Does it surprise you to hear that emotionally intelligent leaders use their whole bodies as a source of emotional knowledge?

“The body keeps the score.” Bessel van der Kolk, MD

To which I would add,

Your body knows the score, long before your brain does.

How Emotionally Intelligent Leaders Access Emotions

Many (?most?) of us come to work from the neck up. Our brains, however, comprise only one-third of the internal resources that help us understand the world around us and the world inside us. The body, including our hearts, comprise the other two-thirds. Emotionally intelligent leaders employ the full set.

emotionally intelligent leaders

Emotionally intelligent leaders bring their bodies to work

To increase your emotional intelligence, start with your body. It’s a rich source of emotional information. Over time you’ll also find your body is a source of incredible insights and deep wisdom. But start by incorporating emotions - the precursors to accessing more wisdom and greater insights.

Our emotions show up first, and most immediately, in the body. It’s also where empathy shows up first and immediately. It’s why we use body sensations to describe emotions.

  • Warm hearted
  • Open hearted
  • My heart broke for her
  • Gut-wrenching
  • The hairs on the back of my neck stood up
  • Gives me goose bumps

If you don’t feel emotions in your body, you may be operating from the neck up. But don’t lose hope. You can decide to begin listening to your body now, or tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow.

How to Start Using Your Body to Recognize Emotions - Phase 1

Begin with a relationship, situation, or meeting that’s likely to be somewhat, but not over-the-top, difficult.

  1. Set your intention to be aware of your whole body during the event.
  2. Do a body scan 5 - 10 minutes prior to arriving.
    • Direct your attention to the top of you head.
      • What sensations do you feel?
        • Tightness?
        • Heat?
        • Cold?
        • Tingling?
    • Continue moving down your body. Bringing your full attention, lightly, to each part.
      • Forehead
      • Eyes
      • Jaw
      • Throat
      • Neck
      • Shoulders
      • Chest
      • Back
      • Arms
      • Hands
      • Fingers
      • Stomach
      • Thighs
      • Calves
      • Feet
      • Toes
  3. Now that you’re in your body from head to toe, leave for the event.
  4. Upon arriving, feel your butt in the chair, or your feet on the floor.
  5. Notice when and where sensations arise in your body, as the meeting progresses.
  6. Name the discrete sensations.
    • If you feel pain, is it sharp, dull, hot, tight, pulsing, other?
  7. Identify the emotion(s) you associate with these sensations.
    • Is tightness in your chest frustration? fear? anger?
    • Is your warm heart an indication that you care, that you’ve been touched by the other person’s situation?
    • Is your jaw tight because you’re anxious?
  8. When unpleasant sensations and emotions come up, breathe into, and out from, those areas.
    • Does the sensation relax and let go a bit?
    • As you relax can you be more present, listen better?

How to Use Your Body to Sense What Others Feel - Phase 2

Keep practicing phase one. Empathy, phase two, will show up naturally. You’ll know it when it does. Your heart will lighten and expand, because someone else is happy. It will ache when someone else is suffering.

Welcome to what makes us human, our ability to connect with our own and others’ emotions.



Anne Perschel
Anne Perschel
When she is not consulting; coaching; reading and writing about leadership; or enjoying her work in other ways; Anne can be found:

Listening to ocean waves receding over stones.
Enjoying the spontaneous expressions of young children who haven’t yet learned to hide their emotions.
Taking in the scent of freesias, lilacs or salt water.
Enjoying the great, or not so great, outdoors and all variations of nature’s gifts.
At the gym.

As Seen In:

How Emotionally Intelligent Leaders Use The Whole Body