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Emotional Intelligence Makes A Difference

Developing emotional competencies can be the “little bit extra” that makes ordinary fitness professionals extraordinary.

Have you ever wondered what separates average from
superior performers in the workplace? Why do some
instructors teach average classes with average attendance while star instructors lead exceptional classes that have waiting lists? How can some personal trainers effectively inspire and motivate clients to reach goals while other trainers struggle with this? Knowledge, credentials, experience and emotional intelligence (EI) may all make a difference, but it seems that EI may be the “little bit extra” that makes ordinary fitness professionals extraordinary in their ability to Inspire the World to Fitness.

What Is EI?

EI is a different way of being smart. It is how we handle ourselves and others. According to Mayer, Salovey & Caruso (2000), “It is the ability to perceive and express emotion, assimilate emotion in thought, understand and reason with emotion and regulate emotion in self and others.” Salovey & Mayer (1990) defined EI as the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and action.

Daniel Goleman, PhD, popularized
the concept with his book Emotional Intelligence (Bantam Books 1995). Over the past decade Goleman—with Hay/McBer Emotional Intelligence Services (www.eisglobal.com
)—has developed the Emo-tional Competency Inventory (ECI), a tool that measures emotional competencies in the workplace. Emotional competencies—personal and social skills that demonstrate EI—are learned capabilities that result in outstanding performance at work (Goleman 1998). The ECI organizes these competencies into four clusters: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management (Sala 2002).

Goleman’s Four-
Cluster Emotional Competency Model

The four clusters in Goleman’s model are as follows (Cherniss & Goleman 2001):

Self-awareness includes the competencies of self-assessment, emotional self-awareness and self-confidence. Accurate self-assessment is knowing your personal strengths and weaknesses; emotional self-awareness is recognizing your emotions and their effects; and self-confidence is your sense of self-worth and capabilities.

Self-management includes achievement drive, initiative, optimism, adaptability and emotional self-control. The capacity to strive to constantly improve and meet a standard of excellence is achievement drive. Initiative is the readiness to act on opportunities, while optimism is persistence in pursuing goals despite obstacles and setbacks. Adaptability is the flexibility to handle change, and emotional self-control is keeping emotions and impulses
in check.

Social awareness includes empathy, organizational awareness and service orientation. Awareness of the feelings, needs and concerns of others is empathy, while organizational awareness considers the needs of the organization. Service orientation funnels this understanding to meet customer needs.

Relationship management includes conflict management, development and influence of others through inspirational leadership, and the ability to act as a change catalyst to foster teamwork and collaboration. Strong relationship management skills demonstrate the ability to induce desirable responses in others.

Each of these competencies is independent of the others, making a unique contribution to performance on the job. Yet, all competencies are interdependent, drawing to some extent on others. The emotional competencies are hierarchical, building on one another. For example, self-awareness is an essential foundation for managing the goals of initiating or adapting to change (Goleman 1998).

Why Is EI Valuable
in Fitness?

Every day, essentially every minute of the workday, fitness professionals strive to inspire others, either one-on-one or in a group setting. A group fitness class attracts people of all fitness levels, goals, needs, interests, abilities and personalities. Your ability to give participants an effective workout is based on your knowledge of anatomy, kinesiology, biomechanics and physiology. Your ability to inspire people to feel successful, to experience a sense of belonging and to feel connected depends a great deal on your emotional intelligence.

If you are a personal trainer, you take those abilities to an even more personal level, one-on-one or in a small-group setting. You have to be able to adapt to the needs and goals of a variety of people. With an optimistic attitude you can make a difference, influencing clients to make lifestyle changes that will improve their overall health and fitness.

As a club manager or team leader, you must have a great sense for the needs of your clients, your team members and the organization. An inspirational leader requires awareness of self and others to effectively build teams focused on the mission of the organization. Every moment is a moment of truth; as you talk the talk of quality customer service, you must walk the walk, keeping your performance superior to reflect the message you send as a leader. You wear your attitude like a T-shirt that everyone can read. The T-shirt slogan of a “Do I Look Like I Give a Darn?” (DILLIGAD?) leader may read, “I can only please one person per day; today is not your day, and tomorrow doesn’t look good either.” The T-shirt of the high EI leader who practices superior emotional competencies may say, “Together, we can make a difference.” Leaders with high emotional intelligence are GOTEMs; they GO The Extra Mile.

What do you look for in a new hire, whether he or she is a trainer, group fitness instructor or front-desk team leader? Say you have two potential candidates. If one has a credible certification but poor communication skills, while the other has strong communication skills and an interest in becoming certified, which would you hire? As a manager you know that a good hire may prevent an ugly “fire.” I’ve had a great deal more success providing core knowledge training to someone who has the “personality” (which I now know to be EI with high emotional competence) than I’ve had trying to train or change a “personality” with a great deal of core knowledge.

Many business organizations are beginning to use EI screenings for hiring. Organizations are also using measures of EI for promotion and training purposes. More research is showing that you can improve your emotional competencies and achieve performance success with EI training. Goleman (1998) has studied the competencies of hundreds of jobs in a variety of companies and organizations worldwide and found that, often, two out of the three abilities essential for effective performance are emotional competencies. He suggests that for star performers in most jobs, in nearly every career, emotional competence is twice as important as cognitive skills are.

Improving EI

Awareness is the first step to change. You now have a sense of what EI is and you’ve probably been thinking of your own skills of self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management as you read this article.

Now you may want to apply Dr. James Prochaska’s Stages of Change: precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, maintenance and termination (Prochaska 1999). Your readiness to make the behavioral changes necessary to improve emotional competencies takes more than just knowledge about EI; as a fitness professional you know this all too well! Many of our clients know what to eat and what to avoid eating if their goal is to lose weight. Actually eating the right things and not overeating are different from simply knowing what to eat and when to push away from the table.

Learning an emotional competence involves changing social and emotional habits. New behaviors that may need to be learned include avoiding certain difficult people or situations, listening with empathy and skillfully giving feedback. These tasks are more of a challenge than simply adding new facts to the old. We need to know what to do, weaken old habits and replace them with new behaviors. Enhancing EI requires an understanding of behavior change. As fitness professionals we can apply what we know about changing lifestyle habits to improve our social and emotional competencies. Goleman & Cherniss (2003) developed 22 guidelines for training EI (see “Guidelines for Best Practice” on page 32). Assessment of the organization and the individuals begins the process (precontemplation). Gauging readiness and linking goals to personal values are necessary to maximize learning (contemplation). Setting specific goals (preparation) and providing practice with specific performance feedback (action) are key to the learning process. Practice makes permanent, so ongoing feedback and self-reflection are valuable.

The EI of IDEA
Award Winners

When it comes to leaders in the fitness industry, EI does seem to make a difference. In a study comparing 30 IDEA award recipients and 77 IDEA members who have not yet received IDEA awards, the IDEA award winners scored significantly higher on three of the four clusters of the Emotional Competency Inventory (ECI): self-awareness, self-management and relationship management. The IDEA award winners scored significantly higher on 10 of the 18 competencies in the ECI: emotional self-awareness, self-confidence, achievement orientation, initiative, optimism, acting as a change catalyst, change management, developing others, influence and inspirational leadership. These findings support the idea that high levels of emotional competence may benefit professionals in the fitness industry. In turn, clients reap the health- and fitness-associated benefits through interaction with these leaders (Eckmann 2004).

In this same study, non-award-winners were asked the following four additional questions based on the IDEA award selection criteria. Respondents rated themselves on a scale of 1–5: (1) none (2) some (3) moderate (4) considerable (5) extensive.

1. Please rate your community involvement and influence on the general public.

2. Please rate your professional credibility and advancement of professional skills.

3. Please rate your fitness program development and implementation.

4. Please rate your contribution to the success of your organization.

The results of a t-test analysis indicated that non-award-winners who rated themselves with a 4 (considerable) or 5 (extensive) on all four questions of this survey had overall ECI scores similar to those of IDEA award recipients. The ECI scores of those who rated themselves at a 4 or 5 on all four questions on the IDEA award selection criteria also had significantly higher ECI scores than
all other non-award-winner survey
respondents. (Only one of the non-award-winners responding has been nominated for an IDEA award.) These results indicate that the emotional competencies measured by the ECI may be aligned with the IDEA award selection criteria. IDEA members rating themselves at a 4 or 5 on this four-question survey may possibly have high emotional competence and be potential IDEA award winners (Eckmann 2004).

Enhance Your EI

Reflecting on performance after teaching a fitness class or after dealing with a difficult client are common ways to self-assess for improvement. Awareness of strengths and weaknesses can help us to continually enhance performance. Filtering your self-talk and recognizing your emotions and how they affect your behavior can help you improve self-confidence and elevate performance at work (and play).

Say good things when you talk to yourself; be your own best friend. I often think about the flight attendant’s message before takeoff: “In case of an emergency, an oxygen mask will drop. Please secure your own before assisting others.” Fitness professionals are often so busy taking care of others that they don’t take the time they need for themselves. Take some time to renew and refresh yourself. (The 2004 IDEA World Fitness Convention® is a great place to start!)

Self-awareness can help you manage your life. One of the emotional competencies of self-management includes an optimistic attitude. This includes seeing the world through a positive lens, taking initiative to act on opportunities and adapting to the changes and challenges along the way. Self-management embraces the drive to achieve and reach for new levels of excellence. Attending a conference, reading IDEA Fitness Journal, attending workshops and trying new music in a class are ways professionals in the fitness industry can stay fresh and grow.

When you’ve taken care of yourself, you have more of what it takes to inspire others to believe in themselves and reach their goals. Practicing the emotional competencies of self-awareness and self-management can help you listen to, understand and resolve conflict effectively and efficiently. To successfully manage relationships, it is essential to understand yourself and others. It is with such understanding that you can truly inspire yourself and others to fitness.


Cherniss, C., & Goleman, D. (Eds.). 2001. The Emotionally Intelligent Workplace. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Eckmann, T. 2004. The Emotional Intelligence of Award-Winning Fitness Industry
A dissertation published at the University of North Dakota.
Goleman, D. 1995. Emotional Intelligence. New York: Bantam Books.
Goleman, D. 1998. Working With Emotional Intelligence. New York: Bantam Books.
Goleman, D.,& Cherniss, C. 2003. Guidelines for best practice. The Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations. www.eiconsortium.org; retrieved May 5, 2004.
Mayer, J., Salovey, P., & Caruso, D. 2000. Models of emotional intelligence. In R. J. Sternberg (Ed.), Handbook of Human Intelligence (pp. 396–420). New York: Cambridge University Press.
Prochaska, J.O. 1999. How do people change, and how can we change to help many more people? In M.A. Hubble, B.l. Duncan & S.D. Miller (Eds). The Heart and Soul of Change: What Works in Therapy (pp. 227–58). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Sala, F. 2003. Emotional Competence Inventory (ECI) Technical Manual. Boston: Hay/McBer.
Salovey, P., & Mayer, J. 1990. Emotional intelligence. Imagination, Cognition and Personality, 9 (3), 185–211.


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