner, M., & Roberts, R. D. (2004). Emotional intelligence: Science and myth. Annual Review of Psychology, 56(1), 507-536.

Bradberry, T., & Greaves, J. (2009). Emotional Intelligence Appraisal. TalentSmart.