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Applying Emotional Intelligence assessment to enhance self-awareness and measurability in executive coaching: A case study

Abstract

This case study illustrates the use of an Emotional Intelligence (EI) psychometric assessment tool in coaching and how effective use of EI data not only enhances self-awareness for both client and coach, but also increases measurability and value of coaching. It also shows how the EI data informed the process and content of the engagement, helped shape the coaching to the client's personality and needs, and influenced agreement of actions that led to outcomes of benefit to both client and coach.

Originality/value of article for the readers:

This is the first practical demonstration of Trait Emotional Intelligence applied to coaching that explores its use in all stages of an executive coaching assignment, and points out how it brings emotion to the fore and adds value beyond self-awareness.

Keywords

Trait Emotional Intelligence, Executive Coaching, Measurement, Self-Awareness, Psychometric Tools

Frequently in coaching, psychometric tools are used in the early stages to help clients develop self-awareness through understanding of personal strengths and weaknesses. This paper explores a case where an Emotional Intelligence assessment tool helped both client and coach make progress at all stages of the process: pre-coaching, early stage, middle stage and conclusion.

After summarizing the use of psychometrics in coaching, this paper describes the concept of EI and a specific tool- the Trait Emotional Intelligence Questionnaire™ (TEIQue™) and their application in a particular executive coaching assignment with a client, Heather, and her key stakeholder, Rachel. It concludes with a discussion of the extent to which EI assessment enhances self-awareness and increases the value and measurability of coaching.

Use of psychometrics in coaching

Psychometric assessment is typically used to help clients develop self-awareness as a way to identify new career or life goals and improve performance (Allworth & Passmore, 2012). We know psychometric assessments work (Cooper, 2010) and that coaching is effective in helping clients (Grant et al., 2010). Yet there is no empirical evidence on skill development through coaching based on psychometric feedback (Batey et al., 2012).

Introduction to Emotional Intelligence

EI embraces three premises:

  1. emotions are always present; 
  2. individuals differ in the way they perceive, understand, use and manage emotions; 
  3. individual differences in EI are more important in some contexts than others (Cherniss, 2010).

EI encompasses self-perceptions that influence how we think, behave and act. Handling emotion affects everyday life in all contexts both personal and professional.

Many coaches overlook using emotional data from EI self-assessment for determining how best to coach the client (Emmerling & Cherniss, 2003; Kidd, 2004).

The Emotional Intelligence Tool TEIQue™

Trait Emotional Intelligence (Trait EI) measures emotional intelligence using the Trait Emotional Intelligence Questionnaire (TEIQue™) which is a self-report questionnaire offering 360-degree feedback.

15 years of research by its author, Dr. Petrides, secures its position as a well validated tool. This is confirmed by the British Psychological Society (BPS, 2013) which concludes that the TEIQue™ tool is supported by thorough academic research, validity and reliability and is highly rated compared to other EI measures.

The descriptions in table 1 show the sampling domain of Trait EI. There are 15 facets, grouped under 4 factors. Two facets are independent in that they load directly on the overall EI score. In the interest of clarity, the descriptions below do not constantly reiterate that they concern self-perceptions, i.e. how respondents view their own self.

Table 1.

Trait EI Framework and Sampling Domain

Facets

 

INDEPENDENT FACETS

 

High scorers perceive themselves as….

 

 

Self-motivation (Mot)

Driven - unlikely to give up in the face of adversity.

Adaptability (Ada)

Flexible - willing to adapt to new conditions. 

Factor 1: WELL-BEING

Happiness (Hap)

Cheerful/satisfied with their lives.

Optimism (Opt)

Confident - likely to look on the bright side of life.

Self-esteem (Est)

Successful/self-confident.

Factor 2: SELF-CONTROL

Emotion regulation (Con)

Capable of emotional control.

Impulse control (Imp)

Reflective - less likely to give into urges.

Stress management (Str)

Capable of regulating stress.

Factor 3: EMOTIONALITY

Empathy (Emp)

Capable of taking someone else’s perspective.

Emotion perception (Per)

Clear about their own and other people’s feelings.

Emotion expression (Exp)

Capable of communicating their feelings to others.

Relationships (Rel)

Capable of maintaining fulfilling personal relationships.

Factor 4: SOCIABILITY

Emotion management (Man) 

Capable of influencing other people’s feelings.         

Assertiveness (Ass)

Forthright - willing to stand up for their rights.

Social awareness (Soc)

Accomplished networkers with superior social skills.

Source: Petrides (2009, p.13.)

Figure 1. Trait Emotional Intelligence

Research suggests our perceptions of emotion influence our health, behavior at work, leadership effectiveness and job performance. Trait EI encapsulates the idea of "trait emotional self-efficacy", the extent to which a person feels able to cope well with emotion in everyday life. A "trait" is a component of personality, Trait EI is therefore not the same as a competency, skill or capability and developing EI becomes more about learning how to handle ourselves.

As a coach I have changed the way I work so that instead of helping a client to develop new competencies, I focus on helping them to self-optimize. The difference is subtle but important. Trait EI measurement enables coaches to work with clients to develop strategies for self-awareness and self-management, and waste less time on unsustainable efforts to change personality (Bharwaney, 2012).Traits remain relatively stable over a lifetime so the coaching focus is to help the client develop coping mechanisms in everyday life.

Trait EI matters for how my clients operate in their everyday context and the TEIQue™ can be a useful lens through which to understand them.

Working with Heather: an application of EI Assessment
in Coaching

TEIQue™ informed a coaching assignment I carried out with a client, Heather, and her key stakeholder, Rachel, who both consented to the use of their data in this paper, although their names and identifying information have been changed.

Background to the Coaching Engagement

Heather leads an 11-person team delivering services through a regional network of advisers, in the not-for-profit sector. She has self-confidence issues following a major personal trauma that left her barely able to work. Heather has returned to work and has a key stakeholder, Rachel, with whom she is collaborating for a high stakes, delicate meeting in three months' time. The catalyst for Heather to seek coaching is her wish to perform well in the meeting and sustain recovery from her personal challenges.

In initial discussions I found Heather anxious, pressured and showing difficulty focusing on the conversation. She was despondent: anticipating that the crucial impeding meeting would go badly and damage her confidence and career. She feared if under par, she would collude in a negative outcome. We agreed a four-month coaching engagement comprising an initial 2-hour meeting, followed by six 1-hour meetings.

The following sections outline the 4 phases of our coaching work, showing where EI assessment was deployed and insights gained.

Pre-Coaching Phase

This phase focuses mainly on the coach. In the case of my encounter with Heather, before beginning the coaching sessions, I completed two reflective activities. First I undertook my own TEIQue™ assessment to reflect on my style of coaching and interaction, and consider potential challenges and strengths to leverage. Second, I compared my EI profile with an aspirational EI profile to identify areas to watch in my coaching practice. Both these gave me important insights as a coach.

© K.V. Petrides and Thomas International Limited 1990-2013. Reproduced by kind permission of Thomas International Ltd. All rights reserved.

Figure 2. Coach EI Profile

All numbers on the "wheel" are shown as percentiles, displayed on the first page of a computer-generated TEIQue™ report. The wheel summarizes how I perceive myself on each of 15 EI facets compared to others in my comparison norm group. High scores are not necessarily adaptive and lower scores are not necessarily maladaptive - which scores matter the most depends on the context and what our goals are. Sometimes a lower score of an EI facet can be helpful – for example, if my Self-Esteem is lower, it means that others may find it easy to work with me as my ego will be more restrained and less "pushy". Scores in the middle band (30 to 69) are often considered balanced and effective functioning.

Helpful insights can arise from considering facet scores on opposite sides of the wheel, for instance:

Likely Coaching Style. My EI profile suggests as a coach I am: confident, forthright and firm (consider Assertiveness against Emotion Regulation on the other side of the wheel); fluid and resilient (Stress Management with Adaptability); cheerful and in touch with feelings (Happiness and Emotion Perception). Overall, this suggests I operate effectively as an amiable coach, who is good at establishing boundaries through assertiveness, without being too rigid.

Potential EI challenges. I must be careful not to be inappropriately overly positive and expressive (Optimism with Emotion Expression); or socially impulsive (Social Awareness with low Impulse Control); or too self-confident and detached in the working relationship with my client (Self Esteem with lower score on Relationships).

EI strengths to leverage. Self-Motivation to get results in the face of adversity; speed and urgency in order to help my client meet her goals in her desired time frame (lower Impulse Control combined with Assertiveness); able to stay in control and manage anxiety under pressure (Emotion Regulation) and comfortable perceiving emotion in the coaching partnership (Emotion Perception).

In the second pre-coaching reflective activity, I compared myself to an ideal EI Profile for an effective coach by allocating a score of 1 to 7 on each of the 15 EI facets (see column 2 in Table 2). A very high score (6 or 7) or a low score (between 1 and 2) may not always be conducive. Within the medium range scores (3 to 5), there will be positives and counter-productive aspects of each score. My source information came from exploratory research on the Trait EI facets where elite coaches score higher compared to their elite business leader clients on a number of EI Facets, notably Emotion Perception, Emotion Management, Impulse Control and Self-Esteem (April et al., 2012).

Table 2

TEIQueTM of Coach in relation to Ideal EI Profile

Factor/Facets

IDEAL Level of                   Emotional Intelligence

ACTUAL EI PERCENTILE SCORE CONVERTED TO 1-7 SCALE

COMPARISON WITH IDEAL LEVEL

 

Well-Being 

  • Happiness

4

5

Oversupply 1

  • Optimism

4

7

Oversupply 3

  • Self-esteem

4

7

Oversupply 3

Self-Control

  • Emotion Regulation

5

6

Oversupply 1

  • Impulse Control

5

2

Undersupply 3

  • Stress Management

6

4

Undersupply 2

Emotionality

 

  • Empathy

6

5

Undersupply 1

  • Emotion perception

6

7

Oversupply 1

  • Emotion expression

4

7

Oversupply 3

  • Relationships

6

3

Undersupply 3

Sociability

  • Emotion management

3

2

Undersupply 1

  • Assertiveness

4

6

Oversupply 2

  • Social awareness

4

7

Oversupply 3

Independent Facets

  • Adaptability

5

7

Oversupply 2

  • Self-motivation

5

7

Oversupply 2

List of EI Facets extracted from Trait Emotional Intelligence Questionnaire Results (TEIQue™ ), © K.V. Petrides and Thomas International Limited 1990-2013.  Reproduced by kind permission of Thomas International Ltd. All rights reserved.

TEIQue™ scores in potential "undersupply" or "oversupply" are closely reviewed during the coaching assignment. In my case, I needed to be aware of and develop strategies for:

Oversupplied Optimism, Social Awareness and Emotion Expression: my mood, outward energy and sociable nature should not override the client's needs. Strategies included use of silence, long pauses and bringing a serious tone to the coaching engagement.

Undersupplied Relationships and Impulse Control: Avoid moving too quickly and focus on appropriate self-disclosure to build close working relationship.

Early Coaching Phase

Before we discussed goals of coaching, Heather completed an online TEIQue™ questionnaire. Her EI Profile (Figure 3) gave me clues about her functioning and the coaching style to adopt at three levels: in everyday life; in relation to her current challenges; and in relation to me.

 

© K.V. Petrides and Thomas International Limited 1990-2013. Reproduced by kind permission of Thomas International Ltd. All rights reserved.

Figure 3. Heather's TEIQue™ EI Profile (Client)

Functioning in Everyday Life

Heather's scores on Self-Motivation, Optimism, Emotion Perception and Assertiveness, suggested she lacked drive, felt somewhat negative about the future, had difficulties perceiving emotion in herself and others and may not be comfortable expressing her views. However, she was strong on relationships.

The first coaching session was about building a strong working partnership and thus playing to the client's relationship-building strengths. Given Heather's lower score on Self-Motivation, I did not suggest any "homework". Given Heather's lower Assertiveness and withdrawn interaction, I deployed a number of strategies to draw her out – I avoided feeling-oriented questions until her confidence improved in noticing emotion in herself and others.

Functioning in relation to her current challenges

We reviewed Heather's EI Profile in relation to the demands of her current challenges. We created an aspirational EI profile by deciding the ideal level of each facet of EI for her. Her goals were: remain calm, strong communication, but convey distress and frustration and be able to stand up for her rights. Table 3 compares the ideal EI Profile with Heather's actual profile and areas of potential "undersupply" (delivering less EI than the situation demands) and "oversupply" (delivering more EI than is needed). We used this to develop strategies for self-awareness and self-management.

Table 3

TEIQue™ of Heather in relation to her ideal EI Profile

Factor/Facets

IDEAL Level of                   Emotional Intelligence

ACTUAL EI PERCENTILE SCORE CONVERTED TO 1-7 SCALE

COMPARISON WITH IDEAL LEVEL

 

Well-Being

Happiness

2

3

Oversupply 1

Optimism

3

3

=

Self-esteem

5

5

=

Self-Control

Emotion Regulation

5

3

Undersupply 2

Impulse Control

5

7

Oversupply 2

Stress Management

6

5

Undersupply 1

Emotionality

 

Empathy

4

7

Oversupply 3

Emotion perception

4

6

Oversupply 2

Emotion expression

6

5

Undersupply 1

Relationships

5

7

Oversupply 2

Sociability

Emotion management

6

2

Undersupply 4

Assertiveness

6

3

Undersupply 3

Social awareness

4

2

Undersupply 2

Independent Facets

Adaptability

3

5

Oversupply 2

Self-motivation

6

3

Undersupply 3

List of EI Facets extracted from Trait Emotional Intelligence Questionnaire Results (TEIQue™ ), © K.V. Petrides and Thomas International Limited 1990-2013.Reproduced by kind permission of Thomas International Ltd. All rights reserved.

To prepare Heather's ideal EI profile, we considered her impending challenge and her recent personal setback. The challenge demanded high Stress Management, Emotion Expression, Emotion Management (of other people's emotions) and Assertiveness. She would need greater Self-Motivation to get the results she needed.

Her potential oversupply of Empathy and undersupply of Emotion Management, Assertiveness and Self-Motivation indicated a need to understand others in the situation. I was wary of pushing this too soon – bearing in mind her tendency to get enmeshed in others' perspectives rather than her own.

Functioning in our coaching relationship

Comparison of our profiles as coach and client (see Table 4) shows our EI scores side by side, with differences greater than 30 percentile points highlighted.

Table 4

TEIQue™ EI comparison of Client and Coach

Trait EI Facets

Client Heather’s EI Score

% ile

Coach’s EI

Score

% ile

Differences > 30 are highlighted

Well-Being

  • Happiness

36

69

33

  • Optimism

37

99

62

  • Self-esteem

66

87

21

Self-Control

  • Emotion Regulation

32

74

42

  • Impulse Control

87

17

70

  • Stress Management

62

54

8

Emotionality

  • Empathy

87

61

26

  • Emotion perception

71

89

18

  • Emotion expression

59

92

33

  • Relationships

85

41

44

Sociability

  • Emotion management

23

29

6

  • Assertiveness

30

78

48

  • Social awareness

27

70

43

Independent Traits

  • Adaptability

61

87

26

  • Self-motivation

38

99

61

List of EI Facets extracted from Trait Emotional Intelligence Questionnaire Results (TEIQue™ ), © K.V. Petrides and Thomas International Limited 1990-2013.Reproduced by kind permission of Thomas International Ltd. All rights reserved.

This helped identify areas to optimize coaching outcomes. Similarity on Emotion Management offered a potential starting point; while the large difference on Impulse Control suggested I should slow down and not push her.

Middle Phase

We discussed knowledge of Trait EI facets and how Trait EI could influence her perceived locus of control, emotional health, work-life balance conflicts, and relationships with others.

Heather's profile revealed the extent of her interpersonal challenges. She was anxious about her key stakeholder, Rachel. Rachel also completed an EI assessment followed by a 3-way coaching session. Figure 3 shows Rachel's EI Profile, revealing strong areas of contrast with Heather:

© K.V. Petrides and Thomas International Limited 1990-2013. Reproduced by kind permission of Thomas International Ltd. All rights reserved.

Figure 3. Rachel's TEIQue™ EI Profile (Heather's Key Stakeholder)

We used Heather and Rachel's profiles and comparison table (Table 5) to identify ways they could interact more effectively with each other.

Table 5

TEIQue™ EI comparison of Heather and Rachel (Client and Key Stakeholder)

Factor/Facets

IDEAL Level of                   Emotional Intelligence relating to Challenge

ACTUAL EI PERCENTILE SCORE CONVERTED TO 1-7 SCALE

COMPARISON WITH IDEAL LEVEL

 

Well-Being 

  • Happiness

2

RACHEL           5

HEATHER         3

Oversupply 3

Oversupply 1

  • Optimism

3

RACHEL           3

HEATHER         3

=

=

  • Self-esteem

5

RACHEL           3

HEATHER         5

Undersupply 2

=

Self-Control

  • Emotion Regulation

5

RACHEL           1

HEATHER         3

Undersupply 4

Undersupply 2

  • Impulse Control

5

RACHEL           4

HEATHER         7

Undersupply 1

Oversupply 2

  • Stress Management

6

RACHEL           1

HEATHER         5

Undersupply 5

Undersupply 1

Emotionality

  • Empathy

4

RACHEL           4

HEATHER         7

=

Oversupply 3

  • Emotion perception

4

RACHEL           5

HEATHER         6

Oversupply 1

Oversupply 2

  • Emotion expression

6

RACHEL           7

HEATHER         5

Oversupply 1

Undersupply 1

  • Relationships

5

RACHEL           4

HEATHER         7

Undersupply 1

Oversupply 2

Sociability

  • Emotion management

6

RACHEL           5

HEATHER         2

Undersupply 1

Undersupply 4

  • Assertiveness

6

RACHEL           3

HEATHER         3

Undersupply 3

Undersupply 3

  • Social awareness

4

RACHEL           4

HEATHER         2

=

Undersupply 2

Independent traits

  • Adaptability

3

RACHEL           1

HEATHER         5

Undersupply 2

Oversupply 2

  • Self-motivation

6

RACHEL           5

HEATHER         3

Undersupply 1

Undersupply 3

List of EI Facets extracted from Trait Emotional Intelligence Questionnaire Results (TEIQue™ ), © K.V. Petrides and Thomas International Limited 1990-2013.Reproduced by kind permission of Thomas International Ltd. All rights reserved.

Table 5 column 3 shows differences in possible undersupply or oversupply regarding their forthcoming challenging situation. Heather and Rachel were similar on Optimism and Assertiveness but Heather had an oversupplied level of Empathy beyond what she needed, while Rachel seemed more resilient about the demands of the situation.

Conversely, Heather had an undersupplied Emotion Management so could miss the undercurrents in the dialogue and Rachel could feel the pain of the situation more than Heather because of her awareness of the group mood. Rachel believed in her ability to manage moods in a group which could be of use in their situation. They agreed strategies to lessen the adverse effects of their combined EI profiles.

Closure Phase

Heather and Rachel worked well together and achieved a highly satisfactory outcome. Final coaching documented strategies for self-awareness and self-management for Heather to use in her everyday life beyond the coaching relationship. Reflecting on our work together, we agreed we had built on each other's strengths and had minimized any potential areas of weakness or undersupply. Heather summarized her coaching insights as three steps: it is useful to "know thyself", "know the other person" and "know how to reach your goal effectively given who we are."

Discussion

This case study has illustrated how using a psychometric EI tool, the TEIQue™, a coach can offer practical help to a client facing a difficult challenge in a senior executive role.

Among EI tools it uniquely measures traits rather than skills, so the client concentrates on how to use her strengths and compensate in weaker areas of EI in a particular scenario. By deciding best strategies beforehand it reduces the time required in coaching, and it increases the client's self-awareness for dealing with a particular context. For the coach, it also increases self-awareness and has measurable qualities.

Also, coach and client can quickly focus on how to deploy EI strengths, and how to compensate for less strong EI areas.

Other EI tools assess where skills need to be developed, an approach that might not necessarily help clients prepare quickly for particular challenges. They also overlook how personality may influence attempts to change behavior.

The EI tool used in this case study also enabled a third party to join the relationship.

I have found the TEIQue™ helps me and my clients focus quickly on specific areas. In the short term the client gets a solution she can deploy immediately, while gains in increased self-awareness and new compensating strategies help her in the longer term too. The coach also gains insights of value to her own personal development. The tool has the potential to increase the range of clients the coach can work with by showing how best to collaborate to get successful outcomes from the coaching. Trait EI can help us understand ourselves and others, improve how we manage relationships, and identify behavioral strategies for making desired changes, particularly in defined scenarios.

References

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About the Author

Geetu Bharwaney is Founder of Ei World (www.eiworld.org), a company dedicated to the advanced application of emotional intelligence since 1999. Geetu leads coaching and leadership development projects based on emotional intelligence across 37 countries. She equips coaches in robust tools for measuring emotional intelligence, including the Trait Ei Questionnaire and the Team Emotional Intelligence Survey. Geetu is a practitioner member of the EI Consortium (www.eiconsortium), set up to advance research and practice of emotional intelligence in organisations.